The Philadelphia Flyers get to rest and spend time with their families on Christmas Day each year. This wasn’t always the case, though. Prior to the 1972-73 season, the NHL used to schedule games annually on Christmas Day. This tradition began in the early 1920s and survived for nearly 50 years.
Established in 1967, the Flyers were subject to a few years of Christmas hockey. In fact, they played on Christmas Day four times in their first five seasons. Perhaps distracted a bit by the holiday, the Flyers mustered a mediocre record of 1-2-1 in these four games. The lone win came over the Oakland Seals in 1969.
Victory Over the Seals
The Flyers won this 1969 Christmas Day game over the Seals by a score of 3-1. Jim Johnson, Dick Cherry and Simon Nolet all scored for the Flyers within the game’s first nine minutes. Behind strong goaltending from Doug Favell (31 saves on 32 shots), the Flyers held on for the victory.
This was one of the rare Flyer victories that season. Playing in just their third season in the NHL, the Flyers stumbled to a 17-35-24 record. This is still a team record for fewest wins and an NHL record for most ties. In doing so, they missed the playoffs for their first time.
Besides the Christmas Day victory, there were just a couple other highlights for the franchise that season. The most important one was the rise of a 20-year-old rookie named Bobby Clarke. He amassed 46 points that season and earned himself a trip to the NHL All-Star Game. Over his 15-year career, the future Hockey Hall of Famer and Flyer legend would never tally less than 60 points again.
The other was the emergence of a Flyer tradition: singing God Bless America before important home games. This tradition began that year on Dec. 11 and continues to this day.
Other Flyer Christmas Games
The Flyers did not have the same holiday luck in their other Christmas games.
Their first such game was a 3-1 loss to the New York Rangers in 1967. Bernie Parent made 33 saves, but his team’s lack of offense led to this disappointing outcome. Ed Hoekstra was the lone Flyer scorer. Despite this defeat, the franchise still had an impressive inaugural season. They finished first in the West Division before falling in the Quarterfinal to the St. Louis Blues.
In a respectable sophomore season, the franchise returned to the Quarterfinal before again losing to the Blues. Unfortunately, the Christmas game was not one of their highlights that season. The Flyers and Rangers finished the game in a 2-2 tie, one of 21 ties that season for the Orange and Black. Brit Selby and Dick Sarrazin were the Flyer scorers.
The Flyers’ final Christmas game occurred in 1971. Unfortunately, they could not end this tradition on a high note. They lost to the Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito-led Boston Bruins by a score of 5-1. The one positive moment was when third-year Clarke scored his 13th goal of the season and 55th goal of his career for the Flyers. Still, this defeat was a sign of how the rest of the season would play out. The team finished fifth in the division and failed to qualify for the postseason for just the second time.
That was the final year of NHL action on Christmas Day. After recording just a 1-2-1 record in their limited Christmas appearances, the Flyers likely weren’t too upset with the decision. With this time off, the team can now rest, spend time with their families, and refuel for the deep playoff runs to which their fans have gotten quite accustomed. Merry Christmas, Flyers fans!
Covering the Flyers for THW | Lifelong Islanders fan, but promise to become a little more sympathetic to the Flyers | Also a 4X marathon-runner | UChicago ’19