After a tough two weeks battling COVID protocol, the Philadelphia Flyers are finally almost free and clear. As of a week ago, the certainty of playing outside was still up in the air, but things have finally started turning around for the team. On Sunday afternoon, the Flyers are set to take on the Boston Bruins in one of the outdoor matchups at Lake Tahoe.
The matchup marks the second time the Flyers and Bruins will play in an outdoor game. In 2010, the Flyers took on the Bruins at Fenway Park, which resulted in a 2-1 Boston win. Since 2010, the Flyers are 1-4 in outdoor games, with their only win coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019. On the other hand, the Bruins are 2-1 in outdoor games, with wins coming against Philadelphia and Chicago.
Outdoor Battle with No Fans
Both teams will look to gain an important two points but at the end of the day, there is nothing better than outdoor hockey. Especially in a year where there are no fans, outdoor hockey in the NHL is truly going back to its roots at a whole new level.
“It’s always special, it’s always memories that you make throughout your career,” said Sean Couturier. “Those are the games that stand out when you look back. It’s different hockey, though, the way the ice is outside, when you look around, knowing where to be out there, it seems a little different. The game seems to be a little different when you’re playing. You’re used to having fans or stands right against the wall. Now it’s just nature over there, trees and the golf course. It’s a different game.”
Regardless of their being fans in the stands, the Flyers are going to play hard against a tough team that has given them problems in the past. The Bruins are currently atop of the East Division with a 10-3-2 overall record. The Flyers know this matchup is going to be tough, but are not going to give in that easily.
The Flyers are also going to be missing some key players due to COVID protocol. They’ll be without Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, Scott Laughton, and Justin Braun at Lake Tahoe. These players will be eligible to return in the coming weeks, but a timeline is still unsure at this point. Missing some of these key players is a massive blow to the Flyers, but the team is confident they will be able to play decent outdoor hockey.
“Without fans there, it’s going to be different, but you know, when we were young, and we were playing in the outdoor rinks or on the pond, there weren’t any fans, and we were enjoying it,” head coach Alain Vigneault said. “So obviously it’s going to be a little different feeling, but I expect our guys to go out there, enjoy the game and play hard — that’s what we’re going to Lake Tahoe to do. We know Boston’s a real good team, they’re fully healthy; we’re in a little different situation but we’re next man up and no excuses.”
Unique Setting… Unique Challenges
Originally set for a 3 p.m. ET puck drop, the NHL decided to push the game forward to 2 p.m. ET due to potential weather issues involving cloud cover. The hour difference in the start time does not make a huge impact on the overall game, but could potentially benefit players, especially the goaltenders.
One thing that is confirmed, Carter Hart will be starting in net for the Flyers as they head outside. Hart has not started in an outdoor game with the Flyers, but had the opportunity to be part of the team back in 2019 against the Penguins. He is looking forward to the opportunity, but realizes how tough of a situation the game is due to missing players and the unique circumstances surrounding the game. (from ‘If Carter Hart squints hard enough, Lake Tahoe will be a perfect site for the Flyers against Boston,’ Philadelphia Inquirer, 02/19/2021)
“You have to adjust a little bit when you’re outdoors,” Hart said. “That’s what we’ll have to practice when we get out there on Saturday in the morning. It’ll be good for us to get out there and get familiar with the scenery, the rink, the weather. I think that will be important Saturday.”
As Sunday quickly approaches, the Flyers will continue to prepare for the outdoor game just like every other game. The only thing that is different is that the game will be outside with one of the most beautiful backdrops imaginable.
Bobby Bader Jr. is a freelance journalist born and raised in Philadelphia, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the start of the 2020-21 National Hockey League Season. He currently works with the Hershey Cubs Hockey Club (USPHL Premier) as the team’s media coordinator and serves as the Assistant Sports Information Director at Penn State Harrisburg. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Bobby on Twitter or his social media accounts. They appear under his photo in articles like this one.