Flyers Season Opener: Sights & Sounds in an Empty Wells Fargo Center

The Wells Fargo Center didn’t look or sound normal on Wednesday for the Philadelphia Flyers 2020-21 season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Then, again, what has been normal in the world for the last 10 months?

Give the organization credit, though. The Flyers tried their best to create as close to a normal game experience as possible for the players and national TV audience.

With no fans allowed to attend games due to local and state COVID-19 restrictions, the Flyers still treated it as a normal regular season game in the middle of January — albeit with a few alterations.

Here are some observations and a picture of what it looked and sounded like inside and outside the building during the Flyers’ 6-3 win.

Flyers Pregame Sights and Sounds

First off, there was no traffic on Broad Street and Pattison Avenue. There were no lines of cars waiting to get into the many parking lots — just one gate was open to enter the Wells Fargo Center lot. Xfinity Live, the typically bustling entertainment hub that resides on the same block as the arena and houses multiple restaurants and bars, sat eerily dark.

Inside the arena, the concourse was quiet. In the lobby in front of the main escalator and team store, dozens of small tables were set up as workstations (one person per table!) for the media.

Wells Fargo Center 2017 Flyers
No fans are allowed to attend Flyers games at the Wells Fargo Center for the foreseeable future due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

When you walked into the seating bowl, the biggest change was how the first 11 rows were covered with gray and orange tarps. Gritty had his own stage and an additional perch — complete with a sofa and lamp — behind the team benches to entertain the crowd… at home.

Otherwise, though, everything else seemed as it was left on March 12 — the last time the Flyers played at home in front of a full building. Music blared from the speakers, the LED lights lit up the arena, and Flyers highlight videos played on the huge screen above center ice.

Pregame Introductions

At 5:21 p.m., public address announcer Lou Nolan welcomed everyone and read the script he typically does before a game. When Nolan announced the Penguins starting lineup, it was strikingly odd not to hear a cascade of loud boos for Sidney Crosby.

Following the team’s intro video on the big board, the Flyers took the ice to crowd noise that was piped in, lights flashing and bursts of fire emitting from cannons attached to the big video screen. Instead of skating around their half of the rink, though, players from both teams lined up opposite each other on their respective blue lines.

A tribute video thanking frontline workers played on the video screen and Lauren Hart sang the National Anthem on the same stage that was constructed for Gritty. Then, at the opening faceoff, the referee turned his mic on and said, “Gentleman, we have all waited for this day. Welcome to the start of the 2021 season. Best wishes to all of you.”

At 5:32 p.m., he dropped the puck and the 2020-21 NHL season was officially underway.

Flyers In-Game Sights and Sounds

Although the play was a little sloppy, which was expected thanks to the truncated preseason and no exhibition games, the first period had the feel of a normal game. The on-ice action was shown on the big screen, music was played during stoppages, Gritty was up to his usual antics, and the Flyers allowed the first goal just over five minutes in.

When the Flyers scored their first goal, on a redirection by James van Riemsdyk, to tie the game in the first period, the goal horn roared and was followed by the same goal song (“Feel the Shake”) as last season.

That was the normal parts; now, the differences.

The crowd noise that was used during the action sounded less like an arena packed with 19,000-plus fans and more like a loud air conditioner constantly humming. It could have easily doubled as a white noise machine and mimicked the crowd you might hear in the background of an EA Sports video game.

It sounded as lousy in the arena as it probably did on TV. There was a faint and weak Let’s Go Flyers chant late in the first period, but the second one a few minutes later was more realistic. They were sprinkled in periodically throughout the game and at appropriate junctures.

Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby skate during a stoppage of play during a game in a previous season. The Flyers hosted the Penguins on Wednesday in the 2020-21 season opener for both teams. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While it prevented the players from playing in a quiet arena, the crowd noise was far from the energy a packed-house usually brings.

Also, the crowd noise made it hard to hear the normal sounds of the game, such as the puck hitting the stick on a hard and crisp pass, skates shaving the ice, players’ and referee’s chatter, and sometimes the referee’s whistle. Hopefully, the production department tinkers with the crowd noise as the season progresses.

Missing from a sound perspective was the “oooohs” and “aaaahs” after a near-goal by the Flyers and the immediate roar from the crowd following a big save by Carter Hart. Plus, Crosby was probably happy he didn’t have to listen to boos — and more colorful language — every time he touched the puck.

Here is what was not missed — the annoying screams of “shooooot” during the Flyers’ power play, which was actually an impressive 2-for-3 on the night.

Flyers Postgame Sights and Sounds

After the Flyers pulled away with three goals in the third period and the final horn sounded, the team’s victory song, “The Orange and The Black” rained down from the speakers. As usual, the players congratulated Hart with a stick tap to the pads or helmet-to-helmet tap before leaving the ice.

Nolan announced the Three Stars of the Game — Kevin Hayes (goal and an assist), Erik Gustafsson (two assists), and Joel Farabee (goal, three assists) — but neither of them emerged from the locker room tunnel and on to the ice for a silenced salute — we’re guessing there was no need to make an appearance since the telecast had already cut away to the next national game.

Finally, as he does for every home game, Nolan reminded fans the team is back at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday against the Penguins, and then he said good night and to have a safe trip home.

Game 1 was in the books.

There are 27 home games left in a season that will certainly look or sound anything but normal.