Vancouver, British Columbia. June 24th 2006. Bob Clarke strolls to the podium at the 44th early entry draft wearing a s*** eating grin plastered across his face. It’s the same wry smile he wears when he recounts slashing Valeri Kharlamov’s ankle during the ’72 Summit Series and altering Canadian hockey history. It’s the same smug grin he sports when the subject of his game 2 overtime goal, that changed the momentum of the ’74 Finals, comes up. He knows he got the best of them again. The Philadelphia Flyers had set their sights on an undersized 19 year old from the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The kid had the skills, even if he didn’t fit the profile of the typical Flyer. In 2006 the Flyers were still married to the idea that all things being equal bigger is better. The kid stood a mere 5’11” but had a play makers vision and the hands to match. Plus, he had shown a good deal of grit for a player his size. You can see the unbridled joy in Clarke’s eyes “Philadelphia selects from Gatineau of the Quebec Junior League…..I forget”
And this is how the world was introduced to the “Ginger Jesus,” Claude Giroux. Fast forward to January 17 2013. Giroux skates onto the Wells Fargo Center Ice for the first time as Flyers captain. The town is ravenous after months of absurd squabbling have killed half of the season. 15,000 people fill the building for what amounts to a two-thirds speed clinic on clearing the puck following a face off win, hundreds of thousands more tune in on TV. No one came for the strategy. They all came for one thing. To see the Jesus dawn the “C” for the very first time. Giroux skates alone, as fellow ginger, Scott Hartnell holds back the rest of the team to give the diminutive prodigy his moment of glory. The crowd roars its approval. This is what its like to be the chosen one in a town starved for a Stanley Cup.
The Flyers captaincy isn’t without its pitfalls. Since the Orange and Black unceremoniously kicked Eric Lindros to the curb in 2000 the “C” has brought nothing but hardship to those who wear it. Eric Desjardins lasted 1 season as captain before being ousted amongst team turmoil. Keith Primeau’s career was cut short by a series of concussions. Petr Forsberg succumbed to chronic foot and back injuries. Jason Smith suffered from overall suckiness. Mike Richards downfall? Drunkenness, philandering and being an unlikable asshole and Chris Pronger was toppled by severe post-concussion syndrome. The Curse of the Big E left no survivors. Finally, at the 2012 Winter Classic #88 was welcomed back to the ice as a Flyer after years of exile. He was besieged by a thunderous ovation so long and so loud that it couldn’t help but convince his mommy to put away her voodoo doll and lift the curse that has lingered over Flyer Captains for more than a decade.
The other curse of the Flyers is much longer lived. In 1985 Pelle Lindberg smashed his Porsche 930 into a school in Southern New Jersey, killing himself and the flyers hopes of another Cup. It is safe to say, that since that fateful day no team in professional sports has been as consistently atrocious at any position as the Flyers have been in Goal. For every good year by Ron Hextall there have been ten bad years by the Marty Birons, Roman Chechmaneks and Garth Snows of the organization. Current G.M. Paul Holmgren couldn’t have known what a complete fruit cake Ilya Bryzgalov was when he inked him to a 9 year $51,000,000 dollar contract. Needless to say, it doesn’t appear the goalie curse is going away, anytime soon.
So the kid leads the Flyers into the 2013 season with the same questions that have plagued the Broad Street Bullies since the days when Bobby Clarke hoisted the cup. Can he and his young counterparts be good enough to overcome the snake bit franchise? Only time will tell, but today one thing is certain everyone in Philadelphia remembers his name.