The Hockey Fan Experience Continues: Generations, Sharks, And Pucks Et Veritas

Fred Isbell

Being a hockey fan is a journey, not a destination. I did some cool things last season – my hockey fan experience included playing in a game against Philadelphia Flyers Alumni, attending a hockey game and skating in a rink in the middle of the desert in Arizona, and honoring the legacy of home-town Bruins idol Ray Bourque with a visit to Denver’s Pepsi Center and a skate at the Avalanche practice facility – all the while meeting countless hockey fans along the way.

When summer turned into fall in Boston, the glory of past excellence was all around the Warrior Ice Arena, the brand-new practice facility of the Boston Bruins. Stanley Cup Banners and the retired numbers of Bruins legends, including Bobby Orr, hang prominently from the rafters. An open skate and “meet and greet” with Bruins prospects and veterans inspired the fandom in everyone there. For me, talking with Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney, who played at Harvard before a long Bruins career, was just as cool as seeing rookie Rob O’Gara, a Yale defenseman who joined the team after graduation.  I would go on to cheer the Yale men’s hockey team in road games at Notre Dame, UConn, Boston University, Harvard, and Brown during the season and see O’Gara play for the AHL Providence Bruins – truly “Pucks et Veritas!”

Every year, I try to attend the match-up between the San Jose Sharks and the Bruins in Boston – far from the SAP Center where the Sharks play home games. I had to wait a little bit longer for this long-standing tradition than in past years – but nonetheless, it was worth it. It was a surprising 6-3 Bruins win days after they dismissed their long-time head coach.

I wore my San Jose Sharks number 19 teal jersey that night, honoring former Bruins’ captain (now Shark) Joe Thornton. A quick glance at the player stats for Thornton, courtesy of SAP analytics, showcases what an amazing career he has had. It was also great to see the amazing Brent Burns, a Sharks defenseman who could be the first defenseman to lead the NHL in scoring since the great Bruin Bobby Orr did decades ago. A feature a few weeks later on Burns and the NHL (“Insights from SAP”) impressively put Burns in the company of both Orr and Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey, who ironically ended his long and illustrious career as a Boston Bruin.

Caritas et veritas on the ice

While I love the thrill of professional hockey, my fandom is inextricably intertwined with the NHL’s commitment to community service and charities. For me, it is hard to top my experience on the ice at the charity hockey game last season playing for Flyers legend Brian Propp, joining a team assembled to take on the Flyers’ Alumni team in the 12th annual “NHS Goals for Giving” event. However, the announcement that the Flyers would have an alumni game against the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins – as well as a reception to meet the Flyers legends playing in and supporting the game – came very close. My son Scott, whom I coached and drove to countless hockey games and practices, decided to come to Philadelphia with me for the event. Being a hockey fan truly crosses generations.

The event started with a montage of original jerseys worn by yesteryear’s Flyers players, as well as a chance meeting with Flyer Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent (my childhood favorite Flyer for life). Over the next two hours, Scott and I met and talked with an amazing array of Flyers legends: Bernie; Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Reggie Leach, and Bill Barber of the “Broad Street Bullies” era; and Brian Propp and his linemate Tim Kerr, a Flyers 1980’s era scoring machine. More contemporary Flyers – including Simone Gagne, Gerry Desjardins, and Danny Brière – were also there, looking like they could still take a regular shift. I met with some of the Flyers legends I played with and against in last year’s charity game, including Bob “The Hound” Kelly, Joe Watson, Larry Goodenough, and Kjell Samuelsson. They gladly signed a picture of us along with Brian Propp from the 2016 NHS game, which I dubbed “the AARP All-Star Team,” and we all had a good laugh.

Undoubtedly, the highlight of the day was seeing my son’s face when he met his idol, Eric Lindros. Scott told Eric how we used to read his biography at story time and how it became a school book report – several times, in fact!

Meeting Flyers great and hall of famer Mark Howe and the son of “Mr. Hockey,” Gordie Howe was very special to me. Mark loved hearing about my recent blog about his dad, who passed away last year, and how statistics and analytics prove he was the greatest player ever. All of this made me think back to when the Flyers were winning back-to-back Stanley Cups and more in the mid-1970s. Nothing has changed in the intervening 40-plus years, and the respect and bond between players and fans continue to be as strong as ever.

Generations and the fan experience

The alumni game between the Flyers and Penguins was played to a sold-out crowd and benefited the Ed Snider Foundation, honoring the passing of one of the Flyers’ founders. From the player introductions and homage to fallen Flyers players and colleagues to the opening face-off, the only word that could describe the day is “magical.” The game had players representing several generations and eras for both teams. While that in itself is impressive, the level of play was also very high. What looked like a Flyers runaway win early on ended in a 3-3 tie. Everyone in attendance left the rink with huge smiles. And of course, seeing Flyer great, ambassador, and friend Brian Propp introduced to an enormous ovation 15 months after suffering a massive stroke – and then skating and playing at a high level of play that simply defies logic – was an absolute thrill. Brian greeted the crowd with his signature “guffaw” and wave, and the place went crazy.

Being a hockey fan is something that passes from generation to generation – and sharing the Flyer magic and tradition with my son Scott is something that I will never forget. It’s not about logic, but it’s all about passion for our favorite teams, players, and special moments. Scott and I, wearing jerseys honoring Flyers legends Brian Propp #26 and Brian Boucher “Bouch” #33, were united with the 18,000 other fans that night in one magical moment. The magic of the hockey fan experience transcends generations and with amazing memories to last a lifetime.

So despite my steep challenge to top some pretty cool things last year, I think I did a good job adding to my fan experience this year. And best of all, the season is barely half done as the second season of the NHL playoffs awaits. Keep an eye on the NHL Network and NHL on NBC for lots more insights by SAP and much more!

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About Fred Isbell

Fred Isbell worked at SAP for nearly 19 years in senior roles in SAP Marketing. He is an experienced, results- and goal-oriented senior marketing executive with broad and extensive experience & expertise in high technology and marketing spanning nearly 30 years. He has a BA from Yale and an MBA from the Duke Fuqua School of Business.