• The ultimate sports fantasy camp: you play in a televised game against the ’74 and ’75 Stanley Cup champions.
• What would you pay to spend a weekend treated like an NHL player? But wait – there’s more!
• See how Dave “Full House” Coulier, Cameron “Beverly Hills 90102” Bancroft and I combined for a huge goal at the Spectrum.
Okay, it’s been established. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had a fulfilling, exciting career. If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life, as the saying goes. But then, to have your jobs repeatedly intersect with that other thing you love, ice hockey, well, that’s just gravy. Truckloads of it.
The pinnacle: when I was invited to join the Celebrity All-Star Hockey team — Hollywood actors who played games as charity fund-raisers. They played an exhibition before the 1996 NHL All-Star game in Boston and I persuaded CNN to send me and a camera crew to do a feature on them. On the Eastern Shuttle back to NY the next day, the manager of the team invited me to join. There followed games in Minnesota, Tucson and Los Angeles in which, alongside the likes of Matthew Perry, Richard Dean Anderson, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Alan Thicke, Mike Meyers and a host of B- and C-list actors who could skate, and some ringers like Hall of Famer Phil Esposito, we barnstormed around the country.
It didn’t get any better than my very first event with the team, in April of 1996, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. It was a Sunday, the Flyers were on the road, their cancer-fighting charity, Flyers Wives Fight For Lives, sold 14-thousand tickets for a game between Celebrity All-Star Hockey and Flyers’ alumni – including members of the Broad Street Bullies of ’74 and ’75 Stanley Cup fame: Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish, Bob Kelly, Bernie Parent, Joe Watson, Orest Kindrachuk, and Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, the bully-est of the bullies.
How’s this for a sports fantasy camp: We were put up in a Society Hill hotel, bussed to the Spectrum on Saturday for a practice session and media interviews. In our locker room were new gear bags filled with swag. We had stick boys handing out towels and water bottles.
Then, on Sunday afternoon — oh, did I mention the game was televised? Live, on SportsChannel, the country’s first regional sports network (1979-1998). A couple of weeks later, back in NYC, a friend called me excitedly on a Sunday night to say, “Dude! You’re on TV, playing hockey! (SportsChannel had rebroadcast it in the NY market, curiously.)
I still pinch myself watching the player introductions.
Between the first and second periods, I was interviewed live – and sweaty – in the locker room by the rinkside reporter who remembered me from my days at WMMR.
I actually got an assist. I was out on D, patrolling the left point, and sent a pass down low to Dave Coulier of “Full House,” who tossed the puck out front where Cameron Bancroft of “90210” roofed it.
The game was kind of like a Harlem Globetrotters show, complete with a staged fight between one of our guys and Dave Schultz. I don’t know how hard the Flyers alumni were really trying, but we played them even, with some help from the referees. It also helped that Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent (“Only the Lord Saves More than Bernie” the bumper sticker read in the ’70s) did not suit up, opting to coach instead. A former team trainer, Dave “Sudsy” Settlemeyer was in the nets for them and he was . . . porous.
Richard Dean Anderson had recently wrecked his knee skiing, so “MacGyver” was our coach. Our stars included Alan Thicke, Jerry Hauser (Killer Carlson in “Slap Shot”), the late John Saunders of ABC and ESPN, Mike Vitar from “Mighty Ducks 2” and Jason Hervey, who played the older brother who called Kevin Arnold “butthead” all the time on “The Wonder Years.” We were given two ringers, Flyer alums Keith Acton and Jeff Chychrun.
Our goalie was Jim Martin, an actor who was said to have appeared somewhere in “Lethal Weapon 3” but wasn’t exactly deadly between the nets. Amazingly, after a 9-9 tie in regulation, we won in a shootout that went to sudden death and saw Hervey score and Flyer alum Dave Poulin bobble the puck and get stick-checked by Martin.
Back at the hotel, during some down time between the game’s end and an after-party, my companion that weekend sat me down on the bed and said, “I have a feeling this could just possibly be one of the best weekends of your life.” (Boy, did she know me!) “So, just lie back and relax and let me make absolutely sure it is!”