The Philadelphia Flyers still have fans.
Despite the 113-day lockout that wiped out half the NHL season, nearly 20,000 fans are expected tonight at the Wells Fargo Center — to watch practice.
But not everyone is back on board. Across the country, thousands of fans have pledged to strike back at the NHL by locking up their wallets, and some of them are Flyers fans in South Jersey.
“I just got a little frustrated with the whole situation so I decided not to waste any money and give it right back to them when they came back,” Sea Isle City resident Ryan Myers, 29, said in a phone interview Wednesday.
That’s a decent amount of money. In addition to going to at least 20 home games each season, Myers said he and his friend Randy Leisner went on a hockey trip every year. Last year they went out West for games in Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix.
This season, Myers and Leisner canceled their trips to Dallas and Pittsburgh. Myers does not plan to go to any home games, either.
“I’ve spent a good chunk of change on the NHL in my life the past couple years,” he said. “I was just fed up with it.”
Myers said in addition to Leisner, he has about six other friends around the state who are fans of the Flyers, New Jersey Devils or New York Rangers and also plan to boycott this season. They’re not alone, as nearly 23,000 people have liked a Facebook page called “Just Drop It,” pledging to boycott games.
It’s not an easy decision for Myers, a lifelong fan who has played hockey since he was 5. He does plan to return next season.
“It’s killing me,” Myers said. “It’s a shame. … I love going to games, but it’s just a moral thing. I’m not thinking they’re going to lose any sleep, (but) it’s something for my moral well-being.”
Another local fan, John Saquella of North Cape May, said it’s not so much a moral issue as a case of simply finding other things to do.
Saquella, 40, has been a Flyers fan for most of his life and said he usually goes to five or 10 games each year. But he said he decided around Thanksgiving not to buy any tickets or merchandise this year.
“I pretty much decided that they weren’t going to get any money this year from me,” Saquella said in a phone interview. “I don’t think the lockout made any sense and I think that it was a really stupid thing to put fans through.
“I fully expect to go back next year. It’s not like some massive point of pride or anything, but I found a lot of other stuff to do and things that I can spend my money on that I’m enjoying just as much as going to games.”
Saquella has children ages 6 and 8, and he said trips to the movies and the Franklin Institute are among the activities that have replaced Flyers games for him.
Unlike Myers, Saquella said most of his friends who are Flyers fans have gone back to supporting the team, and they have egged him on about his stance.
Saquella said it’s “not like a hunger strike.” He still plans to wear Flyers gear that he already owns. And he wouldn’t rule out going to a Flyers game this season, especially if the team were to make the Stanley Cup finals.
“I would never say never,” he said. “It’s possible. I probably wouldn’t actively shop for tickets, but if I had an opportunity or was offered some, I would maybe consider going.”
Myers said he definitely would go to at least one game if the Flyers make it to the Cup finals.
“I did say to my friends, ‘That’s the caveat,’ “ Myers said.
The large majority of Flyers fans, however, appear to be back on board already.
Thousands attended the opening day of training camp at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees. And tonight’s open practice in Philadelphia has sold out (tickets were free but had to be reserved).
“It doesn’t surprise me,” coach Peter Laviolette said when told of the sellout.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone. In 2005-06, after a lockout wiped out the previous season, the Flyers were fourth in the league in attendance, averaging 19,653. That was 116 more than the seating capacity of the Wells Fargo Center.
Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn said he expected Flyers fans to be back again this season. He cited Operation Hat Trick, a charity game in November that drew a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
“When we had that charity game in Atlantic City, you could feel the energy and feel how people were really passionate about hockey,” Coburn said.
Notes: Comcast SportsNet announced it will televise 41 of the Flyers’ 48 regular-season games. Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh and Sunday’s at Buffalo will be on NBC, and five games will be on NBC Sports Network.
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