Michael Leighton; Jeff Carter
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton is congratulated by teammate Jeff Carter after defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 in Game 4 of the NHL Eastern Conference Finals, Saturday. Carter has been a familiar face in Avalon in recent summers. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz)

The Philadelphia Flyers are one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, so excuse some local fans if they are overly excited.

Locals have hung out, drunk beers and chatted with current and former Flyers throughout the area. Some have even been served by them.

Philadelphia could reach the Stanley Cup Finals tonight for the first time since the 1996-97 season when they host the Montreal Canadiens at 7 p.m. The Flyers lead the best-of-seven series three games to one.

Avalon resident Andrew Magee, 27, remembers a fun night two summers ago at Circle Pizza on Dune Drive, when current Flyers forward Jeff Carter and other players came in toward the end of the night - as they do often - after hanging out down the street at The Circle Tavern at The Princeton.

"They would come to the back door and get a couple of slices and have a beer," said Magee, who worked there but now manages Stone Harbor Pizza on 96th Street. "This one night toward the end of the summer, they came in and threw on a couple of shirts and got behind the counter. They were mixing it up with the customers."

The Flyers have a large presence in Cape May County. The past few years, Flyers prospects - talented, young players who are not yet part of the NHL team - competed in the annual "Trial on the Isle" triathlon, which includes biking, kayaking and running in Stone Harbor. The triathlon is followed by a softball game, which is open to the public.

Afterward, the prospects join local fans at the Whitebrier Restaurant for an autograph session and after-party. A portion of the proceeds are donated to an American Legion Post in Stone Harbor.

Many former Flyers - such as Chris Therien, Rick Tocchet, Scott Mellanby and Brian Propp - also own or have owned homes in Ocean City. Ron Hextall, whose last season with Philadelphia was 1998-99, vacationed in Somers Point.

The area has so much of what many of these hockey players grew up with in Canada with hunting and fishing, it seems natural for them to head to the area. Plus, there's the bonus of so many golf courses.

Tocchet and Mellanby have played in the Ocean City men's softball league and often were guest bartenders at Memories Lounge in Margate. They also liked to hang out at Diorio's Circle Café in Somers Point, drinking beers with locals.

"(The New Jersey shore) is the place to go for anyone," said Philadelphia Flyers broadcaster Steve Coates, who lives in Egg Harbor Township. "There are a lot of things to do around here, a lot of places to go. I think a lot of guys enjoyed the family atmosphere of the area."

Coates as been the face of the Flyers for many years. He has broadcast their games since 1982 and started "Coatesy's Corner" in 1992, which appears on television during the

first intermission of every game.

Coates remembers the late 1980s and early 1990s when many of the players made Cape May County their home. The players enjoyed the area's easy-going atmosphere and were able to walk around without getting bombarded with requests for autographs.

"We used to hang out at a bunch of places and had good times," Coates said. "People were very polite and we always had a very pleasant experience."

Tim Kerr has a huge presence in the Avalon and Stone Harbor area. The three-time All-Star played in Philadelphia for 11 seasons from 1980 to 1991 and holds Philadelphia's team record for the most 50-goal seasons with four.

He owns Tim Kerr's Powerplay Realty on Dune Drive, which sells and rents homes in the Avalon and Stone Harbor area. For several years, Kerr also has run a charity run that bears his name. Kerr splits time between his homes in Avalon and Moorestown, Burlington County, said Tim Kerr Realty sales associate Ann Delaney. Kerr does not do interviews, she said.

Kerr spends two to three days a week at the real estate business, and his daughter is a hostess at The Princeton. During the summer, vacationers pop in to the realty looking for the Flyers great.

"At least once a week people come in here looking for him during the summer," Delaney said. "People see the name on the building and they want to know if it's really Tim Kerr."

Many of those who have met Flyers players have similar stories. Julia Dougherty, 22, spends the summer in her family home in Avalon. Last year, she hung out with Carter and some of his friends at The Princeton.

Some people knew who Carter was, but many didn't. Fans can have a difficult time recognizing hockey players because they wear a helmet while they play and often don't have all their teeth in on the ice.

"He was real down to earth and real cool," said Dougherty, who recently graduated from Loyola College in Maryland. "You would think a guy like that would be different, but he was nice to everyone who talked to him. He was just looking to hang out some place relaxing with his friends."

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