Another night in the American Hockey League. The first period was nearing its end. The home club, the Philadelphia Phantoms, leaders of the Mid-Atlantic Division, had scored twice. The visitors, the fourth-place Baltimore Bandits, had been bageled. Down near the ice several grown men in purple jackets, a doo-wop group called Frankie and the Fashions that would entertain during the first intermission, loosened their pipes. Close by, another purple-suited man, Phlex, the Phantoms' frantic-skating mascot, readied himself for his first intermission gig. On the ice one of the Bandits, a big defenseman named Andy Silverman, threw right wing Bruce Coles, who had scored both Phantoms goals, into the boards, hard. Up in the press box eight or nine NHL scouts—mostly old, weathered hockey men wearing coats and ties and sweater vests—raised sharpened colored pencils with their gnarled fingers and made a note. In the stands a white-haired woman named June Evans, wearing black shoes with thick rubber soles and a Phantoms jersey signed by a dozen of the Philadelphia players, turned her head, wincing. Bill Barber, the coach of the Phantoms, cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled something intended for Coles or Silverman or the referee—but not for any of the 8,306 people assembled at the Spectrum, which is Barber's old hockey house from the days when he was a Philadelphia Flyer, a Broad Street bully.
A trivia question went up on the electronic scoreboard above center ice. Mike Williams, a junior at Temple sitting in the second level with his father, lifted his eyes from the textbook in his lap, 500 Russian Verbs, to the lighted query: How many AHL teams have the same nickname as their NHL affiliate? Williams smirked and shook his head. So easy. Six, of course. He rattled them off. Fredericton Canadiens (Montreal Canadiens), Binghamton Rangers (New York Rangers)...and so on. Williams posed a better question: Before this season, when was the last time an NHL team and its AHL affiliate played in the same city? Answer: the 1973-74 season, when the Bruins of the NHL and the Braves of the AHL shared the first name Boston.
Now the Flyers and the Phantoms are doing the same thing. The Flyers play in a shiny new arena, the CoreStates Center, across a massive parking lot from the Spectrum. The local pro basketball team, the 76ers, has abandoned the Spectrum for the CoreStates Center too. One night this year, while the Phantoms were on an AHL-record 21-game home winning streak, the minor league hockey club outdrew the big league basketball team. Philadelphia is a hockey town.
"Over there you got your corporate types, talking about the world at large," said Bob Evans, June's husband, a retired telephone company worker, pointing at the CoreStates Center through a Spectrum wall. "This is more like hockey how it used to be."
Less sleek, more physical. More affordable, too. You can buy four top-scale tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for $40. Across the parking lot, a club-box seat costs $125.
In the second period Baltimore scored its first goal, then tied the game, then took the lead 3-2. Out in the Spectrum concourse, Rita Lyons, president of the Phantoms Phan Club, sat at a table explaining her club. "We promote good sportsmanship and good relationships with fans from other clubs," she said. "We're also organizing an end-of-the-season awards banquet."
The third period came and went without any scoring. The home team had lost. A night of old-world hockey was over. It was 9:30 p.m. A team of Philadelphia firefighters and a club team from the University of Pennsylvania had the ice. June Evans, head of membership for the Phan Club, lifted her cane off the ground and reached for her husband across the empty seat between them. "Well," she said cheerfully, "we're still in first place."