By Zane Miller
On October 31st, 2001, the Philadelphia Flyers took down their in-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins 3-0, capitalizing on the home ice advantage to continue their strong start to the 2001-02 season as the team looked to reach the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season. However, this contest sticks out in Flyers history because of the bizarre choice of uniform for this game specifically.
As expected following a successful regular season in 2000-01, Philadelphia held a winning record through the early portion of the year coming into the matchup against the Penguins, with the team also having defeated the Washington Capitals just the day before.
From the 1970-71 season through the 2000-01 campaign, the Flyers had utilized an orange jersey with a thick white stripe atop the shoulders as their road uniform. Obviously, it had gained a strong association with the team over this time, as the team reached multiple Stanley Cup Finals and even won back-to-back Cups with the jersey in 1974 and 1975. However, beginning in 2001-02, the Flyers would instead wear a mostly black jersey as their official road uniform, though the team had been using this as an alternate jersey since the 1997-98 campaign.
In the NHL at the time, it was tradition for the home team to wear white jerseys while the away team would wear colored jerseys. However, for Halloween night, and despite being the home team, the Flyers opted to bring back their recently-retired orange jerseys. Although I couldn’t find a specific statement from the team as to why they brought the uniform back, it certainly makes sense to do so as a tie-in with the orange and black commonly associated with Halloween. Plus, it’s even more fitting for a jersey which had been believed to have been withdrawn from use to be brought back as a “zombie” of sorts. However, for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the real horror would manifest itself in the form of the crushing defense of the Flyers.
Starting in net for the Flyers would be goaltender Brian Boucher, who was coming off back-to-back wins, including his first shutout in over a year the previous night, and looked to keep the hot streak going with his save percentage sitting at an impressive .935. Meanwhile, the Penguins would have backup Jean-Sebastien Aubin between the pipes, as the team opted to give regular starter Johan Hedberg a rest before their upcoming home contest versus the Toronto Maple Leafs set to take place the next day. As for Aubin, he was still looking for his first win of the season after his only other two starts ended in a loss and a tie respectively, as he also sought to improve his .863 save percentage in the process.
Right after the first period got underway, Philadelphia would come out firing on all cylinders as longtime forward John LeClair scored just 25 seconds into the game, continuing his comeback campaign after an injury-shortened 2000-01 season. However, despite both teams having a power play opportunity each, the offense would grind to a halt for the remainder of the first as the Flyers headed into the locker room up 1-0.
The second period saw the Penguins continue to be unable to solve Boucher as he made four straight saves to start off the frame, before the Flyers capitalized on the other end of the ice as forward Mark Recchi burned his former team with a goal to double the Philadelphia lead. The Flyers’ defense would continue to do its job, holding Pittsburgh off the board while LeClair also drew a power play opportunity late in the period. Although it initially seemed as though the second would quietly come to an end, this would not be the case as defenseman Dan McGillis found the back of the net with one second left for the game’s only power play tally. The Flyers would hold serve through the third period as well, as despite giving up three power play chances in the final 20 minutes of play, the Penguins would be unable to take advantage with the Halloween contest coming to a close with Philadelphia claiming their second straight 3-0 win to improve to 6-3-3 on the year, while Pittsburgh dropped to 4-7-1.
Unsurprisingly, the Flyers went on to qualify for the postseason once again with a 42-30-10 record, though they would fall to the Ottawa Senators in the opening round. As for the Penguins, they would go on to have their first truly bad season in a dozen years, finishing at 28-46-8 to miss the postseason in what would signal a rebuilding process throughout the first half of the 2000s.
As for the orange jerseys themselves, they would be auctioned off after the game for charity benefiting victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks which had occurred less than two months prior, with the jerseys also having patches on them honoring the New York Fire Department and Police Department. The non-orange jersey era of the Flyers franchise would not last long as a variation of the classic jersey would return as an alternate in 2002-03, though with several notable differences. In the 2009-10 season, the original orange jerseys would be brought back into the rotation, this time as the home jersey with the NHL having switched to colored jerseys being worn by the home team beginning with the 2003-04 season. With the orange jerseys being such an iconic look for the Flyers, I believe that their 2009-10 re-addition is likely a permanent one.
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