Catcalls or wild applause? Simon Gagne returns to Philadelphia (preview)

WHERE: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
MEDIA: Versus (cable), 620 WDAE (Radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Broad Street Hockey

If there is any city Tampa Bay fans think of as a rival, a city which we've done battle with several times before in several different sports, it's Philadelphia.

World Series, NFC Championship game, NHL Eastern Conference championship, and other playoff games in the NFL and NHL... Always standing in the way, always the big-time opponent.

So we're well aware of Philly for one reason or another... And we're well aware of the reputation of the town.... Fiercely loyal to their colors (no matter which sport) and fiercely critical of athletes and opposing clubs (or guests at events).

So it really begs the question: Will LW Simon Gagne return to Philadelphia tonight and receive an ovation that he deserves from a franchise that he was loyal to for so long? Or will he be booed mercilessly by a fan base that is renowned for such antics?

Evidence points to the former, but reputation of the City of Brotherly Love makes one suspect the latter.

There was one authority I thought to consult about the situation tonight. I decided to touch base with cross-team fan (and Raw Charge regular) Katchis about what to expect tonight. It's been made public knowledge that the Flyers organization plans a video montage of Gagne tonight... But really, what will Philly be doing for Simon's homecoming?

I can’t speak for anyone. Especially not for a 20.000 crowd. But I am more than positive that Simon will be greatly cheered tonight in Philadelphia. (He's) expected to get a warm welcome in his old home. Video tribute, standing O, banners and signs with his name… Why is that? Why will the Flyers fans, known for being very passionate about their team, stand and applaud to an opposing player?

The answer is not that difficult to find. You can go and ask anyone who’s been a Flyers fan (for decades or just recently), member of the team, part of the organization… they will all tell you that Gagne was well-liked, classy, and humble. He was always nice and kind, giving interviews even after tough losses, signing autographs for the fans. And of course a spectacular hockey player – a pure scorer, one of the best two-way guys in the league, an incredibly fast skater, class act. All these terms are used in the same sentence with Gagne’s name.

Despite having his career in an orange sweater foiled by many injuries, the Flyers faithful always seemed to be easy on him. Yes, doubts of his contribution to the team were thrown here and there when he got injured (again!) but he was never booed. They never tried to run him out of town. In fact, almost everybody hated to see him go. And the fans treated him this way because of the things I listed above. Because of the qualities he possesses. And you know,… he did some great things for the Flyers, didn’t he?

Don't expect hostility toward Simon pregame... But if he lights the lamp... well, anything goes. It's Philly after all.

Dan Ellis is expected to get his first start of the season tonight. This is on the heels of Mike Smith's 22 save performance last night in Montreal.

Speaking of last night's game, I have to wonder if Mike Vernace sits tonight and Matt Smaby makes his season debut on defense. Mike did not impress... He's seeing very limited ice time as is (10:30 on average, almost 11 minutes last night). ( [Note by John Fontana, 10/14/10 1:38 PM EDT ] Smaby is indeed in tonight, but it's Dana Tyrell who will be scratched) Former bolt Matt Walker will be out for Philadelphia.

The Bolts power play is ranked 2nd int he league (thank you early season oddness) with a 36.4 conversion rate (they are 4 for 11 in two games). They'll be pitted against the Flyers penalty kill unit that has stopped 15 of 17 short-handed situations so far this season. On the other hand, Philadelphia's power play unit is 1 for 13 so far this season (three games played), they'll be facing Tampa Bay's PK unit which has allowed one goal in 9 short-handed situations so far this season.

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