By: Cathy Cuff Coffman
I’m a Philly girl, born and bred, and I’ve been an ice hockey aficionado since…1967.
That started with my Dad.
Ice hockey has always been around Philadelphia in one form or another—several minor league teams trekked their way through Billy Penn’s town, and my dad would frequent the games. If there was play-by-play on the radio, you can be sure our transistor was tuned to the game.
But when Ed Snider gambled and brought the Flyers—one of the first ice hockey expansion teams—to Philadelphia, my dad was one of the first to purchase season tickets. The year was 1967. I was five years old. And so began, in earnest, our family’s love affair with ice hockey.
I’m the oldest of four, and grew up as a rough and tumble tomboy. I was, in essence, my dad’s first born son. Sports brought us together. I played softball at a competitive level, and also played field hockey and lacrosse. A rival school had a girl on the field hockey team that also played ice hockey. I wanted to do that. “Learn to skate backwards,” said my Dad. And so I spent my allowance at the local rink, skating and working on cutting “C’s” in the ice to skate backwards.
I told him I learned—and he still wouldn’t let me sign up for the local team, the Sprinfield Quakers (named after the Philadelphia Quakers, one of the minor league teams that briefly made Philadelphia their homestead). Later on—as an adult—I realized that ice hockey was just too expensive for a truck driver’s salary.
But I digress.
So after a few years of season tickets my Dad and his friend worked their way into the Flyers organization—literally. They shared the job as Ed Snider’s bartender in the Spectrum’s Superbox. The gig came with two season tickets in Section X.
So while my Dad tended bar just 10 rows away, my siblings and I got to watch Flyers hockey from the opposing players’ blue line.
After the games we would go to the Superbox and clean glasses while my dad entertained the players and radio commentators after the game.
It just didn’t get much better than that.
My Dad’s love for the game was infectious in our family—even my Mom, the most non-sporty person ever, watched with intent and knowledge. One of my favorite pictures of my Dad is one where he’s in his recliner, covered by an afghan, watching the Flyers on TV. His hands are raised above his head, and when I look at that picture I can here him yelling “Score!”
Fast forward to 1991. My four-year old son, Tim, decides to trade in all the birthday presents he received for roller blades and a stick. I obliged. No kiddie rollerblades—inline wheels with no brake pad.
The little guy—who had seen enough hockey on TV, transferred what he viewed to his feet. The boy could skate. The next year, he was on the ice with the Pottstown Penguins, skating as if he had been doing it all his life. He went right to the Mite A team. And my Dad couldn’t be prouder.
My parents came to as many of Tim’s games as they could. One particular match was against a team coached by Ed “Boxcar” Hospodar—a former Flyer who my Dad had served in the Superbox. Tim’s team was down by two goals, with a minute left to play. Tim, in quick succession scored three goals to put the game away. Dad didn’t have much to say—he was pretty modest— but he did comment, “That boy is fast.”
The next year Tim made a Tier I AAA team (Valley Forge Minutemen) team and the realization of travel set in. We had two other children at home and I was afraid the travel would be too much. Not to worry. Dad went out and bought a conversion van and said he’d take Tim to as many games as he could.
That never happened. That summer Dad suddenly passed away. My Mom sold the van. And then, our daughter Kelly was bitten by the hockey bug, and she turned into a fine Tier 1 boys’ goaltender. Our youngest, Joe, eventually laced up the skates as a happy recreational player.
But it’s my Dad and his infectious love of the skill and effort put out by hockey players that turned my family into a hockey family.
My husband is from West Virginia and knew nothing of the game. When he took a job in Philadelphia, my Dad welcomed him to our town with the tickets in Section X.
Dad was tending bar, and snuck us a bread bag filled with jumbo shrimp. My husband felt the energy in the Spectrum. I don’t remember who the Flyers were playing. But I remember the feeling of passing something along to my husband that colored the fabric of my life for as long as I could remember.
Our involvement in hockey continues. Tim went to Utica College in New York, holds most of the schools scoring records. After Utica, he played four seasons in the ECHL with the Alaska Aces, a team which sadly had to cease operations after the ’16/’17 season. He recently signed with Slovakia team HKM Zvolen.
A corner of our basement is filled with used hockey gear. And every once in a while, one of the kids would say, “I wonder what GrandDad would think?”
And we picture him with his hands raised above his head, shouting “Score!”