|Tonight won’t be any ordinary God Bless America in Philadelphia||05.02.11 at 1:28 pm ET|
PHILADELPHIA — From the first moment Kate Smith‘s rendition of “God Bless America” replaced the national anthem at a Flyers’ home game on Dec. 11, 1969, the song has sent chills up the spines of everyone in attendance.
Tonight, it will reach a whole new level – and meaning – altogether. And, all of America and the world will be watching. With the news of Osama bin Laden‘s execution on Sunday night, Americans have been celebrating the news with the pledge of allegiance and singing “God Bless America.”
The Flyers still show a video of Smith – who died in 1986 – singing “God Bless America” in lieu of “The Star Spangled Banner” for good luck before important games. The video of her performance is now accompanied by Lauren Hart, daughter of the late Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster, Gene Hart, the longtime voice of the Flyers.
Bruins coach Claude Julien is more than aware of what the atmosphere will be in the building come 7:30, in the moments before faceoff.
“That’s something that went though my mind this morning, no doubt about that,” Julien said. “When something major like that happens, I guess all the attention is drawn that way but our guys this morning seemed fine. In the morning skate, I like their focus, I liked everything else.
“There’s two teams. If one team’s going through it, I’m sure the other one is as well. I think our guys are very professional and capable of separating the things that are important when the time comes. Everybody was obviously very interested in hearing what’s happened in the last little while with that but at the same time, it’s important to be ready for the game and I think the guys understand that.”
The Flyers understand it, too, and may be under greater pressure to balance energy with emotion, especially at the start.
‘The fans and the atmosphere should be great for that part of the game,’ Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk told WEEI.com’s D.J. Bean. ‘It’s a proud day in our history, you could say now, is the day that this guy was brought to justice. At that point last night, I know hockey was put on the back burner for a second there when you kind of think of all the things that have been affected and all the people close to you that maybe lost someone. It’s obviously a good thing that all this came to justice last night.’
Bruins fans old enough to remember recall another special day when Smith performed in person.
Smith was called in to the Spectrum in front of a capacity crowd of 17,007 fans before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on May 19, 1974. That’s when B’s captain Phil Esposito infamously tried to jinx the Flyers’ good luck charm by presenting her with a bouquet of roses after her performance. It didn’t work. Bernie Parent blanked Espo, Bobby Orr and the B’s, 1-0, for the first of two straight Stanley Cups.
Including Saturday’s loss to the Bruins, the Flyers are 95-27-4 when trotting out the old standby.
So tonight, just before faceoff, turn up the TV and listen for Flyers public address announcer Lou Nolan to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, we ask that you please rise and remove your hats and salute to our flags and welcome the number 1 ranked anthemist in the NHL, Lauren Hart, as she sings God Bless America, accompanied by the great Kate Smith.”
And good luck hearing the duet from there.