CALGARY, Alberta — A funny thing happened on the Flyers’ Disney on Ice road trip: They started looking less like Mickey Mouse and more like Mighty Mouse.
Through Sunday, the Wells Fargo Center is booked with Disney on Ice. As such, the Flyers are on a six-game road trip that takes them to five western cities (and then, um, Newark, New Jersey).
The six-game road trip is the team's longest of the season. (The Sixers, obviously, are on a similar six-game road trip. "At this point, I don't think I want to see Disney On Ice," Thaddeus Young told the Daily News in 2012.)
Amazingly, the Flyers' post-Christmas road trip dates to the 1979-80 season, when the team played a six-game swing starting in Hartford and ending in Minnesota. The Flyers have been doing a post-Christmas road trip for 34 years! (Disney on Ice dates to 1981.)
The Flyers opened the season 0-3, then fired coach Peter Laviolette and replaced him with Craig Berube. Though they'd clawed back toward respectability, the team was still struggling to overcome its 1-7 start. But now, finally, the Flyers are officially .500. And a real .500: They have won 20 games, lost 16 in regulation and 4 more in overtime or shootouts. 20 wins, 20 losses.
“After the way we started the season, to be where we’re at, starting the new year," backup goalie Ray Emery said after the Flyers 4-1 win on New Year's Eve. "I think we’ll take it.”
The Flyers are halfway through their road trip. Here are some highlights of the first three games of the trip (Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary).
• In June 2011, the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51-million deal. He was the prize goaltender of that offseason, a guy who was supposed to fix the Flyers' longstanding goalie problem. Things started off well in 2011: The Flyers won their first three games of the year, HBO’s 24/7 series called him “the team’s Renaissance man” in a Liev Schreiber voice-over.
Things went sour. The 24/7 series chronicled the run-up to the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day 2012; Bryzgalov was benched by then. The team management didn't seem to like his antics — "His job is to stop pucks and help us win games, it's not Comedy Central," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said after that season. While the team kept him around for another year, the Flyers missed the playoffs and Bryz was bought out two years after signing the mega-deal. He started 97 games for the Flyers, posting a 52-33 record with 10 overtime/shootout losses. His GAA rose to 2.79 in the 2012-13 season.
The buyout means the Flyers owe Bryzgalov two-thirds of the remaining $34.5 on the contract over the next 14 years; he’s making $1,642,857.14 from the Flyers every year until 2027. The money does not count against the team’s salary cap. Bryzgalov is making $2 million this year with the Oilers.
Bryzgalov bounced around, signing with the Las Vegas Wranglers of the minor-league ECHL (which was formerly the East Coast Hockey League), before agreeing to a deal with the Edmonton Oilers. He played his first game Nov. 25 and played against the Flyers on Saturday night.
Plenty of athletes don't enjoy talking to the press, but Ilya Bryzgalov turns it into an art form. He previously accused the Flyers media of "pure unprofessionalism." Here's the exchange between Ilya Bryzgalov and Inquirer reporter Sam Carchidi after the Flyers' 4-3 shootout win:
“What’s up Bryz?”
“I know you’re not happy with the loss, but you have to be happy with the way you played tonight.”
“Ahhh, you know. I like that we got the point.”
Although the Flyers beat Bryz, he really didn't have too much to be angry about his own play that night. Bryz played well! The Flyers out-shot the Oilers, 38-16, and the three goals Bryzgalov allowed weren't really his fault. And he really wasn't in bad spirits after the game; he just... is an interesting interview. This isn't fun for beat writers, but I don't think fans need to take offense. Some guys will answer every question every time. And some guys — for whatever reason — don't like talking to the press! That's part of the fun of following sports.
Bryzgalov said the game was "like any other one," and for the most part the Flyers said they didn't treat the game any differently. But Claude Giroux stepped up in his role as captain and admitted the win was a little sweet.
"Yeah, any time you play an ex-teammate, you want to play a little harder," Giroux said. "It's kind of funny, but that's the way it is."
• Before the season, Broad Street Hockey noted that new Flyers goaltender Steve Mason was the worst statistical goalie in the NHL since play resumed post-lockout. Many people weren't sure what the Flyers were thinking.
On Monday night, Mason made the Flyers' brass look great. The Flyers were outplayed by the Canucks, giving up a season-high 44 shots. Mason saved all but three of them — then saved all three shots in the shootout to give the Flyers their third straight win and fifth in sixth games.
To be fair, Mason hasn't been a top-of-the-league goaltender this season: He's 15th in goals against average and 10th in save percentage. But he's kept the Flyers in many games and has been a big part of their turnaround.
• Also on Monday night, Giroux scored on this play. It was a breakaway where he fended off two defenders and put it past Eddie Lack. It was insane.
This would inevitably be the highlight of the season, if he hadn't already done this earlier in the month:
• I'm sure this is done in a lot of places, but here's what the Canucks' arena does in Vancouver during intermissions:
• Finally, all three cities were full of Flyers fans. In Edmonton, the crowd was almost as loud for Flyers goals as for Oilers goals. (Sure, having the worst team in the league may depress attendance, but people may also go to Oilers games just to get out of sub-zero temperatures.) Here's a pregame shot of the crowd from Calgary. Look at all the orange!
Sure, there were crowds for Flyers players who grew up in Canada, but (like other Philly fans) it seems Flyers fans travel well — even across country.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.