Most of the
time, coaches who show up at Penn wearing black and orange are given a rather hostile welcome.
This was not the case, however, on Wednesday night at the Class of 1923 Ice Rink.
While the usual nighttime traffic drove down Walnut Street unaware, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock
was presiding over the Penn men's club ice hockey team's practice, and he had the rapt attention of everyone in the building.
"It was inspiring," Penn coach Dave Berger said afterwards. "The guys were fired up and 'Hitch' obviously
runs a professional practice."
Hitchcock, as well as Flyers captain Keith Primeau, appeared at Berger's request. Primeau's eldest son plays
for a travel youth team that Berger coaches, and Berger has been a frequent attendee at Hitchcock's coaching seminars.
"I've kind of made a practice of trying during the week to help some of the club teams and junior teams and
pro teams in the Philly area," Hitchcock said. "This was the right date and it worked."
Both Hitchcock and Primeau have had plenty of time on their hands in recent weeks, with the National Hockey
League's lockout showing no signs of coming to an end. While it was Hitchcock's first time with the Quakers, Primeau has become
something of a regular over the last few weeks.
"They've allowed me to come out and they've accepted me as one of the guys," Primeau said. "That's important,
because I don't want to be stepping on anybody's toes."
Hitchcock was full of praise not only for the Penn players but for the arena, which he said reminded him of
"a lot of the junior buildings that I used to coach in."
"This is like a real hockey building, this thing," he said. "I really enjoyed the atmosphere."
He added that the arena "must be an incredible building when it's full," although he was unaware that Penn
has not had a varsity hockey team since 1978. Upon being informed of this, Hitchcock said, "This is such a beautiful building
for the game of hockey -- I guess I'm going to leave here wishing that there was a Division I [program] here."
As for the players, Hitchcock praised their "enthusiasm" and admitted to catching a bit of it himself.
"This is really good therapy for me, watching guys have fun playing hockey," he said. "It's got my enthusiasm
back, so that's a good thing."
Penn forward and college junior Patrick Linneman, the team's vice president, took a lot from the session.
"It just kind of motivates all the players," he said. "It picks up the tempo and it's a big incentive to go
out there and play hard, have a good practice."
Hitchcock has been volunteering as a coach for the Princeton varsity team. And while his outfit may have fit
in with the surroundings more easily there, he enjoyed the contrast between the two rival schools.
"Both of these campuses are so historic, they're fun," he said. "This is an Ivy League school that's built
in the inner-city, and Princeton feels like a town."
He added that "the difference for me is that this might have been one of the best college atmospheres -- this
building alone must have been one of the best college atmospheres."
As for what the future holds, both Hitchcock and Primeau hope they can return to the Wachovia Center's ice
as soon as possible.
"This time of year, fall time, since we were five years old we used to be in our skates in league games,"
Primeau said. "To not be able to do that is tough this time of year."
Hitchcock said that he is "like Keith -- we're patient observers of what's going on and we have no control
of anything. I really wish that I could get coaching again."
Hockey fans nationwide hope that day will come sooner rather than later. But for the time being, West Philadelphia
has welcomed the Flyers as much as South Philadelphia has over the years.