April 25, 2012

Flyers broadcaster looks for more Stanley Cup excitement

Sports Columnist

Philadelphia sports fans are on a roller coaster ride.

The 76ers clinched the final playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference by beating the Nets on Monday. The game also marked the Nets’ final game in New Jersey. They move to Brooklyn NY next season.

The Eagles are studying film and workout reports, getting ready for Thursday’s NFL Draft in New York City.

The Phillies...well, the Phillies return from the West Coast on Friday.

And the Flyers are waiting to find out which team they will face in the conference semifinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after dispatching the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. Many thought the Penguins were one of the serious challengers to win The Cup.

Steve Coates is waiting, too. The Egg Harbor Township resident has been part of Flyers hockey, it seems, forever. His hockey knowledge and large personality make him one of the most recognizable and popular people in the Flyers organization. Add to that his reserved stool at DiOrio’s in Somers Point and his face on a billboard down Mays Landing Road promoting his 26 years as a member at Greate Bay, and you have one of the area’s superb sports personalities.

And one of hockey’s most interesting analysts.

“The series with the Penguins was one of the most bizarre series I’ve ever been part of,” Coates said. “There was such a lack of defense at the beginning of the series and both goalies were poor. The scoring was pretty spectacular but the series had what you wouldn’t expect from what were probably the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Eastern Conference. It was anything but what I would have expected.”

But it was exciting.

“Yeah,” Coates said, “but when you take a close look at it, you fall behind, 3-0, in the first game and come back to win that game in overtime. I do not think the Penguins ever recovered from that. Their defense was so poor that you always felt, no matter what situation the Flyers were in, they would come back and make a game of it. I guess that was the real excitement.”

The Flyers are waiting for three other series to end to determine their next opponent. There are six possibilities, the only team they could not meet in the next round is the defending champion Boston Bruins. The NHL has this unusual format that re-seeds the remaining teams after the first round.

“Right now the Flyers could play almost anybody,” Coates said on Monday.

Is there a team he’d like them to face?

“Florida,” he said without hesitation. “They are somewhat passive, they don’t really have great goaltending and they are the least likely of all those teams to make it a hard series. They have good defense but do not have high-end scoring.”

Coates is not concerned about a high-energy, emotional series like the one with Pittsburgh causing any letdown by the Flyers.

“I don’t think so. They have an outstanding coach in Peter Laviolette and great leadership on the team. This team is capable of going to the Stanley Cup finals again if everything falls into place.”

Is that something Coates might have predicted during the season?

“That’s hard to say. A few weeks ago, when the New York Rangers clinched the Eastern Conference, you would never have thought they’d be in a tight series with the Ottawa Senators. So, it would have been hard to predict. Everybody was worried about the Rangers. But if the Rangers don’t survive the first round that removes a gigantic obstacle for the Flyers, who lost all six games to them this year.”

The Flyers are the bright light for Philly sports fans right now. And nobody can bring that light into focus better than Steve Coates.


By the way, there has been a development relative to the discussion in this space last week.

The United States Postal Service announced that on July 20 it will issue four stamps as a tribute to Major League Baseball. The First Day Issues, each one featuring an image of a former major leaguer, will be issued in Cooperstown NY, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The four players on the stamps will be Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Willie Stargell and Larry Doby.

That’s right, Larry Doby.

Finally, the guy is getting some of the recognition he deserves for all he did for baseball.

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