Friday, May 28, 2010

"Keys to the Kingdom," Lord Stanley Edition

Putting matters ad intra aside for a minute, it's worth noting that this Memorial Day weekend, after the roughest winter in Philly history, the River City's still buried in a blizzard of Orange and Black.

For the first time since this scribe was a freshman in high school, the hometown Flyers are off to the Stanley Cup Finals... and as that last series saw a 4-0 sweep the other way, it's another shot at ending the one kind of winter hockey fans don't revel in: the 35-year drought on the sport's most-sacred hardware, last brought to town by the famous "Broad Street Bullies," who won it back to back in 1974 and 1975, celebrating each with parades that, thanks to liquid kudos provided by the fans en route, the players are said to not remember too well.

Back then, hockey was new here -- the team's first season came only six years before the first Cup. Still, the era of the Bullies sparked a love affair that's continued, win or lose, ever since, selling out the Spectrum and Center regardless of the year's point-totals. Such is the spirit that, growing up, the walls of the house would shake at every goal -- both sets of next-door neighbors were hockey nuts, one always seeing her next 24 hours through the prism of whether or not, as she invariably put it, "The Flyers Wan" (never "won") the night before.

(Then there's the friend of the folks whose orange house key bears the team's logo... and you get the idea.)

That said, this Cup final's seeing the Orange and Black facing an even hungrier squad: the Chicago Blackhawks -- one of the NHL's "Original Six" -- who last saw a final in 1991 and haven't "wan" Lord Stanley's prize since 1961 (hockey's longest title-drought).

* * *
Now, admittedly, as many of you know -- and even after this brutal week -- your narrator's first love lies at the ballfield, across the street from the heart of Flyerdom.

Sure, it's been wonderful watching a run for the Cup that's included a shootout to make the playoffs, and the overturn of a 3-0 deficit against the Bruins to get to the Eastern final. Still, I'm no hockey expert... but given the auspicious occasion, one was worth finding to offer a competent take on the "Keys to the Cup."

And luckily, that wasn't too hard on this beat. Because, really, what better guide could you seek on hockey's climax than...

...The "Holy Goalie," Himself?

That's right, gang: three weeks before his installation in Illinois' capital, Bishop-designate Tom Paprocki of Springfield took time out from his desk-cleaning in Chicago to shoot over some pointers on what to look for in the Flyers-Hawks series that begins in the Windy City tomorrow night.

A veteran of Blackhawks' practice shoots (seen above in net last fall on a visit to Wisconsin's St Norbert College, whose mens' team won a national title in 2008), the 58 year-old prelate once profiled by USA Hockey magazine has kept at the sport since his boyhood; among other things, his cross-state transfer will mean leaving the over-30 league he's played in since 1996.

Shown above with his brother John and three Hawks icons -- from left, Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Tony Esposito -- after Sunday's clinch game at Chitown's United Center, the game even figured at Papo's introductory presser in Springfield.

"My favorite sport is hockey," the appointee said in his statement. "I still play hockey. I am a goalie. My nickname is, the 'Holy Goalie.'

"If you’re trying to figure out how my mind works, you should know that most hockey players say that goalies are different. I get enjoyment from standing in front of a hockey net and having people shoot pucks at me at 100 miles per hour. I am used to taking shots. With that in mind, I will now take your questions."

Notably for a state capital, the bishop's installation has been scheduled for 22 June -- the feast of the English martyrs of the Reformation, Saints Thomas More and John Fisher.

Here, meanwhile, the Holy Goalie's "Keys to the Cup":

Keeping in mind that the prediction isn't a binding article of faith, all thanks to Paprocki for the assist, and good luck to his long-starved Hawks.

Sure, especially given the run they've had, a Flyers win would be very sweet for this town. Yet even if it didn't pan out, that'd set the stage for a priceless consolation moment....

Has an installation ever taken place in the presence of hockey's Holy Grail?

Suffice it to say, that'd be quite a first... and the Canadian reaction would be one for the books.

That said, church, Go Flyers, and a safe and Happy Memorial Day weekend to one and all.

PHOTOS: Getty(1); AP(2); Sam Lucero/The Compass News(3); Most Rev. Thomas Paprocki(4)