Left to right, Andy Abramson, Ed Snider, Bruce Craig

 

The evolution of the Flyers Cup, by Andy Abramson

Recently, after being honored with the 2023 Ed Snider Award alongside Mike Richter, I’ve received queries and remarks about the Flyers’ early days in youth hockey and, notably, the Flyers Cup. In the words of Aaron Siegel, when asked why The Flyers were getting involved in youth hockey in a big way by a reporter, he said, “The Flyers have a custodial interest in all things hockey in the Delaware Valley.” That meant, if it was on the ice and a puck was being used, it was in their best interest to be involved in some way to ensure the sport’s sanctity, not only having the game preserved. And it was my job to make sure that happened.

Ed Snider’s support and foresight were the bedrock of the Flyers Cup. When Aaron Siegel, Jim Shute, and Ken Gesner recognized the potential of engaging the Flyers in the burgeoning Delaware Valley hockey community in the mid-1970s, Snider seized the opportunity. He created Hockey Central in 1976 – the first fan development organization in professional sports, aiming to cultivate a future generation of hockey enthusiasts and players. Aaron Siegel was appointed President, Ken Gesner Chairman, and Sy Roseman its first Executive Director. Sy and Aaron brought me on board in August 1976 as Communications Officer, and a short time later, I became the first Sub-Registrar of the AAHA.

One of our missions was to enlist high school leagues to join the AAHA and AHAUS (now USA Hockey), as Ed Snider had mandated membership as a condition for Hockey Central’s support. Led by Andy Richards, the Suburban High School Hockey League, and the Lower Bucks County High School Hockey League joined almost instantly, followed by the Inter-County Scholastic Hockey League under Don Anderson’s leadership.

A significant goal for Hockey Central was to raise the profile of youth hockey. For this, we needed media coverage. Sy and I collaborated with high school sports and local suburban newspaper editors, learning that the inconsistency in receiving stats and scores from the leagues was the key reason impacting their ability to provide regular news coverage. It was that lack of consistency that we had to overcome. So we changed that.

Every week, we composed news releases about the three high school hockey leagues while our office administrator, Mary Shute, assisted in compiling statistics, and like clockwork, we hand-delivered, mailed, and faxed our news releases to newspapers. First, it was Sy, then I, who wrote news releases about the three high school hockey leagues’ weekly highlights while Mary Shute, our office administrator, compiled the stats with me. Mary typed up the stats, and every Friday, we mailed out and faxed the three releases to the local newspapers and often hand delivered them to the newspapers along the Main Line from our office across the parking lot from Radnor Rink, which was owned at the time by Ed Snider, Aaron Siegel, and Lou Scheinfeld.

We did this in addition to the nightly calls I made to more than a dozen media outlets across the Delaware Valley who were called with the scores and highlights of the games. With leagues across five counties, that meant calls to multiple newspapers in each area. The Trenton Times, Trentonian, and Bucks County Courier Times for the Lower Bucks league. The Daily Intelligencer and Today’s Post for the Suburban League, the Norristown Times-Herald, West Chester Daily Local, The Delaware County Daily Times, plus the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Daily News, and of course, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and eventually, for a short time, the Philadelphia Journal. Nightly and on some weekends, I received calls from the official scorers on my answering machine.

Unsung heroes like Larry Yasner Gina O’Gara and Chuck Worthington, and others would call and leave the highlights, and then around 1045 at night or so, I would start to call the newspapers with the scores. 

I also called WIP, WFIL, WIBG, WCAU, WBUX, WBCB, and a few other radio stations with the scores from the games in their areas. And with those calls, I developed so many important relationships with the media outlets’ editors, reporters, and desk reporters. Relationships that would all become important to us by the time the Flyers Cup came to be.

In the fall of 1976, Sy and I convinced the Inquirer’s high school sports editor, Don McKee, to select Germantown Academy’s Gump Whiteside as the first ever high school hockey player to be named “Athlete of the Week.” It was in 1976, and it was a big deal because it showed the high school hockey community that Hockey Central was real. As the season progressed, more local media would run our stats and news releases each week. Some even began to send reporters to games occasionally.

By the time 1979 rolled around, Sy had moved on to lead the public relations for the newly opened Resorts International, and I had been named Executive Director of Hockey Central during the summer of 1978. I was also Commissioner of the Delaware Valley Hockey League and the Mid-Atlantic Women’s Hockey League, plus also still the Sub-Registrar. 

To say I was in the middle of all things amateur hockey would be an understatement. I would go to the high school hockey games around the area a few nights a week, usually the ones in Havertown at the Skatium or at the Upper Merion YMCA, sometimes at Face Off Circle or Wintersport, and occasionally at Grundy.  I attended and participated in the monthly AAHA meetings held in Bordentown, NJ, and another for the women’s league. Once a month, there was a DVHL meeting in the PNB Bank building, and of course, there were the high school league meetings and, yes, the Flyers games, too. 

On Saturdays, I would go to Face Off-Circle and join WBUX’s Joe Eichorn and Andy Richards, and we would broadcast a weekly high school hockey game on the weekends. I wasn’t watching a junior game, and sometimes both.

On a fall day in 1979, Larry Jones, the Spectrum’s runner, brought one of those interoffice envelopes out to the Hockey Central office. It was from Aaron and included a note suggesting I call then Spectrum Public Relations Director Ed Golden. Ed had an idea for a high school hockey championship, and he suggested I call him. 

Ed was one of the people who was a supporter early on of what the Flyers were doing to promote youth hockey He had already begun having me contribute a monthly “youth hockey” column for Action, The Spectrum’s newspaper, and having been a Daily News sportswriter he was also a friend of Sy’s and of course, that meant he and I knew each other well enough to talk candidly. 

Ed was very pragmatic and said, given all the news coverage that was now being generated around high school hockey by Hockey Central, a championship staged by the Flyers would be a logical next step.

By 1979, media coverage of high school hockey had increased. Local media now regularly covered high school hockey for all three leagues. Under Don McKee, the Inquirer sports desk ‌regularly wrote about ‌‌high school hockey games, teams, and players. The Neighbors sections of the Inquirer devoted pages of editorial coverage regionally, along with photographs, and McKee and I had started the weekly “Hockey Top Ten Poll,” a combined listing of who the best teams were from across the three leagues in the Delaware Valley. We also ‌started the prior spring seeing the Inquirer’s high sports writing staff select and publish the All-Area Scholastic Hockey Team, where twelve players from across the three leagues are named to that honor. 

And the poster child of that time was Archbishop Carrolls, Scott “The Shot” Chamness, a nickname bestowed upon him by McKee. To say the Flyers Cup was built on the broad shoulders of Chamness, and the team from Carroll would not be far off. 

Carroll was building a dynasty in the late 70s and early 80s. Led by Chamness and the equally talented Greg Arnold and buoyed on defense by Carmen Digiandomenico and Kim Vasys, plus later the addition of forwards Pat and Tony Marra, Jeff Arnold, Phil Chamness, Frank Burdo, and more, Carroll was a runaway train.

So after a short five-minute call with Ed Golden, I went to work. Making this happen meant getting the teams on board and running the idea past ‌Flyers President Bob Butera. Aaron set up the meeting, we got Butera on board, and with that, I got Butera to agree to have us call the tournament The Flyers Cup. And that night, I went back to the Flyers locker room to talk with Bobby Clarke. I wanted to name the Most Valuable Player Trophy after him. In the usual Clarkie style, he looked at me, paused, and then said, “Sure, Andy.”

And on that day, The Flyers Cup was born.

The next day, from my desk at Hockey Central, I started to call the three league presidents. The first to say yes to the idea in principle was Andy Richards. He wanted to run it by the teams but thought it was a no-brainer. I then called Jim Cunningham and left a message. That led me to call Paul Saylor, who ran Grundy Rink and who was Commissioner of the Lower Bucks County league that Cunningham was president of. Saylor thought it was a great idea. A few minutes later, Cunningham called, and after discussing the idea, they were in. Next, Andy Richards, a day later, confirmed what he had told me and said the Suburban League was also in. 

That left the Inter-County League and my discussions with Jack Hunt. It took a few months and many long phone calls with Jack to get them in. Fortunately, enough people in the ICSHL were becoming aware of the Flyers Cup idea. People like Bill Brosious from Lower Merion High School, a supporter of Hockey Central since day one, and a friend whose three sons were skate guards at Radnor Rink. Ted Ianelli of Malvern Prep, Butch Burdo at Carroll, Dick Thaer at Haverford School, and more were all pushing for it.

Hunt, who was also aligned with Cardinal O’Hara, was haggling. He was a career middle-level marketing executive with Bell of Pennsylvania and had always been supportive of our efforts. He was looking out for the ICSHL teams, so I had to commit two spots to the ICSHL and half the gate receipts, which was the plan all along. Little did we know at the time, but Hunt, along with ICSHL treasurer Mary Ciffone and a few others, was already planning on taking eight teams from the ICSHL and starting a league that would play all of its games out of the Skatium. We found that out just after the first Flyers Cup ended. 

With the three leagues committed, I had to get this event placed. A few years earlier, University of Pennsylvania ice hockey coach Bob Fink had spoken at our first “Flyers Amateur Hockey Coaching Clinic,” and we were already staging the Met League and Atlantic Junior Hockey League College Central Showcase at Penn’s Class of ‘23 Ice Rink. Plus, it was the Flyers’ practice rink. We cut a deal where we would pay a nominal rental, and the entire gate would be split between the three leagues.

So with the leagues on board, and a place to play in the tournament, a name, an MVP award all in place it was almost time to let the world know. There was one hang-up. How was it going to be paid for? You see, my budget was already set, and it wasn’t like I could ask for more. 

So I went to Pete Huver, the patron saint of getting things paid for. Huver led the Flyer’s TV and Radio advertising sales and just a year earlier had gotten the Pepsi Cola Bottlers of the Delaware Valley to sponsor “The Pepsi Shootout,” so I figured, why not ask Pete for help? On a phone call, I explained Ed Golden’s idea about the Flyers Cup to him, how Bobby Clarke was on board, and how Butera thought it was a great idea.  

In his usual “I can’t promise” style, Pete agreed to go see about having Pepsi sponsor The Flyers Cup.  A week or so later, Huver called and said, “Pepsi’s in,” and we were off to the races.

After having all these pieces in place, it was time to announce the Flyers Cup. With Bob Butera’s help, he assigned Flyers public relations manager Cheryl Levy to work with me on the press conference. We scheduled and conducted that in what was the Blue Line Club, later named Ovations, to introduce the concept to the local media. We invited ‌‌the three league presidents, other league officials, a few players, and the media. 

Flyers executives, including Bob Butera, Spectrum vice-president Aaron Siegel, and a host of ‌others‌, introduced the Flyers Cup and the Bobby Clark Award. All of the local media covered the story, but it was Don McKee who wrote the first article really explaining what we were doing and aligning it directly to the Flyers’ unwavering support of Youth Hockey, quoting Aaron and me.

A few months later, at the Class of 23 Rink, the first Flyers Cup games were played before a sold-out crowd. I can still remember the lines to the ticket offices being so long that Paul Saylor, Cheryl, and I grabbed stacks of tickets and one-dollar bills and stood on Walnut Street selling tickets. Inside, the media were being fed a dinner that had one reporter saying, “The food at the Flyers Cup press room was better than at a Flyers game,” as I had gotten sandwiches and salads from Koch’s deli just west of the Penn campus.

Archbishop Carroll went on to capture the first-ever Flyers Cup in 1980, and Scott Chamness was unanimously named Most Valuable Player as the recipient of the Bobby Clarke Award. He would later be awarded both The Inquirer’s and Philadelphia Magazine’s High School Athlete of the Year. The Inquirer award was something I had lobbied hard for with Don McKee, as the opposition was stiff that year, with Norristown High School’s Steve Bono in the running.

I often get credited for being the “Father of The Flyers Cup,” but without the guidance of Aaron Siegel, Ken Genser, the magic salesmanship of Pete Huver, and support from Bob Butera, Bobby Clarke, Cheryl, Bob Fink, and many others, especially Don McKee, there might not have been a Flyers Cup. 

Many members of the sports media, like Gary Papa, Scott Palmer, Billy Wrndl, Howard Eskin, Ted Silary, Bill Fleishman, Jack Chevalier, Pau Schneider, Herm Rogul, George Dernoeden, Jack Ewing, Bill Ordine, Wayne Fish, Jack McCaffery, and others, all stepped up and covered high school hockey, just as they had started to do when Sy Roseman and I first told them about the idea Ed Snider had to “promote, stimulate and develop interest in the sport of youth hockey across the Delaware Valley.”

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t recognize a few other great people who played their parts. 

The Flyers Cup and Bobby Clarke Award were designed by Ampros Trophy Kings, who also were the same folks who produced other trophies and awards for The Flyers, including “the Loyal Order of the Unducked Puck,” those lucite-embedded hockey pucks for fans who were hit by pucks at Flyers games at The Spectrum. I also have to thank Flyers Marketing Manager Linda Panasci’s husband, Sal, a phenomenal graphic designer, who offered his services and designed the first poster and program book cover, and we had an image to build upon. Without Sal’s help, the Flyers Cup would not have looked as great as it did.  

Then, of course, there was Larry Yasner, the “voice of the Flyers Cup” and head of the off-ice officials, plus the on-ice officials, led by Paul Saylor and Barney Geisel in 1980, with a cast of true characters led by the late John Shetzline, Michael Condon, Brad Murphy, Jim Merron, Mike Palmer, Mike Foy, Mike Fore, Rick Greenleaf, Wayne Sands and so many others who officiated what was clearly a great first ever series, and one that continues now 44 years later.  There were also people who did things without being asked. Guys like Joe Monti of North Penn High School, who always offered to help, and the same for Max Putter, who was a pro-shop operator, hockey parent, coach, game official, and all-around unsung hero when it came to being supportive of what we set out to do and to get things going. Another supporter of seeing the Flyers Cup happen was Ken Reddy, the General Manager of Face Off Circle. A long-time rink manager, Reddy, like Putter, was another one of the many who saw the big picture of what Hockey Central was doing to make hockey more popular, and like Suburban League President Andy Richards, a vocal supporter of seeing The Flyers Cup happen.

The Flyers Cup also never would have happened without the support of a few more people. Joanie Wirtz, Leon Freidrich, Mary Shute, Jim Shute, and countless others who worked with me behind the scenes to make it all happen in those earliest ‌days of Hockey Central. But most of all, it was the players across the three leagues back then who really made it all possible.

P.S. One last thing. A little-known secret back then was my age. I started with The Flyers at Hockey Central at age 16. The first Flyers Cup was created and held when I was only 20 years of age. Not many people knew my age, least of all the high school hockey players who, like Chamness and others, were often given tips by me on how to talk to the media and who regularly spoke to their parents about their future in college—following The Flyers Cup that summer, I was appointed USA Hockey Registrar for the Atlantic District. This was a huge responsibility for me, and it led to how the Pennsylvania Cup started. But that story is for another day. For now, I’ll just say that it was an interesting and rewarding experience and one that not many 20-year-olds can ever say they had.

 
~ ANDY ABRAMSON
GO TO PART 2 – THE PIONEERS

 

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