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Thursday, September 20
Third period called off to watch Bush speech

Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- With President Bush on the big screen, hockey suddenly didn't matter anymore, not to the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers or the thousands of fans in attendance.

The start of the third period of the NHL exhibition game was delayed and then called off Thursday night as fans demanded to watch the President's speech to Congress instead of the game.

"We get paid to play this game because people want to watch us," Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch said. "They made it pretty clear when they were going to shut that speech off that they wanted to see it."

By the time Bush finished speaking 36 minutes later, the teams lined up at center ice to shake hands.

"I thought it was great to shake hands," said Leetch, who lost a close college friend in the World Trade Center collapse. "At the end, everyone was giving the President a standing ovation. It was a nice end to that game.

"I was very impressed. The speech was unbelievably written, and he delivered it like a true leader."

As a video flag waved on the screen, an announcement was made that the game was declared a 2-2 tie after two periods "out of respect for where the United States was headed in the near future."

"It was very impressive," said Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick, who did not play. "I think everybody in this building felt confident when he was done."

The speech was about to begin as the intermission clock counted down the final minutes in between the second and third periods. The scoreboard said that play was about to resume, and the speech could be seen in the outer concourses.

When the speech was taken off the screen, the 19,117 fans began to boo, before chanting in unison "Leave it on."

"I thought it was a no-brainer for us to wait," said Leetch, who also has a brother in the Green Berets stationed in Kuwait. "If they started cheering 'Let's play hockey' then we'd play hockey."

As the teams returned to the benches for the third period, the speech was restored to loud cheers.

The players from both teams were as interested in watching the address as the fans. Some knelt along the side boards, next to the four game officials who straddled the center ice line.

"It's our reality right now," Leetch said. "It's not part of a movie, it's part of our life now. There's no denying it or trying to get away from it."

In the speech's most dramatic moments, the fans roared -- drowning out the applause that could be seen on the screen.

Spontaneous cheers of "USA! USA!" also rang out, and fans waved some flags. But when Bush was speaking, the arena fell silent.

The biggest cheers from the crowd came when a widow of one the passengers, who helped thwart the terrorists' plan to crash a fourth airliner into another building, was singled out by the President. They cheered again when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was recognized by the President.

Fans even roared when New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki were shown -- almost unheard of for Philadelphia fans to salute New York.

"I am absolutely proud," said Ron Ryan, the Flyers chief operating officer. "I'm proud of our fans, I'm proud of our team. I think it worked out all for the best. These are unusual circumstances and I think it all turned out right."

Around the large arena, the scoreboards that line the upper level displayed video red, white and blue bunting.

Before the game, the patriotism of the crowd also came out. As Lauren Hart, the daughter of the longtime Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang "God Bless America" fans sang and cheered.

"God Bless America" has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s, but never did it have the meaning it held Thursday night.

Former Flyers captain Eric Lindros, traded by Philadelphia to New York during the offseason didn't make the trip.

Mark Recchi tied the game at 2 in the second period, flipping the puck over Blackburn's shoulder at 16:45. Jesse Boulerice also scored for Philadelphia (1-0-1). Barret Heisten and Mikael Samuelsson scored for New York (2-0-1).

There were six fights in the game as the team combined for 112 penalty minutes -- 96 in the first 16 minutes.

"It was a tough game out there, fighting and working hard," Leetch said. "It had lost all of that for the third period."

On Wednesday night, the Rangers beat New Jersey 6-1 at Madison Square Garden in the first pro sports event in New York City since the attacks.

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