Since he was called up by the Sabres in early March, Brian Flynn had April 17 circled on his calendar. In fact, while he didn’t always know the exact date, it’s a day the Lynnfield, Mass., native has been looking forward to his whole life.
For the rookie forward, it was his first chance to take to the ice as a pro at TD Garden, facing off against the NHL team he grew up rooting for in front of family and friends. As an undrafted player out of the University of Maine, Flynn (see Hangin’ Out With … Page 38) himself probably didn’t expect an opportunity like this to arise so quickly. But he certainly never expected his homecoming to happen under such emotional circumstances.
On April 15, a pair of explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon left three dead and nearly 200 injured.
“I was in Buffalo and we had just gotten out of the rink,” said Flynn, who was immensely grateful no one he knew was participating in the race that day. “I was sitting in my hotel room in Buffalo and saw it on the news. I just tried to get in touch with family and friends, see if everyone was all right and if I could get any more information.”
On one hand, the 24-year-old Flynn was eager to have a throng of loved ones in the stands. But he knew they, like everyone else in the building that night and those tuning in on television across the region, the nation and even the world would be watching with heavy hearts.
“It’s unfortunate circumstances, obviously. It’s tough,” Flynn said, following the Sabres’ morning skate. “But I think the game will be good for the city. I have a lot of friends and family here, so I’ve been excited for this one for a while.”
Flynn wasn’t the only Sabre with Boston ties to be rocked by the tragic events.
“We would be by BC. We would run in it a little bit. Sneak in a mile run then jet out of there,” recalled Nathan Gerbe, who played at Boston College from 2004 to 2008. “It’s a great experience and it’s devastating something like that happened to a great tradition.”
“To see it happen to a city that I love, on a street I’ve walked so many times, it’s a tragedy,” Gerbe added. “Who knows what we can do to prevent it, but it’s sad to see.”
Gerbe was asked about the fears of playing in a big building like the Garden just two days removed and a few blocks away from the attack. “You can be nervous a little bit,” he said. “When something like that just happens, you get nervous. But when the game gets going and you’re playing with your passion, you want to give the fans a good show and show them you truly care. That’s something that’ll be on my mind. I know we’re the opposing team, but we still want to go out and give a good effort. We just want to give a good show to the fans for two or three hours to get their minds off it.”
Keith Yandle (Milton, Mass.), who grew up just outside the city, regularly attended the Boston Marathon as a kid. After writing the words “Pray for Boston” with a Sharpie on his skates that Monday, the Coyotes defenseman continued to show his support for his hometown a few nights later during warmups in Chicago, wearing a No. 8 Martin Richard jersey, honoring the 8-year-old boy who was killed by the first explosion while watching the race with his family.
“There’s nothing I can really say or do,” Yandle told Fox Sports Arizona. “It’s just (me) wanting to show my support and show my family that I’m thinking of them, praying for them, and show my family back home that I love them.”
Yandle’s wife, Kristyn, used to live in young Martin’s hometown of Dorchester. “He’s from my wife’s neighborhood, and that’s a tight-knit community,” Yandle said. “Everybody knows everybody.”
Back in Boston, after a jarring montage of victims and heroic first responders played on the Garden HDX and the nearly 18,000 present in the arena sang “The Star Spangled Banner” loud and proud, Flynn, Gerbe and the rest of the players on the ice struggled to fight back tears, overcome by the devastation all of the affected families must’ve been feeling.
But eventually, it was time for the inevitable puck drop, time to play hockey, time for the show to go on. Being able to help his fellow locals forget about their heartache, even for just a few hours, meant a lot to players from both teams.
“It was a fun game to play in. The crowd was into it, everyone was into it,” Flynn said following the Sabres’ 3-2 victory in the shootout. “Everyone wanted to play. I know it’s a tough circumstance but I think it helped a lot, everyone that came to the game, and I think it puts a smile on their face.”
In a time of immeasurable sorrow, a chance to smile was exactly what a reeling community needed.