Okay, so I’m out of the closet as a hockey fan now.

Two of my favorite players from two of my favorite teams in the history of the club:

The man on the left came home with his shield. The man on the right came home on his. And I love them both for it.

People don’t understand what that saying means. Coming home on your shield doesn’t just mean getting your ass whupped. It means that you are welcome home if you win, and welcomed home if you lose … but only if you gave absolutely everything you had to the effort. Everything. You can lose and be given a hero’s welcome, but only if you left it all onstage. With your shield, or on it … but you’d better not come home without it. And that team brutalized themselves for that second place finish. They worked harder to finish second than the Oilers worked to finish first.

In a way, it was almost more problematic for subsequent Flyers teams for Poulin’s crew to be so unimaginably gallant in their defeat. For me, they defined what it means to come home on your shield. They set the bar so high that at this point, the only way a team can come home after a second place finish and get anything from me but contempt anymore is if they come home dead. If you get off that plane and you can walk under your own power, you didn’t try hard enough.

(This is why I’ve got nothing to say about the 96-97 crew. They came home without their shields. Pfeh. With `em or on `em guys — otherwise, keep walking.)