Sara Thomas is an extraordinary Philadelphia Flyers fan. She has traveled across the United States and Canada to watch the Flyers play in all 30 current National Hockey League arenas, plus three former sites in Hartford, Quebec and Atlanta.
Also extraordinary is what Sara Thomas and her family found when they encountered the local fans in all those other cities. I asked if they wore their Flyers jerseys.
"Of course!" she said, "and without a doubt we have been treated wonderfully."
They found the fans in Winnipeg especially warm. "They were surprised we got tickets because they're hard to get there," Thomas said.
"Everywhere we went, my son would wear his Flyers cap," she said. "They would just talk to us, very nice, very friendly … especially when we told them we were from Philadelphia, or Allentown."
Nobody, I wondered, gave you a hard time or beat you up? "Oh, my God, no, never ever." She said. "There was some ribbing, but it's all good natured."
Thomas wrote to me after I reported on Sunday that some Philadelphia Flyers fans had viciously attacked visiting fans, apparently because they were wearing New York Rangers jerseys, after the Rangers won the NHL Winter Classic game on Jan. 2.
A video of the attack, distributed by police, showed the attackers knocking down the heavily outnumbered New York fans, and they continued to punch and kick them when the defenseless victims were unconscious. I called it "savagery perpetrated by a bunch of cowardly thugs."
Also, a news story said a busload of Flyers fans from the Lehigh Valley went to that game and some displayed poor sportsmanship by booing the arrival of Rangers fans. I expressed hopes that none of the attacking thugs turn out to be from that bus.
"I am appalled at the behavior of [those] Flyer fans," Thomas said via email. "I was at that game with my two sons and grandson, and we had a wonderful time (despite the final score). Everyone seemed upbeat and friendly even to Ranger fans, but I know these outrageous acts happen."
They did not happen to her or her family in Winnipeg, however. Nor in Boston, or Toronto, or Los Angeles, or Edmonton.
Thomas said she "completed my quest" to see Flyers games in all the NHL arenas when her son Doug went to Winnipeg with her in November and her son Geoff did likewise in December at Denver.
Thomas also attended a hockey game in Whitehall Township in 1993 — when local players (including me) took on the Flyers alumni. "I … remember your introducing me to Dave Schultz at the game," she said.
My most vivid memories of that game involved Schultz beating me up, but it was all in good fun. Schultz and I had first met in the 1970s, when we had an exceedingly contentious interview in a locker room. He flew into a rage but I knew he couldn't catch me because he still had his skates on. He finally caught me in Whitehall.
(In my years of playing and watching ice hockey, there have been lots of real fights and I am one of those who feel they should not be taken out of the game. Combatants rarely get seriously hurt, the scraps are almost always fair at 1-on-1, and they never involve the unwilling.)
I also know Thomas, a retired Allen High English teacher (she now works at the Enzo Travel Service office on Airport Road) because my wife and her late husband once worked together at Dorney Park.
Also, we visited them when they were among those struggling against the Lights in the Parkway atrocities that Allentown perpetrates every holiday season at Lehigh Parkway, which is adjacent to their home.
That park had been one of the city's treasures before officials decided to make money by charging admission for people in cars to drive through and gawk at obscene electrical monstrosities. Thomas said the noisy cavalcade has shrunk to a trickle in recent years. This is one occasion when celebrating a flop would be good form.
Meanwhile, when they catch the thugs involved in the Jan. 2 attack in Philadelphia, I hope somebody tells them how civilized people are supposed to behave. I hope somebody tells them about the experiences Sara Thomas has had in other NHL cities.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.