They could just as easily be Canada's team.
They come, in impressive numbers, from all over the country, from small towns in Ontario to large cities in Alberta; they come from the Prairies and they come from the north; they can even claim the Flying Frenchmen from Quebec.
They are the Philadelphia Flyers.
They beat Canada's only team still standing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Montreal Canadiens, 6-0 the other night - francophones Daniel Brière, Simon Gagné and Claude Giroux all scoring - and they sat on the bench listening in awe as the familiar "Ole! Ole! Ole!" of Montreal hockey triumphs rained down from the rafters, the sarcasm of the Philadelphia fans dripping.
"It's a lot of emotion for me and Danny and Claude to play against that team," Gagné said Monday, as the Flyers prepared to meet the Canadiens in Game 2 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final series on Tuesday.
A lot of mixed emotion, too, for those fans in Canada who might love to see a Stanley Cup return after 17 years away, but who might have other, personal or geographical reasons, for cheering for the black and orange rather than the bleu, blanc et rouge.
The Montreal Canadiens dressed 12 Canadians for Sunday's game: Six from Ontario (Mike Cammalleri of Richmond Hill, Glen Metropolit and P.K. Subban of Toronto, Dominic Moore of Thornhill, Benoit Pouliot of Alfred, Tom Pyatt of Thunder Bay); three from Quebec (Maxim Lapierre of Saint-Leonard, Marc-André Bergeron of Trois-Rivières and Mathieu Darche of Montreal); two from British Columbia (Josh Gorges of Kelowna and Carey Price of Anahim Lake); and one from Saskatchewan (Travis Moen of Swift Current).
The Flyers dressed 13 Canadians: Five from Ontario (Chris Pronger of Dryden, Giroux of Hearst, Mike Richards of Kenora, Daniel Carcillo of King City and Mike Leighton of Petrolia); four from Saskatchewan (Braydon Coburn of Shaunavon, Scott Hartnell of Regina, Ryan Parent of Prince Albert and Darroll Powe of Saskatoon); two from Quebec (Brière of Gatineau and Gagné of Ste-Foy); one from Manitoba (Arron Asham of Portage la Prairie); and one from Alberta (Blair Betts of Edmonton).
That 13 might have been 16 but for injuries to the team's top scorer, Jeff Carter (London, Ont.), its most physical forward (Ian Laperrière, Montreal) and the team's starting goalie this year (Ray Emery, Hamilton). With three other Canadians on their expanded roster, the Flyers could, conceivably, ice an entire team of Canucks - something that hasn't been seen in the NHL for decades.
Carter skated lightly on Monday, and Laperrière was cleared for full contact during practice, suggesting both could return before this series is over. Carter is the team's purest scorer but Laperrière, who rarely scores, is in some ways just as important.
Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren calls Laperrière, who suffered a concussion while blocking a shot in the first round of the playoffs against the New Jersey Devils, "the emotional leader of our hockey team."
But Gagné, they say, has been the difference maker. Since he himself returned from injury, the Flyers have not lost a game, winning four in a row against the Boston Bruins to complete only the third such comeback in NHL history, and then routing the Canadiens on Sunday.
"It's not just his scoring," Brière said of Gagné. "The biggest thing is his 'presence.' Him being here changes the whole mindset of the team.
"Since he came back in Game 4, the team has been on a tear."
Gagné, 30, grew up worshipping the old Quebec Nordiques, and always dreamed of playing against the Habs and beating them.
Brière, 32, grew up dreaming of playing for the Canadiens and helping them win. He never dreamed of being booed by Montreal fans every time he touched the puck (and, for a while, every time he came over the boards), but that is how emotional life can get for francophone hockey players when they come up against the only NHL team left in Quebec.
Three summers ago, Brière was wooed by the Canadiens but elected, instead, to sign with the Flyers for $52-million (U.S.) over eight years - a decision many fans interpreted as a "shunning" of Montreal.
"You'll find out Thursday," he said, when asked what sort of reception he expects to find waiting for him in Game 3 in Montreal.
But he already knows. His nephews hear it in the schoolyard. His best friend, Patrice Belanger, takes heat on his morning radio talk show in Montreal.
"They take a lot of abuse," Brière said of family and friends back home. "When it happens on the road, it means you're doing something well. It brings that extra motivation. It's easier to get up for a game."
He does not, however, expect any more routs.
"Montreal had an off-game," Brière said of Sunday's stunning defeat. "We took advantage of it."
"I can't lie to you," Gagné added. "It's a little more special playing Montreal.
"We have to welcome the moment - it's big."Report Typo/Error