By: Nick Lanciani
This season on Down the Frozen River we’re going to write some more feature stories, starting with ourselves, of course. Here’s one about DTFR member, Frank Fanelli.
A tall, young, bearded man ambles up to the door of a four-story brick building with a Philadelphia Flyers jacket on that makes him look like he should be behind the bench as the equipment manager, at least— if not athletic trainer— and approaches with a grin. We exchange pleasantries then head up to the Down the Frozen River studio to begin this interview.
Born in Arlington, Texas, Frank Fanelli has moved a total of seven times in 18 years. He’s lived in Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and now currently resides in North Carolina, though he doesn’t remember much up until about New Jersey. Fanelli and his family have bounced around the country as his father’s job has called them to new and exciting lands within the United States.
The middle child, technically by 20 minutes, says he was reminded a lot when he was younger of the fact that his older twin sister was born first. Fanelli grew up in a household with two siblings, his older twin sister and a younger sister. He says they’ve always been pretty tight and have never argued much, but that they have always had a bit of healthy competition between the three of them.
While Fanelli and his family were living in Pennsylvania, he fell in love with hockey. Fanelli quickly became a Philadelphia Flyers fan when Mike Richards was with the team and playing in his prime, however, Fanelli’s love for the Flyers was not easily reciprocated by the people he was surrounded by. You see, he was a Flyers fan, living in Pittsburgh Penguins territory. Unlike the City of Brotherly Love, there’s no love in Pittsburgh. At least if you’re a Flyers fan.
Yet for Fanelli’s sake, he could take comfort in knowing that only his closest friends knew he was a Flyers fan and that “no one really [other than them] knew or would give me trash [otherwise] unless I wore a Flyers jersey.” Fanelli proudly wore Philadelphia apparel to Penguins-Flyers matchups at Mellon Arena growing up.
“People would lay into you and I wanted to say something back, but unfortunately I couldn’t. It bothered me, but I got used to it over the eight years of living there,” Fanelli recalled. He explained how the atmosphere of a Penguins vs. Flyers game is unlike any other he has experienced in that there’s usually a brawl, intense momentum swings, lead changes and lots of blown leads between the two teams. But that’s all part of the highs and lows of the sport.
One of the more memorable highs of the sport in Fanelli’s lifetime was when the Flyers went on to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final. He explained the emotional rollercoaster of a ride that the then 13-year old version of himself was part of during the Flyers comeback in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins that led to the unthinkable, though ultimately disappointing 2010 Stanley Cup Final run.
Despite the fact that the Flyers lost, Fanelli took residence in the holistic approach to hockey— the experience of the sport in one of its best forms, on one of its largest stages. Fanelli was at Game 1.
“I remember a lot— I probably won’t remember a lot when I’m 80 though,” Fanelli remarked. “My dad worked for Dick’s [Sporting Goods] at the time and got tickets from the NHL. We were sitting behind one of the nets.” Fanelli remembers the remarkable atmosphere of an Original Six arena, long dehydrated from a Stanley Cup run. “[Chicago’s] goal horn and ‘Chelsea Dagger’ got embedded in my mind. Usually when your team scores five goals, you expect them to win, but that wasn’t the case for the Flyers that night.”
Philadelphia dropped Game 1, 6-5. While leaving the United Center, Fanelli experienced some trash talk from the notoriously passionate Blackhawks fans, but he took it in stride as part of the road game experience.
Aside from attending Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final, Fanelli’s other most enjoyable experience as a fan happened when he went to the 2012 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers. Although, once again, Fanelli watched his team lose, the overall atmosphere of an outdoor NHL game as the home team made it that much better at the end of the day.
“The United Center [in 2010] had the best overall atmosphere, but the 2012 Winter Classic is definitely a close second,” Fanelli remarked as he then explained how he became a Flyers fan. “It’s because I played hockey at the time— I still do— but becoming a professional hockey player was something I wanted to be when I was five years old.”
When Fanelli was young and just started to get into the sport, his eyes latched onto one Flyers forward in his prime— Mike Richards. There was just something about the way that Richards played that drew Fanelli to the TV for every game broadcast, combined with the style of play Philadelphia has long been accustomed to.
Brash, hard hitting, tough; the Broad Street Bullies have been shoving their weight around the NHL since 1967, but have been number one in the hearts of their city and fans forever, as the team has matched the work ethic of the citizens of Philadelphia— never give up. Fanelli admits to not being as “successful” as some players are growing up playing youth hockey, scoring many goals and mimicking their heroes, but his style of play has always had a role on any team. He doesn’t give up on a play and knows when to come in clutch— like the work ethic of many Flyers over the years.
For a while, Richards was Fanelli’s favorite player (and not just because 18 was Richards’ jersey number and Fanelli’s favorite number— though it was his favorite number before associating it with Richards ever since. “It just came naturally,” he exclaimed). He was devastated when Philadelphia traded their captain, Mike Richards, and Flyers prospect, Rob Bordson, to the Los Angeles Kings in June 2011.
Although the Flyers got Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and the Kings’ 2012 2nd round pick in the deal, Fanelli was less than thrilled. In fact, Fanelli has had a few qualms to say about former Philadelphia GM, now President of the Flyers, Paul Holmgren’s time with the organization. Fanelli hated the Richards trade and wasn’t a fan when Holmgren traded Simon Gagne to the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for Matt Walker and a 2011 4th round pick in July 2010.
But by now, Fanelli’s used to the revolving door side of the business of hockey— and that’s helped grow his interest in the sport. Players come and players go— sometimes a lot quicker than you want, other times agonizingly too slow to watch as a fan. Prior to being a fan of Richards, Fanelli’s favorite Flyer was Daniel Briere. Since Mike Richards, it’s been Claude Giroux.
His all time favorite Flyer “would have to be either Eric Lindros or Bobby Clarke.” From the mindset of a player, Fanelli understands the business side of the sport and the urge to win, but as a Sport Management major at Queens University of Charlotte, Fanelli’s passion for the front office has grown.
“I want to work for a sports team— preferably a hockey team [in any league]. I want to work for the business operations side or hockey operations side— GM, Vice President, President, Owner, Coach; you name it. Mainly I want to work as a marketing or analytics guy,” Fanelli added, while also mentioning that he wouldn’t mind working in a scouting department too. “It may change, but that’s what I have my mind set on.”
Change is part of the sport, but one thing remains the same, his love for Philadelphia. To help celebrate 50 years of the single largest moment of expansion in NHL history (when the league doubled in size from six teams to 12 with the addition of the California Golden Seals, Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars and St. Louis Blues), this season’s Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game is being held between the Penguins and the Flyers at Heinz Field.
And like any Philly fan, Fanelli wants to be there, in enemy territory, to cheer on the Flyers. February 25, 2017 won’t just be his third outdoor game; it might become his favorite moment in Flyers history, if his team is able to pull off the win.
“I’m looking forward to the atmosphere. Just seeing the atmosphere and an outside game… …it’s the greatest thing in the world.” But it could be said that anywhere there’s a rink is the greatest thing in the world. There’s not a day that goes by that Fanelli isn’t wearing something associated with the Flyers (or any Philly sports team for that matter).
While graduation is just a couple of years away, one can only assume that Fanelli is not that far away from nesting his home somewhere in the realm of one of his favorite teams, whether it’s the Flyers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Philadelphia Eagles, the Philadelphia Union or the Philadelphia 76ers, the time is almost now for him to begin the ascension to the throne of a front office position in Philadelphia sports.
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