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Game ends as speech begins

Flyers, Rangers game a 2-2 tie after 2 periods

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PHILADELPHIA — Thousands of fans in the First Union Center didn't want to see hockey anymore. What was on the video screen meant much more than a preseason game between bitter rivals.

When President Bush started his speech to Congress on Thursday night, the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers were tied 2-2 during the second intermission.

His address was shown in the arena, but when it was time to get back to the game, the fans spoke up.

The start of the third period was delayed and then called off as the 19,117 in attendance demanded to watch the president's speech instead.

"This was obviously more important," Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch said. "People that came to watch a hockey game wanted to see the president and what he had to say."

Leetch is very close to the current unsettled atmosphere. He lost a close college friend in the terrorist attack last week on the World Trade Center and has a brother in the Green Berets stationed in Kuwait.

"I was very impressed," Leetch said. "The speech was unbelievably written, and he delivered it like a true leader.

"It was inspiring to me."

By the time Bush finished speaking 36 minutes later, the teams lined up at center ice to shake hands amid a standing ovation.

"It was a nice end to that game," Leetch said.

As a flag waved on the video screen, an announcement was made that the game was declared a 2-2 tie after two periods "out of respect for where the United States was headed in the near future."

"It was very impressive," said Flyers forward Jeremy Roenick, who did not play. "I think everybody in this building felt confident when he was done."

The speech was about to begin as the intermission clock counted down the final minutes. The scoreboard said that play was about to resume, and the speech could be viewed in the outer concourses.

When it was turned off, fans began to boo, then chanted, "Leave it on."

As the teams returned to the benches for the third period, the speech was restored to loud cheers.

"Any time the president addresses the United States of America and the world, it exceeds a sports event going on," Philadelphia coach Bill Barber said.

The players from both teams were as interested in watching as the fans. Some knelt along the side boards, next to the four game officials who straddled the center ice line.

"It's our reality right now," Leetch said. "It's not part of a movie, it's part of our life now. There's no denying it or trying to get away from it."

In the speech's most dramatic moments, the fans roared — drowning out the applause that could be seen on the screen.

Spontaneous cheers of "USA! USA!" also rang out, and some fans waved flags. But when Bush was speaking, the arena fell silent.

The biggest cheers from the crowd came when a widow of one the passengers, who helped thwart the terrorists' plan to crash a fourth airliner into another building, was singled out by the president. They cheered again when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was recognized by the president.

Fans even roared when New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki were shown — almost unheard of for Philadelphia fans to salute New York.

"I am absolutely proud," said Ron Ryan, the Flyers chief operating officer. "I'm proud of our fans, I'm proud of our team. I think it worked out all for the best."

Around the large arena, the scoreboards that line the upper level displayed video red, white and blue bunting.

Before the game, the patriotism of the crowd also came out. As Lauren Hart, the daughter of the longtime Flyers broadcaster Gene Hart, sang "God Bless America" fans sang and cheered.

"God Bless America" has been a rallying anthem for the Flyers since the mid 1970s, but never did it have the meaning it held Thursday night.

Former Flyers captain Eric Lindros, traded by Philadelphia to New York during the offseason, didn't make the trip, but that was all forgotten.

Mark Recchi tied it at 2 at 16:45 of the second period. Jesse Boulerice also scored for Philadelphia (1-0-1). Barret Heisten and Mikael Samuelsson scored for New York (2-0-1).

There were six fights in the game as the team combined for 112 penalty minutes — 96 in the first 16 minutes.

"It was a tough game out there, fighting and working hard," Leetch said. "It had lost all of that for the third period."

On Wednesday night, the Rangers beat New Jersey 6-1 at Madison Square Garden in the first pro sports event in New York City since the attacks.