By Matt Malinowski
READING, Pa. – It almost was as if Ryan Flinn was visiting relatives he hadn’t seen in a while, and after a good meal and some conversation they broke out the projector and starting showing some old home movies.
There Flinn stood, in the building where his pro career began four years ago, on a night when he was being honored, watching a video tribute of his time in Reading.
A time that was a mere blip on the screen, yet deserved major time on the big screen.
Flinn watched with a smile on his face, as did all who came to see him Thursday night at the Sovereign Center.
“They were taking me downstairs to do my first intermission autographs and I had to stop and look at the highlights,” Flinn said. “I haven’t seen them in a while. It was neat. It’s really an honor to come back for the fans. It’s been a very cool experience for me.
“Everyone was just fantastic and made it quite a special night for me.”
By the way, the one goal and three assists he tallied with the Royals were absent from the film.
Instead, this film was rated PG punches galore.
Around these parts, guys who drop the gloves are revered and loved. And Flinn, who had 130 penalty minutes in his 20 games with the Royals, did it like no other in Reading history.
Which is what has solidified him as the most popular player to ever wear a Royals sweater.
Say what you will about fighting in hockey. Say it’s great, say it’s silly, say it’s necessary, say it brings down the game.
But fans, from casual to rabid, watch it. They want it. A good fight gets as many cheers as a breathtaking goal. And a good fighter is as popular as the leading scorer.
Ryan Flinn is the case in point. Lines for his autograph stretched more than a quarter of the way around the arena.
“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Flinn said. “I know I was only here for a short time. The people really welcomed me with open arms from the beginning. Maybe it has something to do with my being here the first 20 games in the history of the organization.
“Maybe it was because of the role I played. The fans really seem to like that. I really enjoyed my time in Reading. It was my first pro team, and that’s also a very special thing.”
What’s also special about Flinn is that he was the first Royal to make it to the summit of hockey’s mountain.
He was called up the Manchester Monarchs, Reading’s American Hockey League affiliate, on Dec. 6, 2001. He played 37 games for the Monarchs and amassed 113 penalty minutes.
Then, on Jan. 24, 2002, Flinn’s ultimate dream came true when he made his National Hockey League debut for the Los Angeles Kings against Minnesota. And how’s this for making a quick impression: Flinn recorded a fighting major on his first shift.
He finished with 51 penalty minutes in 10 games with the Kings that season. He played in 19 games the next season and had 28 penalty minutes. He also scored his only NHL goal, which came against the Montreal Canadiens.
“I kind of describe playing in the NHL this way,” Flinn said. “It was everything it was supposed to be. It was everything I dreamt of growing up.”
Last year, Flinn had 164 penalty minutes in 59 games with Manchester.
This year, Flinn simply has been fighting to get back on the ice.
He has played in a mere 14 games with the Monarchs and has 112 penalty minutes. He’s been battling an infection in his left foot, which was operated on over Thanksgiving. He returned and played in five games, but the foot just didn’t feel right. He has been sidelined for the last month.
“It’s just a weird and frustrating injury,” Flinn said. “I worked really hard to get into shape for the season, and for it to be something that didn’t happen on the ice is hard to take. It has just been a struggle.”
Flinn will visit several doctors next week in Los Angeles. He hopes to be back in full swing in September.
Thursday night Flinn was back in Reading, where it all started.
And with each clip he watched of him throwing swings at the opposition, he remembered just how much he enjoyed his time here.