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September 27, 2018

Man inside Flyers' original mascot, Slapshot, has some advice for Gritty

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gritty flyers mascot @GrittyNHL/Twitter

Behold Philadelphia's newest mascot, Gritty, repping the Flyers.

Dennis Boyle has a unique place in Flyers' history, one nearly as rare as the team's two Stanley Cup victories.

Long before Gritty became the talk of social media (and nightmare of children everywhere), Boyle was the team's first mascot: Slapshot.

Born and raised in Glenolden in Delaware County, Boyle was a self-proclaimed hockey junkie before an ex-girlfriend gave him quite the unique opportunity.

"I was going out with a girl who worked there, in the old Spectrum," Boyle said. "I was recommended, I did theatre for years. ... there were a couple interviews and they had us come down there and skate. I was wondering, 'Why would someone come down here for this to be an NHL mascot and half of them couldn't even stand up on skates?' I knew from that aspect of it, I would nail it. I had an interview with Lou Scheinfeld [one of the Spectrum's founders] — it was my 15 minutes of fame."

The 24-year-old braved the costume's stench, the intense on-ice routine, and even a sucker punch to the gut for one season, the 1976-77 campaign following their two world championships. He was trained on the ice by figure skaters. He'll never forget the night of his debut.

"In 1976, the same year as Rocky, and they debuted it," Boyle recalled. "It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and between periods they said they would introduce the Flyers mascot. I had this power skating routine, and you're reaching the crescendo of the Rocky theme. I grabbed this giant puck at center ice, we did this two or three minute routine and I put the puck in the net at the end of the Rocky song, and the place went bananas."

The Slapshot experiment lasted a single season, and for more than 40 years the Flyers were one of a great few teams without a mascot. Boyle found out about Gritty just like everyone else last week.

"Everyone was texting me saying 'Slapshot was better,'" Boyle joked. He told PhillyVoice he loved the gig, and certainly wasn't doing it for the $25 he earned per appearance. 

"I was surprised [Gritty] wasn't softer or more geared for kids," he said. "I saw a lot of kids were scared by him, but I said 'Give the guy a chance.' If the team goes well, he'll have an easy year."

Why was the team without a mascot for so long? 

"The only thing I can think of, because there were no timeouts in hockey," Boyle said. "You take the Philly Phanatic, for example. It's harder in hockey. In baseball, there's a lot of in between time. Overall, I think hockey is a tougher crowd."

Now in his 60s, Boyle, a South Jersey resident, has some sage advice for Gritty as he starts his first NHL campaign.

"Always remember there's a camera everywhere," he said. "It doesn't matter if someone punches you in the guy or anything: there's camera everywhere."

Also: "He'll blink and it will be over with." 

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