The Philadelphia Flyers are in the throes of the post season, and that means more ice time for someone who doesn't suit up in pads and skates.
Recording artist Lauren Hart has been singing the national anthem at every Flyers home matchup since the late 1990s, when her father, the late Gene Hart, announced the team's games on radio and television.
Lauren Hart remains a big part of the extended Flyers family at a time when her own family has grown. To her relief, both fit together quite well, as I saw first hand a few Sundays ago.
In the ample kitchen of her Gladwyne home, Hart enjoys "family" time before dashing off to a midday Flyers game.
Her children, Bek, Yordi, Selah, and Yemi, are hanging out, sculpting things with Play-Doh and spelling words with plastic letters of the alphabet. Bek spills the letters on the floor and spells F-L-Y-E-R-S.
She says the vibe is unusually low key. "The kids are just a little disappointed, 'cause they're not coming today," she says. "They all thought they were going until five minutes ago."
Hart asks her son, Bek: "Does Bek like Flyers hockey?" The child roars, and one of his sisters giggles.
Yes, Bek likes hockey. And so do his three sisters, much to Hart's delight. She and her husband, Todd Carmichael of La Colombe Coffee fame, adopted the children, ages 3 through 11, from Ethiopia — not exactly the land of hat tricks and high sticking.
"I thought, 'What are these kids going to do when they see ice hockey?'" Hart recalls. "One loves the game more than the next, which is really cool."
Continuing family traditions
Hart's love affair with ice hockey began when her father, Gene Hart — the original voice of the Flyers — took her and her siblings to the games. She was about knee-high.
"We're sort of reliving my childhood," she says, "how I felt when I would go to a game and how I felt to walk in that building with a parent who worked there and people loved so much."
Music is another important part of the lifestyle Lauren and Todd are establishing with the kids. A few taps on an iPad, and Bek, the youngest, takes command of the kitchen floor, dancing in happy bursts of stomps and jumps. It looks like there's another entertainer in the family.
Big sister Yemi flashes a smile. "He usually does this, like breakdances and crazy jumping and turns," she said. "It's his own thing."
And then it's time for Hart to run to the Wells Fargo Center. "Goodbye, kittycats!" she says to her kids. "It's time. Game time. I'm going to hockey, come here." She kisses her children goodbye, but Bek refuses a hug. There are a few glum faces in an otherwise flawless hand-off to the baby sitter.
In the car, Hart roots through her bag for cough drops, the tea she likes, and her Wells Fargo Center parking pass. She calls a friend who loves hockey as much as she does. She's switching roles before my eyes — from suburban mom to "let's get Flyered up" national anthemist.
"I knew what I wanted to do from a very young age. I wanted to sing," says Hart. "I was a young kid, and I thought it was just the greatest thing."
Through the perilous times, and so gallantly singing
Performing the anthem has given Hart some things her career as a pop vocalist never really did. She saw this quite clearly in the late '90s, an extremely dark period for her that involved the loss of her father and her own battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. All the while, the Flyers organization and fans stood by her, and she stood with them, singing at each home game.
"It all played out very publicly, and it was centered around the team and that building and those fans," she says. "They really saw me through a lot of, um, dark times. It's kind of undeniable."
It's clear that this supportive relationship — the kind only family can provide — continues to be a source of strength and comfort for her. As does the press booth where her father once sat. When she sings, she looks toward it.
"I'm just trying to connect. I miss him and imagine how he used to always be up there watching me sing. He never missed it," she says.
When we arrive at the arena, Hart is in her element. She enters the building and is greeted by Ambassador of Hockey Bernie Parent, the legendary retired Flyers goaltender.
"That's the best, to be greeted by Bernie Parent when you walk in the door," she says.
Walking down the back halls of the center, Hart is at ease. She dodges the Zamboni, crosses paths with a pack of pee wee hockey players, grabs some tea, then sound-checks close to the ice. She steps out, the lights dim, the crowd rises, and she's on.
Hart does what she loves — before the throngs who love her back — setting the stage for all the excitement the Flyers hope to deliver on home ice.
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