R.J. Umberger On Philadelphia Flyers Fans: ‘They’re Like No Other’

RJ Umberger

XN Sports writer Sean Hartnett had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Philadelphia Flyers forward R.J. Umberger about his second stint in “The City of Brotherly Love.”

Ahead of the Flyers’ nationally-televised game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Umberger described his return to Philadelphia as the ideal place to jump-start his career after a frustrating final season in Columbus.

Umberger had been relegated to the press box as a healthy scratch four consecutive games during the Blue Jackets’ stretch run. A summer swap between Metropolitan rivals sent gritty winger Scott Hartnell to the Blue Jackets, with Umberger heading in the opposite direction to Philly. Umberger was delighted when his phone rang with news that he was going back to the city where he began his 10-year NHL career.

“I was very excited,” Umberger recalled. “It was probably the ideal situation for me. You get mixed emotions leaving a team that you’ve been for six years, then going back to somewhere you know. The transition was pretty seamless for me.”

Umberger was a fan-favorite during his first tour of duty with the Flyers. A rumor had he had tattooed the Flyers’ logo on his leg had taken on a life of its own. Umberger set the record straight on Wednesday.

“No, that’s not true,” Umberger said while laughing and admitting that he endured some ribbing from former teammates.

Even though Umberger does not have the “flying P” inked on his body, he loves pulling on the Flyers sweater and representing Philadelphia’s famously-devoted fans.

“The fans of this city are like no other,” Umberger said. “They’re passionate sports fans. It’s fun to being part of a major city that has four major sports again and seeing the feeling around town when teams are playing well. I sort of missed that in Columbus.”

Umberger is currently suffering through a nine-game point-less streak. The 32-year-old forward has scored one goal and assisted twice through 16 games.

On Wednesday night, he will get the chance to play on the Flyers’ top line with Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn. Umberger is replacing Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux, who will miss the occasion due to a lower-body injury.

The atmosphere of the Flyers-Rangers rivalry and a first line role could serve as the tonic for Umberger to break his slump.

“The rivalry is second to none from any other teams,” Umberger said. “These are things that have gone on for a long time. Rangers-Flyers is a fun game if you’re a fan watching in the stands or if you’re on the ice as a player.”

Umberger still remembers sampling his first taste of the Rangers-Flyers rivalry as a fresh-faced 23-year-old rookie in 2005. He was thrown into the fire with the task of shutting down legendary winger Jaromir Jagr.

“My first year with the Flyers was the year after the lockout in ’05-06,” Umberger said. “I remember going up against Jagr and (Martin) Straka. When I went up against Jagr and tried to stop him in the corners it was impossible. He was so big and so strong. It was kind of a reality check for a guy who grew up watching him.”

Today, Umberger is nearly a decade older and is passing his wisdom to younger players in the Flyers’ dressing room. 24-year-old winger Jason Akeson says he’s trying to emulate Umberger’s professional example.

“You can tell he’s a hard worker,” Akeson said. “He works hard on and off the ice, which is always good to see especially from a veteran guy that we look up to. He brings that veteran presence. A lot of guys follow his lead. When he’s having a big game and making big blocks, it’s contagious.”

These days, Umberger’s idea of fun is hanging in the backyard with his two golden retrievers, wife Cara and daughters Brienna and Delaney.

“I spend most of my time in Jersey,” Umberger said. “Nothing too exciting these days, just doing things with the kids. I’m close to the practice facility. I’m in Voorhees.”

While Umberger is being counted on to bring leadership to the Flyers, he’s taken notice of Giroux’s vocal leadership.

“I think it’s a young leadership group,” Umberger said. “It’s a very close-knit group. Giroux is a really good captain. He’s more vocal than I expected him to be. He plays with a lot of emotion and a lot of passion.”

The points will come for Umberger. His veteran dressing room voice and professionalism has benefitted the Flyers.

author avatar
Sean Hartnett
Sean Hartnett has covered the New York Rangers and the NHL for WFAN.com since 2011. He has covered two Stanley Cup Finals. Sean now contributes to XNSports’ NHL and general sports coverage. He devotes far too much of his free time watching Simpsons and Seinfeld reruns. Sean can be reached via Twitter @HartnettHockey.