By Mark Zimmaro
Chris Therien has now excelled at three jobs.
The former Flyers defenseman almost seamlessly transitioned into a broadcasting role in the sport he loves — all while holding down the fort as the father of four in a sports-crazy family.
Life first took a turn for Therien after he was selected by the Flyers in the third round of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft.
“Nothing would have ever been what it is today if the orange and black didn’t call out my name at that draft in Vancouver,” Therien said. “Because if they didn’t, and the next team picked me, destiny would have been in a completely different city. My kids wouldn’t have existed. Every single thing that’s happened to me on this journey is because I got drafted by the Flyers.”
Therien admits family is the biggest reason for all the transformations in his life. After marrying his wife Diana from South Jersey, the Therien family quickly grew, and planted roots in Marlton.
By the time Therien’s career had grinded down in 2006 after 764 career regular season games (and 104 more in the playoffs), daughters Isabella, Ava and Alexa were born and son Chris was on the way. He knew his playing days were done.
“It was a little bit of everything, actually,” Therien said of his decision to retire. “My sister had passed away that summer, and I wasn’t mentally in a good spot at all.”
Sarah Beth Therien passed away after cardiac arrest at the age of 32. She became a pioneer in organ and tissue donation, becoming the first Canadian organ donor after cardiocirculatory death, allowing organ donation after life support was removed. Her organs saved others, and upwards of 1,000 transplantations from cardiac death donors have been performed since.
Struggling with his only sibling’s death, and feeling the physical wear and tear of 12 NHL seasons, Therien retired, having played 753 of those 764 games in a Flyers uniform, which is the most by any defenseman in franchise history.
But hockey would remain a big part of his life, as he decided to transition to broadcasting — starting on radio and eventually moving to television.
“Before the end of my career, I became close with guys like Al Morganti and Keith Jones,” Therien said. “Jonesy said, ‘You’d be good at it. You have a good personality.’ And I thought it might be something to jump into. Ironically, Comcast had asked Keith Primeau to do some games. He told me a month into it that he didn’t want to do it, so they asked me to fill in. I always knew I wanted to get into it but I didn’t know I’d wear every single hat that they had to offer.”
Therien did it all, working television, radio and even talking between the benches during games. He recently transitioned into writing, providing weekly content for the Flyers’ site on nhl.com. Although further from the action, Therien said he enjoys his new roles more than standing at center ice during games.
“It was probably the least fun, believe it or not,” Therien said. “There wasn’t a whole lot going on down there like there was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I don’t know if you want to call it a polite league but it didn’t really echo what I once saw at ice level. I actually watched the transition of the game to new-age hockey.”
Life at home was transforming, too. His daughters had followed their mother’s high-top sneakers into the basketball arena, as Diana (Dabrowski) was a standout player at Highland High School. The girls rose in the ranks and became immediate impact players at Cherokee High School.
Therien’s new role doing analysis for NBC Sports Philadelphia kept him closer to home and closer to the basketball courts, along with son Chris’ youth ice hockey expeditions.
“I do love being at NBC Sports,” Therien said. “It’s a lot more tailored for me to be a basketball dad. I get to go to a lot more (basketball) games. I’m not on the road any more, so I’m able to help coach Chris’ (Flyers Elite) hockey team as well.”
Being around his family more often sparked another big change five years ago.
“After you retire, you live a little bit, you eat and you realize you don’t have to get up and skate,” he said.
Therien reached 320 pounds before his daughters chimed in.
“Every morning, we would say, ‘Dad, you played a professional sport for how many years and you look like this,’ ” said Ava, the middle daughter, now a freshman in college.
“We’d piggyback off each other and tell him he looked fat,” said youngest daughter Alexa. “And I really think hearing that from your kids is hard to hear so I’m guessing that motivated him and he lost a lot of weight.”
“We’re a brutally honest family for the best and worst reasons,” said oldest daughter Isabella. “But at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to help each other out. We didn’t want him looking like that.”
Chris saw it as a challenge.
“Yeah, they called me fat,” he said. “They let me know how fat I was. They were at that age. And I was like, ‘I’ll show you guys.’ ”
Therien dropped a total of 111 pounds, including the loss of 82 pounds over one summer through diet and exercise. He’s since happily regained a few pounds and sits right right around his playing weight. The lesson didn’t go unnoticed around the Therien household.
“He was so dedicated,” Isabella said. “He made it look so easy. No soda. He’d be running 3 to 5 miles a day. It was incredible. And he never complained, either.”
And you won’t catch him complaining in the stands at Cherokee High School, either, where each daughter has a South Jersey Group 4 championship on their resume before all three committed to Division I programs.
Isabella and Ava won as teammates in 2017 and both have moved on to play together again at Loyola University in Maryland.
Alexa helped steer the 2020 Chiefs to a 30-1 record and a South Jersey Group 4 championship and was hoping to win the program’s first state championship before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She recently committed to play hoops at Boston University, which plays alongside Loyola in the Patriot League. They’ll be rivals in a few years but today they’re extremely supportive of each other. On commitment day, Isabella and Ava wore Boston University shirts in support of their younger sister.
“It’s my proudest thing as a parent,” Therien said. “And my wife has been a great mom with these kids. But the way they celebrated for Alexa (when she committed) tells me all I need to know about who these kids are. Just tremendous support.”
And they’ll likely support their dad if he makes another career change any time in the future, or if he just continues his primary role of being a dad.
“Through my journey, having to overcome mental struggles and obstacles has been way harder than any injury I’ve had,” Isabella said. “You have to be so mentally strong to get through those times. And he has that ability to help us and guide us through those adverse situations. He’s a great dad.” ••