Stan Hochman: Bullies were more skilled as players than pugilists

Flyers coach Fred Shero brought two Cups to Philadelphia using a very distinct coaching style.
Flyers coach Fred Shero brought two Cups to Philadelphia using a very distinct coaching style.
Posted: June 09, 2010

DON'T FRET about those "Broad Street Bullies," that rowdy gang of Flyers who won it all, back-to-back. They will continue to walk together forever, because the mystical coach promised them that. And because they are beloved for who they were and what they accomplished.

If the current Flyers rally to win the Stanley Cup, they will walk right alongside them for who they are and the way they spit in the eye of adversity. Just don't ask the current bunch to brawl their way to a championship. The rules have changed, the times have changed, the room has changed.

And please, please keep in mind that it wasn't all slashing and scraped knuckles and blood on the ice. It wasn't all mugging guys in the corners and pounding players until their knees buckled.

The last time the Flyers won the Stanley Cup, there was some talent mixed in with the mayhem, there was some skill to go along with that belligerent will. Broad Street Bullies, sure. But if all they did was punch people in the mouth, they would not have won back-to-back Cups.

The HBO documentary, "Broad Street Bullies" was fine, you never get tired of watching Dave Schultz thumping somebody until the guy's knees turn to jelly. Moose and Hound and a whole menagerie of great nicknames. Kate Smith and Sign Man and a city in love with a bunch of Canadians with jack-o'-lantern smiles living in New Jersey and gathering at Rexy's after games.

But the filmmakers missed a lot of stuff, constraints of time and budget and all that jazz. They missed the vision behind Fred Shero's tinted glasses. They never explained his system, and the way he studied "fil-ums" and the quirky way he motivated players, with scribbled notes and wacky drills.

He swiped some of that system from the Russians, some of it from poets and philosophers, and a whole lot of it was based on the simple formula of discipline with love.

It was a strange, exotic gumbo, but Shero got his players to scarf it down, lick their lips, and ask for second helpings. Preparation preceded all that menacing intimidation or it wouldn't have worked.

Keith Allen, the general manager, got him the players he needed. They won that first Cup and they welcomed the fathers into the room. And, there in the stinging champagne mist, over the raucous celebration, Allen approached Bob Clarke and his dad to ask about Reggie Leach, who had a Flin Flon connection.

Yo, 26 minutes after the franchise wins its first championship and the GM is in the room, suit splattered with champagne, contemplating a trade. The Clarkes, father and son, lauded Leach. Allen traded for him, and the stoic winger scored 61 goals in the second championship season, on a line with Clarke and Bill Barber.

Leach was from Riverton, Manitoba, where dreams go to die. One day, when the stars were aligned just right, he talked about the Sandy Bar Hotel. "The kind of place where you can go into a pub right now and see the same people every morning when it opens . . . and go back at 11 at night and the same people will be in the same chairs. That's the way life is there."

Leach escaped that life through hockey. "I had a shed where I lived," he recalled. "I'd make ice and shoot the pucks 3 hours a day. Make targets [out of pails]. Have some guys over and have shooting contests."

Clarke, as captain, would defend Leach against "one-way player" criticism. "With his ability," Clarke said, "if they want him to be a defensive player, he could do it. He's big, he's strong. But what's the good if a guy is capable of scoring 60, only scoring 20?"

That's one of the many things Clarke did, sit there after games until he was the last guy in the room, praising teammates, softening slumps, chasing complacency, talking hockey, bragging about guys playing maybe 8 minutes a game.

Guys like Bob Kelly, the human pinball, all bumper-banging, bell-ringing, lights-flashing. Scored a huge goal against Buffalo, on a night when Rick Dudley put lumps on his face in a fight.

"I think," Kelly grumped afterward, "I got my fair share of blows in. I've never preached about fights. I've lost fights before. That's not gonna end my career. There's other ways of being tough.

"You win, you win. You lose, you lose. I don't keep a won-lost record. It's part of the game."

It was part of the game for that Flyers team. But so was Rick MacLeish's goal scoring and Orest Kindrachuk's grit and fourth-line guys like Terry Crisp. Bernie Parent's goals-against average was 1.89 in the 15 playoff games that year and he giggled his way through every postgame interview with the same mantra, "Some fun, eh?"

It was some fun and it ended with a huge parade. The parade ended at JFK Stadium and they handed Shero the microphone and this incredibly shy, introverted man told his wife he loved her in front of 93,000 strangers.

"This is better than heaven," Shero said. "I think I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

Mariette, his widow, passed away last month. There is something surreal about this year's team, about the incredible journey, and about the memories of that last championship team.

Send e-mail to stanrhoch@comcast.net

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