Q&A with Flyers Hall of Famer Clarke

Posted: May 20, 2014

BOB CLARKE was the captain and driving force of the Flyers' 1974 and '75 Stanley Cup champions. A three-time Hart Trophy winner as the NHL's Most Valuable Player, he also was a two-time, first-team NHL All-Star and the Flyers' all-time leading scorer. A Hockey Hall of Famer, Clarke later served as Flyers team president and general manager. Now 64, Clarke is a Flyers senior vice president. He spoke with Bill Fleischman, the Daily News' Flyers beat writer when the team won its only Stanley Cups, from his winter home in Sarasota, Fla.

Q: It's the 40th anniversary of the Flyers' Stanley Cup-clinching victory over Boston at the Spectrum. Does it seem like that happened that long ago?

Clarke: It seems more recent because it had such a big impact on our lives.

Q: What do you remember about the parade the next day? The crowd was estimated at more than 1 million, as much as 2 million.

Clarke: There's no way of describing the parade. It was phenomenal. We met in the Spectrum parking lot. There were so many people all along [the route], we kept thinking there would be a break in people, but there was no break.

Q: The '74 Bruins had the great Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, all elite players. Most observers predicted a Boston victory in the series. Did you guys really think you could beat them?

Clarke: We thought we were the better team. We weren't being arrogant; we felt we were better-coached and had better goaltending [with Bernie Parent vs. Gilles Gilbert].

Q: After the Bruins won the first game in Boston, the Flyers won the second game on your overtime goal. Then the Flyers won the next two games to seize control of the series. One of coach Fred Shero's strategies was for the Flyers to dump the puck into Orr's side of the ice, make him skate and hit him as often as possible.

Clarke: Shero always preached we were the best-conditioned team. Who knew the truth? We were sure we were in better shape than the Bruins. Esposito would take long shifts, so [Orest] Kindrachuk and I could stay with him. Their second [center] wasn't as good as [Rick] MacLeish. Hodge and Cashman were great players, but they weren't as good as Billy Barber. We didn't have anyone as good as Orr, but after him we were the better team.

Q: Your team had so many reliable veteran players: Gary Dornhoefer, Ross Lonsberry, Ed Van Impe, Joe Watson, Orest Kindrachuk. I always thought one of the most valuable also was defenseman Barry Ashbee. Agree?

Clarke: You're right. Barry liked being a mentor, he liked looking after the young players. I'll never forget Freddie would have us line up along the goal line and do sprints. Freddie would be aware that some guys needed some rest, so he would go down the line and say, "You go in [the locker room]." One time he skated over to Barry and said, "You go in." Barry said, "Bleep you, Freddie. As long as my teammates are skating, I'm skating." It was a great learning lesson.

Q: Am I correct that Freddie liked it when players challenged him?

Clarke: We didn't challenge him very often. I believed everything he said except when I knew he was BS-ing us. He was way ahead of his time. He brought in a system. He had an assistant coach [Mike Nykoluk] and started morning skates. Before, guys would check their skates and sticks; they'd be on the ice with shirts and ties on. Freddie wanted us in full uniforms so he could go over his system. Personally, I don't like morning skates; I think they are a waste of energy.

Q: I remember Barry Ashbee telling me that Freddie was always one step ahead of the media, whether we liked it or not. You'll recall one time, the Flyers were in deep trouble in a playoff series when Freddie announced he might retire as coach and attend law school. That story was a distraction to keep the spotlight off the Flyers' problems.

Clarke: Freddie liked the challenge of talking to you guys. He would tell us, "It doesn't matter what you say, there will be another story tomorrow."

Q: Why do you think it took so long for Shero to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Clarke: It may have been some jealousy of the Flyers' success. Some teams didn't like the way we achieved our success, but we sold out their buildings.

(Editor's note: The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner used to welcome the Flyers to LA with a photo of machine gun-toting gangsters. The photo caption read, "Get the women and children off the streets, the Philadelphia Flyers are in town.")

Q: General manager Keith Allen also had a huge influence on the Flyers' success.

Clarke: I never heard a player say a bad word about Keith, even the guys who were traded. Management at that time was fairly dictatorial toward the players; most teams were extremely cheap. Pittsburgh had a Coke machine in the locker room. If a player wanted a Coke he had to put a quarter in the machine. After games Keith and Mr. [Ed] Snider would shake hands and talk to you; they were interested in you as a person, too.

Q: You have a good story about Keith following a brawl during a game in Oakland.

Clarke: A couple of our players were suspended. [Referring to NHL president Clarence Campbell] I said, "The old bugger should retire, he doesn't know what he's doing." When we arrived at the Philly airport, Big John Foreman, Mr. Snider's driver, said, "Clarkie, Mr. Allen wants to see you." Keith showed me the quote about Mr. Campbell and asked if I said it. I said I did. He told me to call Mr. Campbell and apologize. I did.

Q: Those Flyers were known as such a close team. They still are in many respects. Why do you think that happened?

Clarke: Winning creates that, but you have to have the right guys. Any player that was a distraction didn't last long. Winning brings so much pleasure and rewards. Freddie urged us to buy homes, raise families and become part of the community. What killed the closeness [at the time] was guys started getting their own lives outside of hockey; they got older and had families.

Q: After two Stanley Cups and an award-winning playing career, you served in management with the Flyers and two other teams. Overall, how has life after hockey been for you?

Clarke: We have homes at the Jersey Shore and in Florida, and we have lots of friends, so it's been good. I stay in touch with hockey, I love the game. [He is now on the Hockey Hall of Fame induction committee.] There are times I feel I want to get back into it, but I don't want to put in the long hours. Managing is an interesting job; there are some highs, but lots of boredom. There are days when you just sit at a desk and sign papers. When you win, you don't celebrate; when you lose, you're worried as hell. Today's players are exactly the same as the old guys - they're really good guys. They complain about the same things we complained about.

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