Memories from Broad Street

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:29 PM ET


 "Win today and we walk together forever."

 Joe Watson can still hear coach Fred Shero's last message as the Philadelphia Flyers marched out on to Spectrum ice on May 19, 1974 to face the Boston Bruins, the Stanley Cup on the line.

 "More true words were never spoken," Watson said this week at his desk in the Flyers business office. "Here we are, 30 years after we won the Cup (the first of two in a row) and there are 26 of us still living in the Philadelphia area, with an alumni that still stays in close contact."

 Time seems to have stood still in this corner of the hockey world. Ed Snider's name remains on the masthead from the day Clarence Campbell granted the Flyers a franchise in 1966. The Spectrum, that graveyard of weak-kneed visiting teams, still stands across the lot from the Wachovia Center, the photo-op statue of Kate Smith at the front door.

 "We have 7- and 8-year-olds, the children of the young fans from that Cup era, who know everything about those champion teams," Orest Kindrachuk, a forward on those teams, said.

 Why wouldn't they? Look around the Wachovia Center during Games 1 and 2 against the Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference semi-final and there's ex-captain Bobby Clarke in the general manager's box, club ambassador Bob (Mad Dog) Kelly giving an award and goalie Bernie Parent shilling for baldness prevention on the scoreboard.

 The retired banners for Clarke, Parent, Bill Barber and the late Barry Ashbee hang from the roof and there's a tribute to ex-defenceman Watson during a timeout. Watson and Dave (The Hammer) Schultz led the alumni during one of their frequent area charity matches between Games 1 and 2. When Bill Barber's wife, Jenny, died of cancer a few years ago, a team foundation was created, and all Flyers dutifully attend roasts and golf tourneys that raise $100,000 US annually for various charities -- this year it's the Children's Wish Foundation.

 Today's Flyers look just as big as those 1970s rogues and, in the case of shaggy Michal Handzus, have the same hairstylist.

 "Think of how many organizations have the same owner and the same core group this visible 30 years down the road," Schultz said. "That continuity is what has made this team."

 General manager Keith Allen and Shero ingrained the Flyers with that sense of singular purpose, long before they became the first post-expansion team to win a Cup. After losing their first two playoff series to a tougher St. Louis Blues lineup, Allen vowed the Flyers never would be pushovers again. In a few years, with the visionary Freddy the Fog behind the bench, the Flyers were ready to challenge the Original Six.

 "Freddy was way ahead of his time," Kindrachuk said. "He used video, he hired the first assistant coach (Mike Nykoluk), he was very psychological in his approach.

 "At the start of the year, he sent a letter out to all the wives (warning them of long hours their husbands would be away at practices and boys-only functions). He told them, 'Hang in there, the rewards will come.' "

 Shero's teams did stick together, like a Philly cheesesteak to the arteries. No man was made to feel superior to another.

 "One day he put a bucket of water in the dressing room," centre Don Saleski said.

 "He told (50-goal forward) Rick MacLeish to roll up his sleeve, put his arm into the water and take it out. 'Now look at the hole in the water,' Fred told him. 'What hole?' Rick asked. 'Exactly,' Fred said. 'That's how much we would miss you if you were gone.' "

 The Flyers won 50 games in 1973-74, swept the Atlanta Flames in the first round, beat the New York Rangers in seven games and Boston in six, winning a key overtime game in the Garden where the Bruins had held an 18-0-2 record against them. The next year, they won 51 times, swept the Leafs, took the New York Islanders in seven and emerged from the mist in humid Buffalo with another Cup. Both Cup-winning games were clinched by Parent shutouts.

 When the final seconds ticked off the first 1-0 win over Boston, the Big Bad Bruins surrendered the NHL's intimidation whip to the Broad St. Bullies. Schultz, Kelly, the Watson brothers and any number of Flyers became the scourge of the league, living Shero's adage to "arrive first to the puck, and in ill humour."

 "We loved to go on the road and have the people hate us," Kindrachuk said. "It made us play all that harder and fuelled our desire. Our attitude was that it was our puck until someone came and took it."

 But the Flyers are just as proud of their three Hall of Fame players -- Clarke, Barber and Parent. Clarke won the Hart Trophy in 1975, Parent the Vezina and Conn Smythe in the Cup years. Clarke and MacLeish had 100-point seasons.

 "You started with the best goalie in hockey, but we also had good penalty killing and power play," Saleski said. "Clarkie was what I call our internal governing mechanism. He had a way of cutting through the bull and bringing big egos into line. We had lots of different talents, from Orest to Gary Dornhoefer to Ross Lonsberry. We kept other teams off balance."

 In later years, police in Vancouver and Toronto would get involved as some of the Flyers' antics got out of hand. But the unrepentant players saw it as an extension of the camaraderie they had built in the room.

 "Our biggest desire was to succeed and that meant not letting a teammate down," Kindrachuk said. "If you had to block a shot you did it and if you weren't a fighter, you still fought."

 The notoriously crusty fans in win-starved Philadelphia embraced the Flyers, both the stars and the sideshow. The Spectrum soon bred zealots such as Schultz's Army, a splinter fan group which wore imperial German war helmets.

 "Until we came along, Philadelphia was mostly known as a city of losing sports teams," Schultz said. "When we won the first Cup, it was a major event. Years later, people can tell you where they were on May 19, 1974.

 "This is a tough sports town, but there is a saying. Win in Philadelphia and you'll be remembered forever. That's what happened with us."


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