From my point of view, the single most exciting aspect of the 2012 Winter Classic will be the introductions of the participants in today’s Alumni Game between the Flyers and Rangers. That, more than the ensuing game itself will be one of the most special moments in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers’ franchise.
For the first – and, in all likelihood, only – time, we will see Flyers players of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s all gathered on the same ice. The majority of the top players in team history will participate in some capacity. The participation of Eric Lindros is the most eagerly anticipated aspect of the game for many folks, but let’s not forget how many other Flyers greats will be donning the orange and black for the first time in years.
In this blog, I thought it would be fun to stroll down memory lane by doing short write-ups on all of the participants on the Flyers side of today’s game. Young fans may learn a little about some of the more unfamiliar participants and older fans may enjoy reminiscing.
Bernie Parent: Not all that long ago, it would have been unfathomable for the greatest goalie – and goaltending coach – in Flyers franchise history to ever stand in net again, even in an old-timers’ game setting.
The Hockey Hall of Famer has not played in an organized game since he suffered a career-ending eye injury on Feb.17, 1979 game against the Rangers. But cataract surgery has entirely restored the vision he once thought was gone for good and the 66-year-old two-time Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy winner will return to the crease one more time.
Mark LaForest: Played parts of two seasons (1987-88 and 1988-89) as the understudy to Ron Hextall, appearing in 38 games (10-16-4, 3.91 GAA, .873 SV%). He also played in the NHL for Detroit and Ottawa. At the AHL level, LaForest was a two-time Baz Bastien Award winner.
Neil Little: A popular and successful AHL goalie with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Little dressed as a backup with the big club about 20 times over several seasons without getting into a single game. Finally, Bill Barber rewarded Little with a start in Carolina on March 28, 2002 (a 4-2 loss). Two years later, Little made a relief appearance for an injured Robert Esche midway through a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay.
Mark Howe: The greatest two-way defenseman in franchise history has finally gotten his long-overdue props from the rest of the hockey world. Already a member of the Flyers’ Hall of the Fame and U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Howe was inducted into the “big” Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto this year and will have his number 2 jersey retired by the Flyers later this season.
During his Philadelphia heyday, Howe was a three-time first runner up for the Norris Trophy, a one-time Hart Trophy Finalist, a four-time Barry Ashbee Trophy winner as the Flyers’ best defenseman and a one-time winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy. Chronic back problems afflicted Howe late in his career, and he did not skate for many years after his retirement until the 56-year-old accepted his invitation to play in the Alumni Game.
Eric Desjardins: Probably the second-best two-way defenseman in franchise history over the balance of his career. Along with John LeClair, Desjardins’ acquisition helped to transform the Flyers back into a playoff team after their acquisition from Montreal in 1995.
“Rico” twice finished in the top five in the balloting for the Norris Trophy and won seven Barry Ashbee Trophies. In his first few years with the Flyers, Desjardins possessed tremendous mobility as well as savvy. A serious knee injury (torn ACL) in 1999 and lower back problems robbed him of his former skating ability and forced him to remake his game into a more deliberate style.
After a couple of down seasons, Desjardins enjoyed a career rebirth under Ken Hitchcock until continued major injuries (concussions, broken forearm, separated shoulder) finished his career for good in 2006.
Jimmy Watson: A late addition to the Alumni Game roster, the younger Watson brother was a five-time NHL All-Star with the Flyers before a serious back injury prematurely ended his career at age 30. He was never a big point-producer but Watson was rock solid in his own end of the ice and a fine outlet passer with much better mobility that older brother Joe. It is a travesty that he has not yet been inducted into the Flyers’ Hall of Fame.
Joe Watson: Nicknamed “Thundermouth,” the elder Watson brother was an original Flyers who was employed by the organization in playing, coaching, scouting, business office and promotional capacities for virtually the entire history of the organization. Although not as naturally skilled as his younger brother, Watson played in a pair of NHL All-Star games. A member of the Flyers’ Hall of Fame, Watson was a key on-ice and locker room leader during the 1970s. He has also been the driving force behind the Flyers’ Alumni Team from the time of its original formation.
Derian Hatcher: The former Norris Trophy finalist’s knees were shot by the time he came to Philadelphia after the 2004-05 lockout. Nevertheless, he provided leadership and gritty play through immense amounts of pain. After his retirement, he has become the organization’s player development coach, working extensively with young defensemen in the system.
Brad Marsh: One of the most popular Flyers among fans and teammates alike during the 1980s, Marsh was one of the last helmetless players in the NHL. Although a plodding skater with modest offensive skills, Marsh played with enormous heart. In an era where players didn’t wear nearly as protective padding as they do today, Marsh was one of the predominant shot-blockers in the league. Off the ice, he was a valued part of the team’s leadership group and one of the best-liked players throughout the league.
Chris Therien: Although sometimes maligned during his active career, “Bundy” made the NHL All-Rookie team in 1994-95 and was a blueline mainstay during his 764-game NHL career (753 of which were played with Philly). In his younger days with Philly, Therien was an above-average skater for such a big guy. When he set his mind to it, could play NHL hockey at a high level. Inconsistency was always his biggest bugaboo, and some fans claimed that he too often over-relied on longtime partner Desjardins. Therien’s greatest successes often came when playing head-to-head against Jaromir Jagr and his usually stellar games in his hometown of Ottawa. Following his retirement, Therien has found success as the Flyers radio color analyst.
Kjell Samuelsson: Another player who was often under-appreciated, the hulking Swede learned how to compensate for his shortcomings (skating, puck handling) by maximizing his strengths (exceptionally long reach, shot-blocking acumen and underrated mean streak). Samuelsson had two stints in orange and black and then retired to become a longtime minor league coach in the organization.
Terry Carkner: Sometimes the target of boo-birds during the dark period in which the Flyers missed the playoffs five straight years, Carkner was a physical defenseman and willing fighter. In his fifth and final Philadelphia season before moving on to Detroit, Carkner managed to post a plus-18 rating for a Flyers team that once again missed the playoffs.
Larry Goodenough: “Izzy” entered the NHL as a highly-touted prospect and, as a rookie, became a regular starter on the Flyers’ second Stanley Cup winning team. Although his career was marked by inconsistency and he fell out of favor in Philly within a few seasons before being traded to Vancouver, Goodenough had a nice combination of skills but was simply unable to put it all together on a regular basis. Goodenough, who stayed in the Philadelphia area after his retirement, has played regularly for the Flyers Alumni Team through the years.
Eric Lindros: The Big E’s participation in the Alumni Game is the single most anticipated aspect of the game for many fans. He is likely to get a standing ovation as he dons a Flyers uniform for the first time since his slow-to-build acrimonious split with the organization. The Alumni Game is a huge step in allowing Lindros to take his rightful place as one of the pivotal players in franchise history. People often forget that when his Flyers career ended, Lindros ranked third in all-time points-per-game in NHL history behind only Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
Unfortunately, Lindros’ brilliance on the ice was often overshadowed by injuries and circuslike drama. He wasn’t a perfect player but he was often a dominant one with his rare combination of sheer brute power and extraordinary finesse.
Bobby Clarke: The Hockey Hall of Famer was the greatest playmaker and leader to wear the Orange and Black. Without Clarke, the Flyers would have been just another expansion team. With the three-time Hart Trophy winner and Hall of Fame inductee, the Flyers became a team that truly hated to lose, and rarely did (especially on home ice).
Clarke was the ultimate team player, caring nothing for personal stats and willing to do anything for victory – whether it meant spilling his own blood, inflicting pain or fighting for the puck as though his very life depended on it. While the debate over Clarke’s legacy as a general manager will always raise arguments, no one who grew up watching him as a player would utter a word of dispute over the fact that Clarke was the heart and soul of a team that almost never got outworked.
Bill Barber: The greatest winger in franchise history, Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Barber often skated in the shadow of longtime linemate Clarke but was a model of consistency and an outstanding two-way forward. Barber was another player who cared about winning far more than he cared about posting gaudy stats. As a coach, he won a Calder Cup with the Phantoms and the Jack Adams Trophy in his first season behind the Flyers bench.
Dave Poulin: The second most important captain in Flyers history after Clarke, Poulin’s two-way play on the ice and highly intelligent, hard-working style of leadership set an example on and off the ice for the Flyers of the mid-1980s. He was a tower of strength on and off the ice following the death of Pelle Lindbergh, and also a key buffer between the team and ultra-demanding coach Mike Keenan. Poulin is a member of the Flyers Hall of Fame.
John LeClair: An underachieving center/winger with the Montreal Canadiens (apart from his overtime heroics in the 1993 Stanley Cup Final), LeClair blossomed immediately after coming over to Philadelphia and becoming a full-time left winger. Along with Lindros and second-year forward Mikael Renberg, LeClair completed what soon became known as the Legion of Doom line. LeClair went on to enjoy three straight 50-goal seasons and five consecutive 40-plus goal campaigns before back problems began to curtail his effectiveness in his 30s.
Brian Propp: Arguably the most naturally gifted offensive winger in Flyers’ franchise history, Propp became much more of a two-way player and clutch playoff performer as his career progressed. A five-time NHL All-Star, Propp ranks third in regular-season points in club history and is second in playoff points. After his playing days, the Flyers Hall of Fame inductee has remained in the local area and dabbled in everything from broadcasting to politics and a variety of business interests.
Reggie Leach: Possessor of staggering natural shooting ability, Leach had three tremendous seasons (1974-75, 1975-76 and 1979-80) as a Flyer. His 19 goals in the 1976 Stanley Cup playoffs remains tied with Jari Kurri for the most tallies ever in a single playoff year. Best known as the third member of the LCB line with his former junior linemate Clarke and left winger Barber, Leach had devastating slapshots and backhanders in his arsenal. The other seasons of Leach’s career were often marked by inconsistency and wavering trust from his coaches but when he was on, there was not a more dangerous scorer in the NHL.
Mark Recchi: A Hall of Fame shoo-in, the recently retired Recchi enjoyed two successful stints in Philadelphia. He still holds the team’s single-season point record (122 in 1992-93), and combined with Lindros and Brent Fedyk to form the Crazy Eights line before Recchi’s trade to Montreal spurred the creation of the Legion of Doom. Returned to Philadelphia in 1999 and went on to reach the 75-plus point mark three more times in an era when scoring was in steep decline around the NHL.
Rick Tocchet: After coming up as more of an enforcer than goal scorer, Tocchet made himself into one of the NHL’s premier power forwards of the late-1980s to mid-1990s. No one could ever doubt his emotional commitment or work ethic. Tocchet’s intensity and competitiveness drove him to become a 40-goal scorer as well as a fearsome fighter. He returned to Philadelphia for a second stint in the late 1990s to early 2000s before retiring as an active player.
Jeremy Roenick: The Curt Schilling of hockey, Roenick never met a microphone he didn’t like and also had a knack for coming through in the clutch. JR’s days as an elite-caliber NHL player were largely behind him by the time he came to Philly, but he remained an aggressive presence and tone-setting performer. Most notably, Roenick scored the series winning goal in overtime of the Flyers’ 2004 series victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ken Linseman: Better known for his chippiness with his stick than his considerable skill with the puck, “The Rat” was no stranger to controversy during his career. He is also tied for 10th in playoff scoring in franchise history.
In his final season before being the key component of the trade with Hartford that brought Mark Howe to Philadelphia, Linseman led the Flyers in scoring (92 points) while also racking 275 penalty minutes. Many of the PIMs came by virtue of high-sticking (he took 21 such penalties – and those are just the ones that got caught), slashing (nine) and misconducts. Linseman returned to Philadelphia for a brief second stint in 1989-90 in a trade that sent Poulin to the Bruins.
Bob Kelly: “The Hound’s” assigned job with Fred Shero’s Flyers was to be an energy player and he enthusiastically embraced the role. Kelly threw his body around with reckless abandon and then got off the ice. He was also one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the NHL because he would often overwhelm opponents with the sheer number of punches he could throw.
Kelly never played a single game of minor league hockey and, after leaving the Flyers, tallied a career best 26 goals and 62 points for the 1980-81 Washington Capitals before retiring the next season.
Orest Kindrachuk: “Little O” rarely drew much notice during his Flyers career, but was one of the best third-liners in the NHL and could have been a second-line center on many teams in the league. As with so many of the Stanley Cup era Flyers, Kindrachuk had underrated skill to go along with tremendous work ethic and competitive spirit.
Kindrachuk was an average sized player for his era -- standing 5-foot-10 and weighing about 175 in his prime – but Kindrachuk “played big” and was a versatile player whom Shero could move around the lineup as needed. The trade that sent Kindrachuk, Tom Bladon and Ross Lonsberry to Pittsburgh in 1978-79 was not one of the better ones of Keith Allen’s stellar GM career.
Ron Sutter: One of the young leaders of the overachieving Flyers teams of the Mike Keenan era, Sutter embodied the traits of being an intense and hard-working two-way player that are associated with his famous hockey family.
Ron and twin brother Rich provided a spark to the team early in their respective careers, but Ron’s impact on the club lasted much longer. He was also moved out at the right time – despite having been named Flyers’ captain the previous season – because the deal that sent Sutter and defenseman Murray Baron to St. Louis brought a young forward named Rod Brind’Amour to Philadelphia. By the time the Flyers were a playoff contender again a few years later, Brind’Amour was reaching his prime while Sutter’s career was in decline.
Al Hill: A hard-working role player, Hill’s most memorable night in the NHL was also his first. On Feb. 15, 1977, Hill set a still-standing record by scoring five points (two goals and three assists) in his NHL debut. The record may never be broken, as every player entering the NHL only gets one crack at equaling or surpassing it. Thereafter, Hill eventually settled into his more natural role as a supporting cast player over parts of 8 seasons (221 NHL games). Today, he is the Flyers’ director of pro scouting.
Shjon Podein: One of the most popular Flyers of the mid-1990s, Podein was an outstanding checking winger who occasionally scored a few eye-popping goals. Off the ice, he was best known for his sunny disposition and talkativeness. Brett Hull once labeled Podein the best defensive winger in the NHL. While that could be debated, there was little doubt that Podein’s Minnesota Line unit with Joel Otto and Trent Klatt rarely lost battles and helped make the club a tough team to play against during the height of the Lindros era.
Jim Dowd: The New Jersey native made a 728-game NHL career for himself through his work ethic and hockey sense. He prolonged his NHL career by earning a roster spot on the Flyers via a preseason tryout in 2007, and spent the 2007-08 season centering the fourth line of John Stevens’ team.
Pat Quinn: Philadelphia was the first stop of Quinn’s long NHL coaching career. He was a only a couple years removed from his own playing days as a rugged NHL defenseman when he was promoted by the Flyers from the AHL’s Maine Mariners coaching job to replace first-year head coach Bob McCammon 50 games into the 1978-79 season.
The following year, Quinn was behind the bench for the Flyers’ record 35-game unbeaten streak and run to Game 6 of the 1980 Stanley Cup Final. He was replaced by McCammon with 8 games remaining in the 1981-82 season.
Mike Nykoluk: Now 78 years old, Nykoluk was the first assistant coach in NHL history, brought in by Fred Shero in 1972-73 to work with the Flyers. Over the course of his three seasons with the club, Nykoluk played a major role in helping prepare the team for games and dealing directly with the players.
The Flyers’ two Stanley Cup victories convinced the rest of the NHL that assistant coaches were valuable contributors to a winning environment. Nykoluk later joined Shero with the Rangers and finally got his chance to be an NHL head coach in 1980-81 when he was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs for the first of three seasons. During his playing days (1956-57 to 1971-72), Nykoluk was a dependable two-way center who spent the vast majority of his pro career with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He played in 32 NHL games for the Maple Leafs in 1956-57.
Keith Primeau: Concussion issues curtailed the Flyers’ captain’s career in 2005 and prevent him from playing in today’s game. After coming over to Philadelphia in the trade that sent Rod Brind’Amour to Carolina, Primeau enjoyed a 30-goal season and then gradually settled into more of a defensive role over the course of his remaining career.
His biggest career highlights came when he scored the game-winning goal in the fifth overtime of Game 4 of the 2000 playoff series between the Flyers and Penguins and when he capped off a tremendous 2004 playoff run by spurring Philadelphia to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against eventual Stanley Cup winner Tampa Bay.
Gary Dornhoefer: The first power forward in franchise history, the original Flyer willingly sacrificed his body for the success of the team. No physical price was too high to pay if it meant winning a battle on the boards or near the net.
Although most of his goals were of the deflection or rebound variety, Dornhoefer’s greatest individual career moment was his end-to-end rush that resulted in an overtime winning goal in Game 5 of the Flyers 1973 Stanley Cup Quarterfinal series against the Minnesota North Stars. The play was immortalized in a statute that stood outside the now-demolished Spectrum for many years. A younger generation of Flyers fans knew Dorny only as a TV commentator.
Now 68 years old, Dornhoefer is not physically able to play for the Alumni Team (he had his knees replaced) but is very much the embodiment of what it takes to enjoy a long and fruitful career in Philadelphia.
Ron Hextall: Hexy’s longevity and puck-handling wizardry made him the second most important goalie in franchise history after only Parent. One season after the untimely death of defending Vezina Trophy winner Pelle Lindbergh, the combative Hextall unseated Bob Froese as the Flyers’ starting goalie. He went on to have one of the best rookie seasons ever played by an NHL goalie, winning both the Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophies as the Flyers eventually pushed the dynastic Edmonton Oilers to seven hard-fought games in the 1987 Stanley Cup Final.
Although Hextall never consistently played to that level again, he had several other fine seasons during his two stints with the Flyers. He was also the first NHL goalie to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opposing team’s net, and he did it twice. Today, Hextall is an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings. Hip issues prevent him from playing in the Alumni Game.
Dave Schultz: Feared and despised around the rest of the NHL during the Broad Street Bullies era, “The Hammer” may have been the most popular Flyers player at the Spectrum during the Flyers’ Stanley Cup years. Schultz shattered the NHL’s single-season penalty minute record and still holds the all-time mark with his 472 PIMs in 1974-75.
He also enjoyed the lone 20-goal season of his NHL career the previous season, at one point recording hat tricks in two of three games. In the 1974 playoffs, he scored the series clinching overtime goal in the Quarterfinal against the Atlanta Flames and assisted on Bob Clarke’s OT tally in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Bruins.
Brad McCrimmon: All of the Flyers players in the Alumni Game will wear number 10 patches on their uniforms in memory of “the Beast,” who perished in the September 2011 plane crash that took the lives of the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team.
During his Flyers playing days, McCrimmon was best known for joining Mark Howe to form the best defensive pairing in team history. In 1985-86, Howe posted a plus-85 rating, McCrimmon was plus-83 and every other defenseman who played for the Flyers that season was either even or minus-rated.
Among the Flyers of the past who are unable to attend the Winter Classic Alumni Game but whose names and deeds will surely be recalled in stories told by the participants include the likes of Tim Kerr (prior commitment), Mikael Renberg (broadcasting duties at the World Junior Championships for Sweden’s SVT network), Rod Brind’Amour (working with the Carolina Hurricanes), Kevin Dineen (Florida Panthers head coach) Ilkka Sinisalo (scouting duties at the World Junior Championships), Terry Crisp (Nashville Predators TV commentator), Rick MacLeish, Ed van Impe, Don Saleski, Doug Favell, Ross Lonsberry, Terry Murray, Peter Forsberg, the still-active Simon Gagne and Mike Knuble and the late Fred Shero, Roger Neilson, Barry Ashbee, Pelle Lindbergh, Wayne Stephenson, Peter Zezel, Miroslav Dvorak, Bill Flett, Dmitry Tertyshny, Yannick Dupre and Bruce Gamble.
FLYERS-RANGERS GREAT MOMENTS VIDEOS
Dave Schultz pulverizes Dale Rolfe in Game 7 of 1974 Stanley Cup Semifinals
Conclusion of Game 7 of 1974 Stanley Cup semifinals
1985 playoffs: Tim Kerr scores four goals in 8:16
Flyers sweep defending Cup champion Rangers in 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinal
Eric Lindros dominates vs. Rangers in 1997 Eastern Conference Final
Last but not least, the Rangers of the late 1970s make utter fools of themselves....