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Meltzer's Musings: Retired Jerseys, Firebirds, Sunday Fan Poll

August 25, 2013, 10:13 AM ET [36 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT
Should Flyers Retire Any More Numbers?

The Flyers have retired five numbers in honor of great players of the past: Bernie Parent (#1), Mark Howe (#2), Barry Ashbee (#4), Bill Barber (#7) and Clarke (#16). Ashbee's jersey retirement was a special case to honor a fallen team leader who represented the everyman player made good. The others are all Hockey Hall of Fame inductees and represent the best goaltender, best defenseman, best winger and best center (and captain) in franchise history.

The question is who, if anyone, will come next? Now that Eric Lindros has mended fences with the organization, I would think he'd have a chance to have his number 88 retired if and when he gets inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, I think he's going to have to wait a long, long time to for that honor because he forever remains a controversial and polarizing figure in the hockey world. In the meantime, no Flyer has dared to try and wear number 88 again and, unless Patrick Kane were ever to become a Flyer in the future, I think it will remain that way going forward.

Pelle Lindbergh's number 31 has been "unofficially" retired by the Flyers since his death in 1985 and is also likely to stay that way. Putting aside the circumstances surrounding his death, the main reason for not retiring his number is that he only played three-plus seasons in the NHL.

At some future point, however, the organization may elect to raise a memorial banner honoring past Flyers players who died during their careers -- Lindbergh (car accident), Yanick Dupre (leukemia) and Dmitri Tertyshny (boating accident). Leukemia also claimed Ashbee, who was an assistant coach by that point. His playing career ended due to an eye injury suffered during the 1974 playoffs.

Brian Propp's number 26 is another strong candidate. The five-time NHL All-Star was the franchise's all-team leader in game winning goals and his 0.925 point-per-game average in the playoffs was actually higher than Clarke's (.875), Barber's (.844) or Tim Kerr's (.876). Only Eric Lindros (1.14), Claude Giroux (1.10), Danny Briere (1.096) and Rick MacLeish (.938) compiled postseason points for the Flyers at a higher clip than Propp.

Apart from Lindros and Lindbergh, there is popular sentiment to co-retire number 27 in honor of Ron Hextall and Reggie Leach. While I don't expect it to happen, I would not be opposed to seeing number 27 retired, so long as it was done for both players without excluding either the prolific-scoring LCB line member or the popular Vezina Trophy winning goaltender who revolutionized the way people saw puckhandling at his position.

Another multiple honoree possibility for the future: original Flyer Gary Dornhoefer, 1980s power forward standout Tim Kerr and 2000s two-way standoint Simon Gagne all wore number 12 with distinction. In fact, it's possible to date which era of Flyers hockey is nearest and dearest to one's heart by which player comes to mind first when the number 12 is mentioned.


'Hustling' up Old Firebirds Memories

Whenever I hear the Van McCoy song, "The Hustle", it brings back happy memories -- hockey memories --- from my childhood. To most people, that song conjures images of folks doing that silly "Travolta disco poise" gesture with their hands or of people doing line dances at weddings.

In my case, it reminds me of going to see the minor league (first NAHL, then AHL) Philadelphia Firebirds games at the Philadelphia Civic Center in the mid 1970s. "The Hustle" was the tune that played as the team took the ice.

Before I saw my first live NHL game, I'd been to about a half-dozen Firebirds games. The tickets were much cheaper and more readily available than to games for the "Broad Street Bully" era Flyers at the Spectrum.

An often-forgotten facets of pro hockey in Philly in the 70s was that you could not only watch Clarke, MacLeish, Schultz and Barber playing for the Flyers at the Spectrum, for a time you could also go the Civic Center and see (Mike) Clarke, (Dale) MacLeish, (Ray) Schultz and (John) Barber suit up for the Firebirds in the NAHL. Dale MacLeish and Ray Schultz were the brothers of their Flyers counterparts. The others simply shared the same last names.

My favorite Firebirds player was Gordie "Road Hog" Brooks. A prolific minor league goal scorer, Brooks spent brief NHL stints with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals. For my birthday a few years ago, I was surprised with a Firebirds jersey with Gordie Brooks' number on it. It instantly became one of my sentimental favorites among the many hockey jerseys I've accumulated over the years.

Today, when I think back to the games at the Civic Center, I think of the green helmets that some of the players wore. When I was five or six years old, I actually tried to make my own "Firebirds helmet" by taking a green crayon to a white street hockey helmet I had at home. I made the thing look ridiculous.

If I had an old Firebirds game program handy, I'd scan and post a photo of the Barry's Castle hair salon ads that used to run in the team's program: a then-contemporary-now-retro ode to men wearing gold chains, wide-collared open shirts with tufts of chest hair sticking out and mops of big, poofy 70's perms atop their heads. A few months ago, I was driving through my old Northeast Philly neighborhood and was surprised that one of the few 1970s businesses that are still open in the area is Barry's Castle. The Leo Mall -- where I met Reggie Leach at a 1976 autograph signing event -- is long gone but Barry's Castle survives. Good for them!

In hockey terms, whenever I think of the Firebirds, I recall the the team's Lockhart Cup championship season and some of the colorful player nicknames of the era. In addition to the Road Hog, the Firebirds alumni from their AHL affiliation days saw the likes of former Red Wings Dave "Crash" Kelly and Fred "Fats" Williams, former Maple Leafs' first round pick Bob "Waldo" Neely, enforcer Mike "Barretta" Haworth and a host of others take the ice for the club.

By the way, Miracle on Ice Team USA captain Mike Eruzione played briefly for the Firebirds before gaining fame in Lake Placid. Former Flyers goaltending coach and longtime NHL backup Reggie Lemelin was also a Firebird. So was future broadcaster Steve Coates, which may explain why the team promptly moved to Syracuse (just kidding, Coatesy).

Hearing "the Hustle" on a random offseason morning makes all these memories flood back and brings a little smile to my face. In my imagination, as I hear that silly little relic of a 1970s dance craze, the Road Hog rides again at the old Civic Center.

What are some unlikely songs that make you think about hockey? I'm not talking about the Good Old Hockey Game. I mean a song that was not specifically written about the sport, but which has some connection to it in your mind. It could be a song you associate with hearing frequently at the area, a song from a hockey movie, something you play to psyche yourself up for a game, or anything else that triggers an association with hockey (such as songs used on an EA Sports NHL game).

Another personal example: hearing "Right Back Where We Started From" often puts me in the mood to watch Slap Shot. Lines from the movie swirl in my mind from the very first familiar strains of the tune. There are other, somewhat more recent songs that have the same effect -- "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Come Out and Play" being two. During the NHL lockouts of 2004-05 and 2012-13, one of the few things I didn't miss about being at the arena was being regularly subjected to the Rednex version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe" -- the worst Swedish import this side of Hardy Åström.


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