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Meltzer's Musings: Memorial Cup, Gamble & Lindbergh

May 24, 2016, 11:03 AM ET [169 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT

The 2016 Memorial Cup has not gone as hoped for the Western Hockey League champion Brandon Wheat Kings. One game after getting convincingly beaten by the QMJHL champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the Wheaties suffered a 9-1 humiliation at the hands of the OHL champion London Knights.

On a teamwide level, virtually nothing has gone right for the Wheat Kings in the tournament. The goaltending has been subpar, but so has the defense. The team has not taken good care of the puck in any zone and mistakes have compounded into disastrous periods. Monday's game was effectively over quickly, as the Knights piled up four goals in the opening 20 minutes alone.

Flyers 2015 first-round pick Ivan Provorov assisted on the Stelio Mattheos power play goal that stood as the lone Wheat Kings goal against the Knights. He was also minus-three at even strength, and had a share of blame in a couple of them.

Provorov has been out for six goals in the team's two game, three of which were partially his fault. However, he at least one was one of the bright spots in Brandon's comeback bid in the third period of the Rouyn-Noranda game.

On Tuesday, Flyers defense prospect Philippe Myers and the Huskies get their crack at the undefeated Knights. Brandon takes on tournament host Red Deer in the final round-robin game on Wednesday.



May 24th is also the birthday of both the late Pelle Lindbergh and the late Bruce Gamble.

Earlier this morning, as I was driving my wife in to work, Elton John's "Your Song" came on Sirius Radio. Although the song has been a daily staple on the radio for many years, I thought it was pretty fitting on this day because it was one of Elton John fan Pelle Lindbergh's favorite tunes.

A few months ago, while doing some photo research for the Flyers 50th Anniversary celebration, I found this old Sports Illustrated photo by Anthony Neste (licensed now Getty Images) taken of Pelle and fiancee Kerstin Pietzsch at their Marlton, NJ home roughly one year before his death and about seven months before he accepted the Vezina Trophy. Something about the photo -- the lighthearted happiness and young-couple-in-love playfulness of its young subjects with Kerstin sporting Pelle's hockey gear -- is haunting.

Incidentally, "Your Song" would likely have been Pelle and Kerstin's wedding theme song in the summer of 1986. Instead, it was his memorial song at his funeral in Stockholm in November 1985.

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Lindbergh was born in Stockholm on May 24, 1959. A fan of the Flyers from a young age -- to the point of wearing the Flyers logo on his mask even as a teenage player in Sweden long before the Flyers drafted him in the second round of the 1979 NHL Draft -- Lindbergh idolized Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent. Years later, Parent would become Lindbergh's goaltending coach, mentor and confidant.

Lindbergh's career rose in meteoric fashion. In 1980, he backstopped Sweden to a bronze medal in the Olympics and was the best player on the only team the "Miracle on Ice" Team USA squad did not beat -- the game ended in a tie -- in the tournament.

In 1980-81, as a rookie for the AHL's Maine Mariners, Lindbergh swept all of the league's awards for which he was eligible (League MVP, Best Goaltender, and Rookie of the Year). That year, he led the Mariners to the Calder Cup Finals before being slowed by a knee injury. As a Flyers rookie in 1982-83, Lindbergh played in the NHL All-Star Game and earned NHL All-Rookie Team honors.

In 1984-85, Lindbergh broke through into superstar status as his 26th birthday approached. He won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender and was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as league MVP. In the playoffs, Lindbergh was instrumental in the Flyers reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

The 1985-86 season started with Lindbergh performing at a pace that exceeded even his Vezina Trophy winning performance of the previous year. The Flyers surged quickly to the best record in the NHL, and Lindbergh was on the brink of signing a long-term contract extension to keep him in Philadelphia for many years to come.

Tragically, everything came to an end in the wee hours of Nov. 10, 1985. Lindbergh crashed his custom-designed red Porsche into a wall of a school in Somerdale, NJ. He was rendered brain dead and his respirator was turned off the following day. The two passengers in Lindbergh's car survived the accident.

Pelle's death irrevocably changed Flyers' history. He had a career arc and natural ability that suggested he could have been the best goaltender of his era. After all, he was already the NHL's best goalie in 1984-85 and was showing signs of even further improvement early the next season. On the other hand, Ron Hextall (starting in 1986-87) may never have gotten the opportunity that propelled his Flyers Hall of Fame career.

People who callously say "Why celebrate a drunk driver?" completely miss the point. No one celebrates the bad decision he made. It is the caring, sweet-tempered and fun-loving human being he was and the magnificent hockey talent at the pinnacle of his powers that gets celebrated. It's the family and friends who were left behind to pick up the pieces who get the compassionate sympathy. It's the senseless of it all that gets lamented.

It's the many pieces of happenstance -- the sedan he typically drove after dark instead of his sports car breaking down earlier in the evening, the decision to go out and celebrate a long winning streak with the team because of a prolonged break in the schedule after he initially said he didn't feel like going out after backing up in a game against Boston, etc -- that make the element of fate all the more poignant.

Another star-crossed Flyers goaltender, Gamble was born May 24, 1938 in Port Arthur, Ontario. After being acquired by the Flyers in the three-team trade that sent Parent to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Gamble appeared in 35 games for the Flyers over parts of two seasons.

On February 8, 1972, Gamble suffered a heart attack during a 3-1 Flyers win over the Vancouver Canucks. He did not complain of chest pains until after the game, and was taken to the hospital.

Gamble survived the heart attack but was forced to retire as an active player. Immediately after his retirement, he became a Flyers scout. Ten years later, he passed away at age 44 after another cardiac arrest.


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