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Remembering Rick MacLeish

May 31, 2016, 7:23 AM ET [104 Comments]
Bill Meltzer
Philadelphia Flyers Blogger •NHL.com • RSSArchiveCONTACT

The Flyers family and the hockey world have lost one its most esteemed members. Flyers Hall of Fame center Rick MacLeish passed away late on May 30 at the age of 66.

A three-time NHL All-Star game participant (1975-76, 1976-77, 1979-80), MacLeish holds the distinction of being the charter member of the Flyers’ 50-Goal club, achieving that mark in a 100-point season in 1972-73. MacLeish also holds the distinction, along with Bob “the Hound” Kelly, of scoring a Stanley Cup winning goal for the Flyers.

For his distinguished Flyers career, MacLeish racked up 328 goals and 697 points in 741 regular season games. He elevated his game even higher in the playoffs, notching 53 goals and 105 points in 108 postseason games.

To teammates and friends, MacLeish will always be remembered as an endearingly flighty and laconic man who sometimes preferred the company of his beloved horses to that of other people.

Rick MacLeish was born on January 3, 1950 in Cannington Ontario. MacLeish was one of the smoothest skaters and purest offensive talents ever to wear the Orange and Black. Head tilted, hair flapping in the breeze, the guy called “Bedrock” (or “Cutie” or “Beauty” or “The Hawk”) injected a bit of flash and dash to the Broad Street Bullies. He had good ice vision, a deft passing touch, excellent puck handling skills and wrists like a longshoreman.

Centering a line with Dornhoefer and Lonsberry at 5-on-5, MacLeish]finished 4th in points in the NHL in 1972-73 , behind Phil Esposito, Bobby Clarke (who won the Hart Trophy), and Bobby Orr.
MacLeish scored 50 goals and added 50 helpers for an even 100 points.

The Flyers, sparked by a young nucleus that included not only Clarke and MacLeish but also promising rookie Bill Barber (30 goals, 64 points in 69 games), had the first winning season in club history. They advanced to the Stanley Cup semi-finals before going out in 5 games to the more experienced Montreal Canadiens. MacLeish won game 2 at the Forum with a goal in overtime.

The fun had only just begun.

The Flyers were about to embark on the most glorious chapter of their team history. The re-acquisition of Parent and the rapid emergence of rookie defenseman Jimmy Watson helped make everything come together in 1973-74.

During the Flyers magic ride to their first Stanley Cup, the club did a lot of fighting on the ice and a lot of laughing off the ice. In a locker room full of extroverts and practical jokers, MacLeish remained one of the few players whose words did not speak just as loud as his deeds. Off the ice, he was much more comfortable around his teammates and his horses than he was among fans or reporters.

Although he did not quite approach his totals of 1972-73, MacLeish still enjoyed a fine regular season in 1973-74. He scored 32 goals and 77 points in 78 games, among which were numerous timely goals and assists.

In the playoffs, MacLeish stepped up his game even further. He was the leading scorer in the postseason, wristing home 13 goals (to go along with 9 helpers) in 17 games. He scored the game winners in game 2 of the opening round sweep of the Atlanta Flames and games 1 and 5 of the hard fought semi-final round against the Rangers.

Of course, no goal in Flyers history was more important than the one MacLeish nabbed on the afternoon of May 14, 1974. With nearly sixteen minutes elapsed in a scoreless first period, the Flyers were on the powerplay. MacLeish, moving in front of the net, re-directed “Moose” Dupont's shot from the point past goaltender Gilles Gilbert.

The goal would prove to be the only one the Flyers would get or need on the day. Bernie Parent made the 1-0 lead stand up and the Flyers downed the Boston Bruins in 6 games to win the Stanley Cup.

MacLeish and the Flyers repeated their 1973-74 success the following year. Rick bagged 38 goals and added 41 assists for 79 points in 80 games (the only season of his career in which MacLeish dressed for every game). In the playoffs he added 11 more goals and 9 more assists as the Flyers once again carried off the Stanley Cup, this time downing the Buffalo Sabres in a six-game final.

Although rarely called upon to show his pugilistic prowess, MacLeish was a tough customer when he did drop the gloves.

Two of his more notable fights were a pummeling he laid on Detroit's Henry Boucha during a bench-clearing brawl and a one sided thrashing of the Rangers Jerry Butler.

Flyers teammate Bob Kelly, one of the more active combatants on the Broad Street Bullies, was glad that MacLeish was on his side. He knew full well how tough MacLeish was, having unsuccessfully taken Rick on back in junior hockey.

Said Kelly, “Rick just stood there and slugged it out with me. I can honestly say I never lost a fight in junior, but that was one I did not win.”

Of course, goal scoring and play making would always be MacLeish's stock in trade. The team missed his presence in the lineup during the 1975-76 postseason, when the quest for their third consecutive Stanley Cup was ended in the Finals by a Montreal Canadiens sweep.

MacLeish celebrated his return to the ice with an outstanding 1976-77 season. He scored 49 goals and finished with 97 points. He also had 4 goals and 13 points in 10 playoff games. The Flyers, however, lost in the Stanley Cup Semifinals to the Bruins.

This marked the beginning a slow period of slippage in the late 1970s. The next season, MacLeish scored 31 goals and had 70 points in 76 games. Once again, the Flyers lost in the semi-finals. The team went into a transitional period as the Broad Street Bullies were broken apart in 1978 and a new coach, Bob McCammon, took over for the New York Ranger-bound Fred Shero.

MacLeish loved having Shero for his coach. The coach's offbeat sensibilies and willingness to let his players be themselves resonated with almost everyone in the lockerroom.

McCammon, though, was another story.

Unprepared for being an NHL coach, McCammon was in over his head during his first stint as Flyers coach. Among the most notable of players who chafed under McCammon's stewardship was MacLeish. The two almost came to blows after McCammon publicly ripped MacLeish's effort after a loss to the Islanders. As it turned out, MacLeish had been playing with a broken wrist. He missed 9 games with the injury.

After 49 games, McCammon was out and Pat Quinn was promoted from the Maine Mariners to take over the head coaching duties. Quinn's more upbeat approach worked well for MacLeish, who rebounded to finish well. His 29 goals and 58 points in 71 games were a cut below MacLeish's usual standard, but the bad wrist and the problems with McCammon certainly contributed to his decreased production.

In April 1978, MacLeish suffered a frightening injury in a road game in Los Angeles. During the first period, MacLeish was down on the ice as the Kings Marcel Dionne tripped over him. Dionne's skate blade slashed MacLeish across the throat.

Fortunately, the blade missed MacLeish's jugular vein by a fraction of an inch. It was also a stroke of good luck that the Flyers oral surgeon, Dr. Everett Borghesani, happened to be traveling with the team at the time.

Rushing down with his first aid kit, Dr. Borghesani saved MacLeish from bleeding to death. The doctor finally got the wound sealed with 88 stitches before he was taken to the hospital for observation.

Greatly relieved that their teammate was going to survive, the Flyers welcomed him back to Philadelphia in true hockey style: they poked fun at MacLeish's massive neck wound.
Walking into the dressing room, MacLeish was greeted by a message on the blackboard which read, "What's the difference between Rick MacLeish and Frankenstein's monster? Two stitches!"

MacLeish took it all in the spirit in which it was intended and came back with a little gallows humor of own. He said, "My neck's fine, boys, but when I puff on a cigarette, smoke comes out my throat!"

The 1979-80 season was a big bounceback campaign for the Flyers. It was the year of the Flyers
record 35 game unbeaten streak. MacLeish, now 30 years old and centering the third line, scored 31 goals and 66 points in 78 games.

The stats themselves were only up slightly from the previous year but it was the timing of the offense, in a somewhat reduced 5-on-5 role, that was impressive. MacLeish's big game performances were especially good that year, especially during the streak and the playoffs.

In the postseason, MacLeish scored nine goals. In the Stanley Cup finals, the Flyers old guard of Clarke and MacLeish played key roles in helping the team to win Game Two and to avoid elimination in Game Five. Finally, Quinn's Flyers fell to the Islanders in a heart-breaking and highly controversial sixth game of the Finals.

MacLeish had another solid season for Quinn in 1980-81, scoring 38 goals and 74 points in 78 games. However, the Flyers decided that the time had come to move the aging player while his trade value was still high.

MacLeish was sent to the Hartford Whalers in a trade that brought the Flyers Ray Allison and the fourth overall pick in the 1982 draft (used to select Ron Sutter). MacLeish split the 1981-82 season with the Whalers and the Penguins, scoring a combined 19 goals and 47 points in 74 games. The follow season, injuries limited Rick to a mere six games, in which he failed to light the lamp. After the season, the Penguins let the 33-year old MacLeish go.

MacLeish contacted the Flyers to see if they were still interested. Ironically, the team's coach (and new de facto GM) was Bob McCammon, who had returned to replace Quinn during the 1981-82 season. McCammon offered MacLeish a tryout contract. He accepted.

Putting on the orange and black again seemed to rejuvenate MacLeish, who had a torrid preseason and rushed out of the gates in the regular season. He soon came back down to earth but still had a respectable 8 goals and 22 points in 29 games.

The Flyers informed MacLeish that he did not fit in the team's plans. MacLeish was sold to the Detroit Red Wings, for whom he finished his career. MacLeish retired at the end of the 1983-84 season. After his playing career, he made his permanent home along the Jersey shore.
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