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Boston’s Fern Flaman

by Staff Writer / Boston Bruins
By Joseph R. Beare, Student Correspondent,

As college hockey enthusiasts look forward in anticipation to the rapidly approaching Beanpot Tournament, New England hockey fans recall the players and personalities who lived some of the tournament’s most memorable moments and wore the Black & Gold as well.

Perhaps no man is more ingrained in both cultures as the tough, witty and legendary Fern "Ferny" Flaman.

Flaman, who is famous both for his storied NHL career and his 19-year tenure as a division one NCAA coach, retired from hockey in 1989, but left a mark on Boston sports history that will not soon fade.

Born on January 25, 1927, in Dysart, Saskatchewan, Flaman quickly developed into a hard-nosed and steady stay-at-home defenseman and caught the eye of the Boston Bruins scouting staff at just 15 years old. Flaman spent the next three years as a member of the Boston Olympics, an affiliate of the big league club at the time.

At 18, Flaman made the jump to the NHL where he shared the Garden ice with Bruins legends Milt Schmidt, Dit Clapper and Woody Dumart.

Flaman’s first tenure as a Bruin spanned from 1946-1949, when he departed for Toronto. With the Leafs Flaman won a Stanley Cup in 1951, but returned to the birthplace of his professional career in 1954-55 -- a year in which he would lead the National Hockey League in penalty minutes with 150.

As his penalty minute totals indicated, at 5'10 and 190 pounds, Flaman was famous for his grit and character.

In the "Original Six" era, teams often played each other in back-to-back games, so resentment from previous nights would invariably spill over to the next contest. Flaman did not take lightly any slights against his club and was notorious for having his gloves off, and his stick cast aside, before the finish of the national anthems.

His willingness to battle for teammates and refusal to shy away from the rough aspects of the game made him a perfect candidate for Bruins captaincy and he served as Boston’s leader from his return in 1955 until his retirement in 1961.

Ferny finished his NHL career having played an impressive 910 games, amassing 34 goals and 176 assists for 210 points.

Flaman's 1,370 penalty minutes were third in league history at the time of his retirement.

After leaving the NHL, Flaman skated as a player/coach for the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League, and tried other minor league coaching positions for three seasons before finally landing back in Boston.

In 1972, Ferny was hired as the fifth head coach of the Northeastern University Huskies, a job that he would hold until 1989, making him the longest tenured hockey coach in Northeastern history.

Flaman’s influence on Northeastern’s hockey program is unparalleled as nearly every accomplishment in the history of the club was achieved with Ferny at the helm.

The 1980s were a particularly dominant decade for both Flaman and the Huskies, as they rolled to four Beanpot victories, still the only four in Northeastern history. And in 1982, Flaman was named the United States college coach of the year. In 1988, perhaps the greatest year in NU hockey history, the Huskies won the Hockey East Tournament Championship en route to an appearance in the NCAA Tournament competition.

“If you look at the peaks of Northeastern hockey, it is all Ferny,” laughed Jack Grinold, Athletics Director of Communications at Northeastern, who worked in the athletics department throughout Flaman’s entire tenure. “Ferny coached here longer than any coach, 19 years, and had more victories than anyone else, 250 plus.

"We have only won four Beanpots; Ferny won ‘em all.

"We’ve only won one Hockey East title. Ferny won that. We’ve won only one ECAC title. Ferny won that. We’ve only gone to the Frozen Four once. Ferny did that, too," said Grinold (the de facto dean of the New England collegiate sports Information community, and himself a Beanpot fixture).

Aside from being a legend behind the bench, Ferny also possessed a quick wit and a sharp business mind.

“During the 80s, at one time we wanted to measure the effectiveness of our coaches as business men, how they were handling their budgets,” said Grinold. “We had a coach who had a masters in business from an Ivy League college, and here Ferny who was without a high school degree. He was our most efficient manager, and our MBA graduate was our most inefficient manager.”

Flaman’s road to success at the collegiate level did not pass without sadness.

In 1984, his family was stricken by tragedy when his son, Terry, a former captain of the Harvard hockey squad, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That year, the Huskies would advance to the Beanpot championship under Flaman’s guidance and, in what is remembered as one of the most poignant moments in Beanpot history, Flaman’s gravely ill son, by then confined to a wheelchair, was brought in to the dressing room before the contest to give his father’s team a pep talk.

The Huskies went out to the ice, dominated play and took home the coveted Beanpot trophy, but not before Ferny’s son was wheeled around the rink, clutching the cup victoriously.

Flaman announced his retirement from coaching on Valentine’s Day in February of 1989. He left the Huskies having amassed a 255-301-23 record while completely re-creating the Northeastern University hockey program in his successful image.

“Ferny has left the Northeastern hockey program in great shape and on the rise,” said then Athletic Director Irwin Cohen in the press release announcing Flaman’s retirement. “Because of Fern Flaman, Northeastern hockey has the respect of fans, coaches and players throughout the country.”

A member of the NHL Hall of Fame, the Northeastern Hall of Fame, the Collegiate Hockey Hall of Fame and the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame, Flaman was awarded the highest honor of his career when he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 1990.

A true Bruin and the consummate Husky, Flaman will always be best remembered for the multi-faceted career that he led in the city of Boston. He defined leadership and heart throughout a career that spanned five decades, and his long-standing contributions to hockey in New England are immeasurable.

Thanks, Ferny.

Joseph R. Beare is a student at Northeastern University
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