Most of the Parent children were good students. Claude and Emilie stressed education and kept after their children to buckle down with their studies. Most of the children went on to college. Bernie's sister, Marie-Claude, in fact, was the teacher of Bernie's third grade class. Bernie's brother Yvan became a clinical psychologist (in later years, when reporters would ask Bernie if he ever consulted with his brother the shrink, Bernie would smile and reply, "Yes. He calls me for advice several times a week!").
Unlike his brothers and sisters, Bernie did not enjoy school at all. He enjoyed sports. Hockey became his first passion, followed by baseball.
Yvan and Jacques Parent were the ones who got Bernie started in hockey. From an early age, he played street hockey, wearing boots and using a tennis ball for a puck. At the age of seven, his parents gave him his first pair of ice skates for Christmas. Yvan and Jacques would work with their younger brother in the backyard. Initially, he wanted to be a forward.
Because Bernie had good balance but was a poor skater, Yvan suggested he try goaltending. Bernie was excited about the idea at first because his hockey idol was legendary goaltender Jacques Plante. He soon changed his mind about goaltending, though, because he hated wearing the goalie equipment. He felt clumsy and had a hard time moving around in it. Yvan told him he would do fine.
Yvan Parent coached a local bantam team. Bernie was recruited to play goal, using borrowed equipment (it was not until he was twelve that he finally got goalie gear of his own). Although it took a while for Bernie to fully embrace the idea of being a goalie, he eventually came to excel at the position. Often playing on outdoor rinks at sub-zero temperatures, all young goalies back then learned to play a standup style.
Said Bernie many years later, "There was no other alternative. We were too frozen to move!"
Bernie always had a love-hate relationship coping with the pressure that falls upon the goalie. He was known to fret and complain about the strain of being a goaltender, especially against strong opponents. Once the game started, though, Parent would go out and play as though he were impervious to any sort of stress.
Parent's mother and father were supportive of their son's interest in hockey, although they would have preferred he paid more attention to school. Emilie attended almost all of her son's midget and junior league games. Claude was not able to attend very often but he would make it up to his son by taking him on hunting and fishing trips near Mt. Laurier in northern Quebec. Bernie acquired his love of the outdoors from his father, a passion that has continued throughout his life and became one of his prime means of relaxation away from the game.
As he hit his teens, Parent emerged as a goaltending star. He moved up from St. Victor's to Rosemont, earning rave notices, while developing under the patient tutelage of Roger Picard, Herve Lalonde, and Jacques St. Jean. Parent has always given his early coaches a large share of the credit for his later success as a pro.
Bernie also continued to idolize Montreal Canadiens goalie Jacques Plante. For a time, Plante's sister, Therese, lived next door to the Parents (who had moved when Bernie was ten to 1885 Bruxelles Street, a short distance from the house where he had spent his early childhood). Bernie became obsessed with meeting his idol.
However, he didn't have the nerve to approach Plante directly. Whenever word spread in the neighborhood that Plante would be coming to visit his sister, Bernie and his friends would run across the street and hide behind the bushes, waiting until they could catch a glimpse of him stepping out of his car and going inside. Little did Parent suspect at the time that his fantasies of being tutored by Plante would someday come true.
Bernie the Bruin
Parent continued to excel for Rosemont and he was widely sought after by many prominent junior clubs. A major turning point in Parent's young life occurred after he was recruited by the Niagara Falls Flyers, a well-known junior program in Ontario.
For one, the move to Niagara Falls ended Bernie's school career, much to the dismay of his parents. Secondly, it was his first widespread exposure to the English language. Bernie struggled with the language for several years.
Although he'd respond with his typical good nature when his English grammar and pronunciation became the butt of jokes and imitation, he later admitted that he would privately become frustrated when he had difficulty communicating his thoughts (especially years later when he met his first wife, Carol).
From an on-ice standpoint, the move to Niagara Falls provided the big game exposure that Parent needed to be recognized as a legitimate prospect for pro hockey. Finally, it removed Parent from the domain of the Montreal Canadiens.
In the pre-entry draft era of the National Hockey League, NHL clubs had the right to lay territorial claims to junior teams. The Canadiens had a virtual monopoly in the province of Quebec, thus assuring that most of the best francophone talent was funneled to the Habs.
Bernie, who dreamed as a child of playing for the Canadiens, certainly had no aversion to playing for Montreal. But the chance for accelerated development in Niagara Falls was more important at the time.
After an understandably bumpy start, Parent settled in and became one of the top junior goalies in Canada. In his final junior season, he led Niagara Falls to the Memorial Cup. In the spring of 1965, Parent was signed by the Boston Bruins. Teammate Doug Favell also joined the Bruins organization.
The Bruins were in a transitional phase when Parent joined the organization. There was a lot of promising young talent being brought on board at the time. A few years down the road, Boston would become a powerhouse. But at the time Parent was signed, the Bruins were still the weak sister of the six-team NHL. They had finished last in each of the previous five seasons. Parent was hurried into the Bruins net, immediately laying claim to the starting goalie job.
Parent struggled with his nerves and his confidence, although he gave a reasonable account of himself as a rookie. He ended splitting the games in half with veteran Eddie Johnston. Parent performed marginally better than Johnston. The Bruins finished fifth, with a still anemic 21-43-6 record. The Bruins continued ineptitude cost second year coach Milt Schmidt his job. Harry Sinden then stepped behind the bench.
Despite a communication barrier, Schmidt had taken a shine to Parent. Sinden did not. Sinden soon came to prefer another promising goalie in the system; a future Hall of Famer named Gerry Cheevers. Sinden thought that Parent enjoyed life in the NHL too much and was not nearly focused enough on playing goal.
Parent admitted years later than Sinden may have had some justification to feel as he did, although it was also true that Bernie's inexperience and lack of confidence were being exploited by the other NHL teams.
Parent played much of his sophomore season out of shape. He loved a good meal, he loved his beer and he had even begun to develop a taste for cigars. None of that played well with Sinden, especially when Parent's play in net did not grow in equal proportion to his waistline.
Johnston got the bulk of the playing time in 1966-67, Cheevers became the second goalie and Parent only got into 18 games, winning just 3 times and hearing boos from the Boston Garden crowd. Eventually, Parent was farmed out to Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, the Bruins were still awful, no matter who was in goal. They settled right back in their customary last place home.
An Original Flyer
The National Hockey League changed permanently in 1967-68. The league doubled in size, accepting bids for 6 new franchises. The original six clubs were placed together in the "Eastern" Division and the expansion clubs were called the "Western" Division, although geography had nothing to do with the placement of the teams.
In the expansion draft, Bud Poile, the general manager of the new Philadelphia Flyers, chose a pair of unprotected Bruins goalies as his first two selections. One was Parent, who was left exposed in favor of Cheevers. The other was minor league goaltender Doug Favell, who had been unable to crack the Bruins roster.
Parent and Favell proved to be the expansion team's best players. The best of friends away from the game, the two goaltenders could not have been more dissimilar on the ice. Parent played the classic standup style, always in control of his body. Favell was a guesser. He would flop, roll, and dive to make his stops.
During the Flyers inaugural season, both players enjoyed success. Coach Keith Allen, knowing that his goalies were his best asset and that his team sorely lacked both scoring punch and speed, crafted a disciplined, if dull, defense-first system for his hockey team. The Flyers pulled off numerous stunning upsets in their inaugural campaign. In fact, they beat each of the original six teams at least once.
Perhaps the two greatest thrills for Parent were going into the Montreal Forum and the Boston Gardens and downing the Canadiens and the Bruins. In Montreal, the local boy earned an ovation at game's end. The Flyers finished one game below .500 in their first season, good enough for first place in the weak Western Division. In the playoffs, the Flyers lost to the St. Louis Blues, who became Philly's most hated rival during the early years of their existence.
Blues coach Scotty Bowman, however, was very much impressed by Parent. "Parent is the best young goaltender in the league," said Bowman in 1968. "When [St. Louis goalie] Glenn Hall and Jacques Plante retire, he''ll be the best in the game."
Parent showed himself to be the superior goalie to Favell, who had a tendency to allow soft goals at the worst possible times. In 1968-69, Bernie was the Flyers undisputed number one goalie. But his journey to being the best in the NHL took some additional time.
Part of Parent's problem was that he sometimes still got down on himself after making a mistake. The second, more pressing problem, was that the cast around him still was not very good offensively.
After their successful first season, the Flyers struggled until the 1972-73 campaign. The Flyers posted losing seasons in every season from 1968-69 to 1971-72 and missed the playoffs several times. The club chronically lacked scoring and until around 1970, also was lacking in team toughness.
Parent usually helped keep the games close, but wins were scarce. However, Bernie did manage to steal numerous low-scoring ties each season (the Flyers, in fact, set an NHL record for ties with 24 in 1969-70).
Despite the strain of playing for a losing team, Parent loved playing in Philadelphia. The feeling was mutual. Parent and Favell were the team's two most popular players with the fans. Bernie was also very well-liked by his teammates and both Keith Allen and Ed Snider viewed him as almost a second son.
Bernie never had a cross word to say to anyone and he could take, or deliver, a joke with the best of them. Bernie's use of English was a never ending source of locker room and bus trip humor. Parent had a tendency to speak too fast when he'd get excited, and the words that tumbled out often produced laughter. In his early years speaking English, the teasing stung and Parent kept quiet, but as he grew more comfortable, he let his warm personality shine through.
Whether it was celebrating a rare Flyers win or relaying a deliberately exaggerated story about the latest fish he caught, Bernie would have even his fellow francophones in stitches.
"Don't ask me. He makes no sense in French, either!" was affable teammate Andre Lacroix's standard replay when someone would ask him what Bernie had just said.
Midway through the 1970-71 season, Parent received a jolt of bad news that left him devastated. The Flyers, in desperate need of scoring, decided that it was necessary to shop their two goalies on the trade market. There was greater interest in Parent than Favell.
On January 31, 1971, a three-way deal was worked out with the Flyers, Maple Leafs, and Bruins. Parent went to Toronto. In return, the Flyers received journeyman goalie Bruce Gamble, a pair of first round picks in 1971, and, most importantly, a Bruins scoring prospect by the name of Rick MacLeish. They also received two first round picks in the 1971 draft.
Parent took the news very hard. He started to sob and shake uncontrollably. Trying to console Bernie, Ed Snider broke out crying as well. Snider embraced Parent and walked him to his car. Still crying, Parent looked back over his shoulder as he drove away.
The trade initially received a less-than-enthusiast response from the Flyers fans. "We want Bernie" and "Allen is a traitor" signs appeared around the Spectrum for the next several games. Soon, however, life went on for the Flyers fans. The emotional wounds were slower to heal for Parent.
Plante-ing the Seeds of Greatness
Parent soon realized that there was a bright side to the trade. Going to Toronto afforded him the chance to finally play alongside his idol, Plante, who, at 41, was at the end of his storied career. Plante was not always the easiest of people to get along with. His personality was diametrically opposite to Bernie's.
Known for being sullen and territorial, Plante had long been a loner in the hockey world. But he took a strong liking to Parent. Perhaps it was the fact that Bernie played such a similar style in net. Perhaps it was the realization that despite the fact he was one of the better goalies in the NHL, Parent's true potential was still untapped. Or perhaps Plante remembered Bernie as his sister's next door neighbors' kid, shyly hiding in the bushes when Plante would come to visit.
Whatever the reason, Plante took Parent under his wing. Under Plante's tutelage, Bernie steadily transformed from a very good goalie into a great one. Plante helped Parent make subtle adjustments to his game and to overhaul his mental approach to the game. Parent became a more focused, more confident, goalie.
After Bernie played a very strong season in 1971-72, the Philadelphia Blazers, of the fledgling World Hockey Association, lured him away from Toronto with a five year, $750,000 contract offer. It was more than double what the Leafs were offering.
Moreover, it gave Bernie a chance to come back to Philadelphia. Bernie, still hurt by the trade from the Flyers, took a public swipe at the organization upon signing with the Blazers.
He told the Philadelphia Bulletin, "To have a championship team, you need an organization with class, and that's where the Flyers are definitely lacking."
Bernie soon discovered that he had made a mistake by signing with the Blazers. The team's one and only season of existence in Philadelphia was a comedy of errors.
Their opening night game had to be canceled minutes before the opening faceoff because the ice surface had cracked and was unsuitable for play. Another time, the team's loose cannon feature player, ex-Bruin Derek Sanderson, went on the radio and encouraged the fans to come out "even though the parking ain't so good."
At first seen as a threat to the established Flyers, the Blazers soon emerged the loser in their battle for the hearts of Philadelphia hockey fans. They played before mostly empty houses and the team was losing money rapidly.
Eventually, the players paychecks started to come late - or not at all. Parent's agent, Howard Casper, advised his client to refuse to play until the matter was resolved.
In the meantime, Toronto's crusty owner Harold Ballard informed Parent that the Leafs would be happy to have him back-at less money than they had initially offered. Casper insisted that his client would never return to Toronto.
Parent finished out the 1972-73 campaign with the Blazers, but refused to play in the playoffs. The Blazers were sold and moved at season's end. Insisting that Parent was now a free agent, Casper once again rebuffed the Maple Leafs. Eventually, the Leafs asked Parent if he would honor a trade. He agreed.
Final Piece of Stanley Cup Puzzle
Keith Allen and Ed Snider wanted Bernie Parent back on the Flyers. The Flyers had just reached the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time in their history. They had the nucleus of a winner in place, but still needed an upgrade in goal over Doug Favell.
"Dougie always did the best he could, but we needed a little bit better, "says Flyers Hall of Fame defenseman Joe Watson. "Bernie was the missing piece for us."
It took a little while to get coach Fred Shero on board with the idea, but he, too, eventually consented that Parent might be the man for the job. On the afternoon of June 22, 1973, tears flowed once again at the Spectrum. This time, it was Favell who would be going. The Flyers sent Favell and a first round pick to the Leafs in exchange for Parent and a second round pick. The mood brightened considerably when the announcement came that Parent had signed a multi-year deal with the Flyers.
All hard feelings from the 1971 trade were forgiven when Bernie returned home to the Flyers. "I never wanted to leave in the first place," said Bernie on the day of his signing. "Now that I'm back, I couldn't be happier."
The next two years were nothing short of magical. It started with a shutout of Favell's Maple Leafs on opening night of the 1973-74 season and ended with the Flyers' second straight Stanley Cup victory in the spring of 1975.
Playing virtually every game throughout both seasons, Parent emerged as the best goalie in the NHL. The Flyers, boasting a formidable young nucleus of Clarke, Barber, MacLeish, and Jimmy Watson, an excellent coach and a variety of quality role players were knocking on the door of the league's elite before Bernie returned. With Parent now in tow, they became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup.
As hated as the rest of the Broad Street Bullies were, Parent succeeded in earning the respect and admiration of the entire hockey world. In his Vezina Trophy-winning regular season, Parent posted a minuscule 1.89 goals against average, set NHL records for games played (73), wins (47), and registered a whopping 12 shutouts. Although Shero's team played solid defense in front of its goalie, it was Parent that made it all come together.
In the playoffs, Parent managed to somehow crank up his game even further. He had six shutouts and was nothing short of brilliant in the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Flyers pulled off a major upset and defeated the defending champion Bruins in six games. Bernie punctuated the season by shutting out the Bruins 1-0 in the Cup-clinching game. Parent was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
As if to prove that he and the Flyers were no fluke, Bernie went out and repeated the feat in 1974-75. Bernie again posted 12 shutouts and won the Vezina Trophy. Once again, he had several playoff shutouts, including the Cup-clincher. For the second straight year, Bernie won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
Parent was on top of the world. His fame had grown to the point that he even appeared on the cover of Time magazine. In Philadelphia, he was nothing short of a sports deity. The chants of "Bern-ie, Bern-ie, Bern-ie" reverberated around the Spectrum before games would even start. At the Flyers' two Stanley Cup parades, attended by over two million people, Parent was mobbed to the point that police feared for his safety.
He also found that he had thousands of pieces of fan mail awaiting him at his home, numerous babies being named for him, and many young goaltenders who had taken to emulating him the way he once patterned himself after Jacques Plante. In fact, over in Sweden, a young goaltender named Pelle Lindbergh came to idolize Parent and copy his style, adopting the Flyers as his favorite team.
Legions of wonderful Bernie Parent stories abound from the Cup years. His former teammates recall how he was able to loosen up a tense locker room with stories of his dog Tinkerbell and tall tales of his latest fishing and hunting exploits. Sometimes, in the middle of close games, he'd call over one of his teammates and say something totally off the wall, just to relax them.
Bob "The Hound" Kelly often told a story of a 0-0 game in which Bernie propped up his mask and summoned defenseman Ed Van Impe before a key faceoff and announced loudly, "Ed, tonight, I think I'm gonna have two pieces of the pizza." He then replaced his mask and went back to his crease.
The words were silly but the message was clear: Don't worry, guys, we'll be celebrating a win when the night is over.
Injuries and Heartache
Parent's standard line to reporters and teammates after every victorious game was "some fun, eh?" Indeed, he was having fun. But the good times would not last forever. After the 1974-75 season, Ed Snider rewarded Parent with a lifetime contract with the Flyers. Parent, believing that his financial future was secure, bought himself a yacht and sent his children to private school. He put the rest of his money in care of his financial advisor; a decision he would later regret.
Parent missed much of the 1975-76 season with what turned out to be nerve damage in his neck and back. Struggling to regain his form in the playoffs, he fared poorly in the first round against Toronto. Nevertheless, his sense of humor remained firmly intact. Combing through his rapidly graying hair, he announced, "Hey, things are getting so bad I think it's turning black again!"
Parent was eventually unable to play through the pain and had to give way to his backup Wayne Stephenson, who was a capable goalie, but nowhere near Parent's caliber. The Flyers' bid for a third successive Cup ended in a four-game sweep by the Canadiens in the Finals. Montreal then proceeded to win the Cup every year for the remainder of the 1970s, while the Flyers slowly slipped.
Parent continued to be a fine goalie for the remainder of his career, but he never again consistently dominated the league the way he did before the back injury. He did, however, play very well in the 1977-78 season, which turned out to be his final full season in the NHL. Not coincidentally, the Flyers brought in Jacques Plante at the start of the season to serve as their goaltending coach. Plante's presence lifted Bernie's spirits and he responded with his best season since 1974-75.
In many ways, though, the 77-78 season was the last hurrah for the Broad Street Bullies. Not only was it Parent's final full season, a lot of other familiar faces were departing as well. Shero left after that season to take the head coach/general manager job for the Rangers. Gary Dornhoefer retired. Joe Watson was dealt to Colorado shortly before the season. Orest Kindrachuk, Tom Bladon, and Ross Lonsberry were dealt to the Penguins. The magical days of 74 and 75 were over.
The period from late 1978 to 1980 was the low point of Bernie's life. He discovered that the IRS was after him for unpaid taxes and, to make matters even worse, his agent had lost almost all of Parent's money in bad investments.
In the fall of 1978, Bernie learned that his 75-year-old father was gravely ill. Dealing with his off-ice adversity and playing with more discomfort in his neck and back, Parent began the 1978-79 season playing inconsistently in goal. He seemed to be rounding back into form until, on February 17, 1979, Parent's career came to a shocking end.
Defenseman Jimmy Watson, attempting to move the Rangers' Don Maloney from in front of the net, accidentally put the blade of his stick through the right eyeslit of Parent's mask. Parent pushed off his mask and, holding his face, left the ice. The right eye had been pushed back in its socket.
Parent held out hope that he would eventually be able to return to the ice. However, the sight in his right eye did not improve to an appreciable degree. Under doctor's orders, he tearfully announced his retirement from the game. Many years after his retirement, with new technologies now readily available, Parent underwent corrective surgery that restored virtual 20-20 vision.
Parent's Flyers career ended with a stellar 232-141-103 record, 50 shutouts, and a 2.42 goals against average. His playoff numbers were equally impressive, with his two Conn Smythe Trophies and 2.38 goals against average.
Rebuilding a Life
Shortly after his retirement, Parent was given the title of "special assignment scout" for the Flyers but later was named goaltending co-instructor, along with Plante. No matter the job title, Parent was in a dark place mentally.
Although he continued to wear a smile in public, Parent fell into a deep depression. Most everything near and dear to him in life was gone, almost in one fell swoop. The more depressed he became, the more he drank. Within a year of his retirement, Parent, who had been a social drinker during his career, descended into full-fledged alcoholism.
Although still employed by the Flyers, Bernie was not able to do his best on the job. He drank away much of his paycheck. His relationship with his wife Carol became strained. Realizing he had a drinking problem and not wishing to hurt his wife, three children and legion of friends any further, Parent joined Alcoholics Anonymous and took control of his life once again.
Before the 1981-82 season after the departure of Plante, Snider offered Parent the position of Flyers' goaltending coach. He eagerly accepted. Parent would hold the post for the next twelve seasons.
Parent proved to be an excellent mentor for the goalies in the system. He had the uncanny ability to communicate with the Flyers goaltenders, encouraging them to make slight corrections but never insisting that things be done his way or trying to get them to change their style. Although he got the likes of Rick St. Croix to overachieve, Parent's first legitimate star pupil was Pelle Lindbergh.
The Lindbergh-Parent relationship was like Parent and Plante revisited, except now it was Bernie who was the hockey legend imparting his wisdom and Lindbergh the starry-eyed pupil absorbing the instruction of his boyhood idol. Lindbergh told his own father, Sigge, that he considered Parent to be like his "father in the United States."
A strong bond of friendship grew between Lindbergh and Parent. It was Bernie who took Lindbergh from a talented, but unconfident and erratic young goalie and molded him into the best goalie in the National Hockey League. A special moment in Flyers history occurred in the summer of 1985, when Parent got to present Lindbergh with the Vezina Trophy. From the podium Pelle dedicated the honor to Parent, who warmly embraced his young protégé.
"I know how hard Pelle has worked to arrive at this night. I'm as proud and happy as when I won the award," said Parent that night.
Months later, Parent took the news of Lindbergh's death as hard as anyone in the organization. "I feel like I've lost a son," Parent said somberly on the night of Lindbergh's memorial service at the Spectrum.
It did not take long for Parent's next star pupil to come on the scene. One season after Lindbergh's death, a fiery rookie by the name of Ron Hextall took over in the Flyers nets. Hextall's competitive juices flowed to nearly psychotic levels on the ice, although his off-ice personality was completely different. Parent found Hextall to be coachable and eager to learn. Bernie encouraged Hextall to make the most of his remarkable stickhandling abilities (an asset Bernie himself lacked during his playing days).
Before a succession of groin injuries robbed him of his balance and flexibility, Hextall played a very technically solid style of goaltending. Even so, like all goalies, Hextall's mechanics could sometimes need subtle corrections. Hextall credited Parent with making useful suggestions while continuing to emphasize the positive (in stark contrast to head coach Mike Keenan, who was prone to tearing at a player's self confidence).
Although Parent's direct influence over Hextall was not as dramatic as his ties with Lindbergh, Bernie was a proud observer as Hextall won the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy in his rookie year.
Parent stayed on in his goaltending instructor role until the end of the 1992-93 season. Reggie Lemelin was named the team's new goaltending coach the following season, as Bernie opted to spend more time near his home in South Jersey.
As time moved on, Bernie focused on fulfilling a variety of personal dreams. For example, he once spent a full year sailing on his boat. Likewise, the longtime cigar aficionado later started his own signature brand of cigars.
To this day, Bernie Parent remains a beloved figure throughout the Delaware Valley, where he makes an array of public appearances every year. His pied piper charisma and self-fashioned lifestyle made him much like a real-life version of the "Most Interesting Man in the World" of television commercial fame.
Parent's number 1 jersey was retired by the team on October 11, 1979. In 1984, Parent became the Flyers' first player to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Four years later, he and Bob Clarke became the charter inductees in the newly established Flyers Hall of Fame.
On New Year's Eve day of 2011, Parent stole the show by starting in net at the Winter Classic Alumni Game between the Flyers Alumni and New York Rangers Alumni in at the jam-packed Citizen's Bank Park. Parent soaked in the loudest and lengthiest standing ovation of any of the illustrious participants.
During the summer of 2016, the 71-year-old Parent remarried. He wed Gini Gramaglia Parent in a beach ceremony in Avalon, New Jersey.
Bernie Parent's name became synonymous with grace and excellence on the hockey rink. Just as importantly, the man behind the mask endeared himself to an entire city. He celebrated the good times and weathered the tough times with uncommon grace and refreshing honesty, emerging with his smile intact and boasting countless friends and acquaintances who feel enriched to have known him.