Craig Berube grew up in Alberta before the NHL came to Edmonton and Calgary, when Canadian kids rooted for one of two teams, Montreal or Toronto, never mind the one in Vancouver that had just two winning seasons in its first 21.
“Really young, I was a Montreal fan,” said Berube. “But that kind of changed watching the Flyers winning the Stanley Cup, the way they played the game with a lot of heart, a lot of soul, and so much physical play.
“That’s attractive, it really is. The followers of that team became a cult.”
Forty years later, Wayne Simmonds wanted to worship that sect. Never mind that since he was born in 1988, the Flyers have been to just two Stanley Cup finals and four semifinals.
Over 25 years, in a league grown to 30 teams, arguably that’s a decent standard of success, but still nothing close to the seven semifinals and four finals the Flyers made in 14 years under the late Keith Allen. They have missed the playoffs only twice since emerging from the franchise’s one prolonged coma – 1990-94 -- but an entire generation of fans hardly has known them to be dominant.
So how do you explain all the black and orange in the stands whenever the Flyers come to Winnipeg or Toronto? Those persons are not all transplanted Philadelphians.
“When I heard I got traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, I was ecstatic,” said Simmonds.
Like virtually all the current members of the 2013-14 club, Simmonds can name only a few members of the Cup teams, probably would have to guess which team broke the Flyers hearts in Game 7 in 1987. But growing up in Toronto, Simmonds certainly knew when the Flyers came to town these weren’t the Thrashers or Predators.
“It’s a franchise rich in tradition,” he said. “Going all the way back to the Broad Street Bullies, they have done great things.”
Ed Snider says that even as Keith Allen’s memory faded of all those great things, and they were being continued by others, the builder of the Stanley Cup teams still deserved the credit for raising the bar and Flyers fans out of their seats in Los Angeles, or Florida or Dallas. If that profile has lasted 40 years after the Broad Street Bullies, it will continue long past his death Tuesday at age 90.
For those Bullies, some of the hardest asses in the game’s history, Allen found soft places for them to land, which as Bob Clarke and Ed Snider repeatedly have said, made Philadelphia a place players wanted to come, first to win, then to remain following their careers. Even through many first-round playoff crashes, one stretch of seven coaches in seven years and the unfortunate public tension between between Eric Lindros and Clarke, the Flyers remained an attractive destination.
Of course, few free agents, if any, ever have left money on the table. Snider and Comcast have put up the cash to enable Clarke and Paul Holmgren to get what they wanted. But Jeremy Roenick and Vinny Lecavalier didn’t come just for the last dollar, and neither did Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, the latter two signing up in the months following the Flyers’ worst-ever season in 2006-7.
“Everybody in the league knows what a great organization it is and how they treat players, so it was a plus when they were interested in me,” recalls Timonen. “I liked their reputation, liked the people from the Flyers I’d met.
“When Homer said he was going to do whatever it takes to get a good team here, I truly believed him. At the end of the [day] it wasn’t a hard choice to make.”
After being bought out by Tampa Bay last summer, Lecavalier had a tough call from among 17 franchises that had indicated interest. Many predicted Dallas as his landing spot but after having spent his entire 14-year career in a non-traditional hockey market, Vinny had been there and done that. He chose the Flyers.
“It’s not original six, but it still has that history,” Lecavalier said “I felt putting on this jersey would be very special.”
Undrafted out of junior, Berube would have signed with any team for a ham sandwich, but couldn’t believe his good fortune to be offered a contract by his favorite team. Five years later, he was traded to Edmonton, beginning his 23-season odyssey with six teams, two of which, Washington and Philadelphia, he played for twice.
“It sucked to get traded from here,” said Berube, never mind that deal occurred in 1991, two years into a playoff drought that would last three more.
“Clarke had been let go and that was a downer. It was awesome to come back (in 1999) but not really that unexpected because this always has been one of those loyal organizations that looks after the people it likes.
“Players around the league know that. Everywhere I went, teammates always were wondering what it was like here.
“It’s an attractive place, though not an easy place, because the organization and the fans demand a lot. So the biggest part of why players want to come here is because the organization always is trying to win.”
That's why Keith Allen rests in peace.
You can write to Jay Greenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org