Following the suspensions by the NHL of Flyers Steve Downie, Jesse Boulerice and Randy Jones, it is timely to ask if the Flyers still are the most hated team in the NHL.
The answer appears to be yes, for several reasons.
Media in other NHL cities pounced on the suspensions. When the Flyers visited their cities, headlines announced that the “Broad Street Bullies” and “Philly’s goons” are back. Please, the Bullies aren’t marauding through arenas in the United States and Canada any more. Don’t call the current Flyers “Sons of the Bullies” or even “Grandsons.”
“From the Broad Street Bullies days, there’s probably a lingering effect,” Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said. “These three separate incidents kind of brought it back. Each (incident) is different, but the fact that another Flyer got suspended probably brings some people back to those days.”
Holmgren and Head Coach John Stevens have built a team that is tough to play against.
“We want guys to compete,” Holmgren said. “Competing is playing hard, battling for pucks and playing strong defensively. John asks all the players to take the body and finish checks. Too many nights last year we didn’t compete hard enough to win.
“This is a tough league. Our division is shaping up to be a really tight race.”
|Randy Jones skates away after colliding with Boston's Patrice Bergeron on Saturday, October 27. Jones received a two-game suspension for the hit. (Getty Images) |
At least one general manager of a Flyers’ division rival is pleased that the Flyers have bounced back from last season’s misery.
“For a number of years, Philadelphia always beat Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh could never win in Philadelphia,” Penguins GM Ray Shero said. “This year, the Flyers are much improved and for the last couple years Pittsburgh is much improved. It makes for a great rivalry. It’s great for the state and the league.”
While noting that Downie and Boulerice incidents were deserving of suspensions, Shero believes they were isolated events.
“Paul Holmgren and John Stevens want their team to be aggressive, to play up-tempo and be hard to play against,” Shero said. “No one wants to see incidents where players get injured. I don’t think they are coaching their players to hurt people.”
Referring to the Randy Jones hit on Boston’s Patrice Bergeron, Shero said, “It was a bang-bang play. The game is so quick now. It’s fortunate that it wasn’t worse for Bergeron.”
If players on other teams had committed the transgressions of Downie, Boulerice and Jones, I think they would have received the same suspensions.
Another reason for the anti-Flyers sentiment involves Philly fans, who show up in significant numbers for the Flyers’ road games.
“There’s a lot of (hatred), especially from the fans of the opposing teams,” said Flyers television analyst Keith Jones, a former Flyers player. “The Flyers are so well represented in visiting arenas by their own fans. Every arena we go to there’s loads of Flyers jerseys scattered throughout the arena. Some of those fans tend to be more a little more vocal than the hometown fans.”
Jones also senses the swagger is back among Flyers fans in the Wachovia Center.
Younger hockey fans need to know that the Flyers weren’t always the Bullies. In the Flyers’ early years, they were pushed around by several teams, specifically the St. Louis Blues. Finally, GM Keith Allen had enough. He drafted Dave Schultz and Bob Kelly and traded for Andre “Moose” Dupont.
Covering those Flyers for the Philadelphia Daily News
in the 1970s was always interesting. A couple memorable occasions:
- On the Flyers’ first visit to Los Angeles each season to face the Kings, an L.A. newspaper would publish a photo of gangsters wearing wide-brim hats, dark suits and carrying machine guns. The caption would read, “Get the women and children off the streets: the Philadelphia Flyers are in town.”
- After a couple Flyers beat up California Golden Seals defenseman Mike Christie in the penalty box in Oakland in retaliation for his inadvertently cutting Bobby Clarke with his stick during a game at the Spectrum, an angry Oakland area sports writer approached the Philadelphia contingent and began screaming at us. Finally, I said, “Hey, we don’t play for this team. We just cover them.”
- After the Flyers upset powerful Boston to win the 1974 Stanley Cup, the Bullies were public enemies No. 1 in Boston. Schultz and the Bruins’ Terry O’Reilly engaged in some classic fights. Before one game, as the Flyers were warming up, a Bruins fan yelled, “Hey, Schultz, there’s a town around here named after you: Maa-ble-head!” I think Schultz heard the comment and smiled.
When Ray Shero was growing up, his father, Fred, coached the Bullies. He remembers NHL players-turned-coaches telling him in later years how stressful it was playing the Flyers at the Spectrum.
|Flyers fans have been known to show up in numbers for road games, like this group at the team's game in Vancouver on October 10. (Getty Images) |
“Some of the teams stayed (in South Jersey),” Shero recalled. “As the bus would leave the hotel, guys would be joking. Then, when they were crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge and could see the Spectrum, there would be dead silence. They’d be thinking, `Oh, boy’ (a long bruising night ahead).”
Gary Dornhoefer was a productive winger on those Flyers teams of the 1970s. “The intimidation factor certainly worked,” Dornhoefer, a former Flyers TV analyst, said. “When a team is feeling that way before they get to the dressing room, that’s like a goal for you right off the get-go.”
Dornhoefer recalls the Flyers playing before sold-out crowds in almost all the NHL arenas.
“The owners loved (the Bullies),” he said, “because with all that build-up, they’d have a full house. The booing got our adrenalin going.”
When Dornhoefer hears critics refer to the Flyers of the 1970s as goons, it annoys him.
“You don’t win Stanley Cups by (just) beating the heck out of everybody,” he said. “You’ve got to have some talent on your hockey club to win. We had a commitment to finishing our checks. Never give a team an easy game. You always left a message when you left (an arena). If you lost, make sure they were black and blue.”
The return to more physical hockey in the NHL is partially attributable to the Anaheim Ducks winning the Stanley Cup. Ducks GM Brian Burke, a former Flyers farmhand, likes the old-fashioned style of physical hockey.
“Anaheim has a great team, but they play a tough brand of hockey,” Shero said. “That’s their identity.”
Said Bill Clement, back with the Flyers’ television crew as an analyst when Keith Jones has commitments for NHL telecasts on the Versus network: “It’s as if we tip-toe around, ashamed that our sport has fighting. Brian Burke has embraced it and said, `We’re not ashamed of it. If you come into our building, you’ll have to fight us.”
“For the most part, fighting in hockey serves a purpose, and not just to change momentum. It’s to enforce a code of conduct, to equalize so the little guys don’t get pounded by the big guys. The tough guys say, `don’t hit him like that again.’”
Spoken like a true former member of the Bullies. Of course, Clement jokes that his role with the Bullies was to collect the gloves and sticks of teammates who fought and deliver them to the penalty box. Clement was more than a delivery man: he was a smooth-skating checking center.
Which brings us to the real intimidating factors of hockey these days. “Speed and skill,” said Holmgren. The Flyers have more speed and skill than they had last season. But they also have physical players who still play an important role.Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.
Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.