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Ashbee's Legacy Remains Intact

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
The 29th Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival, on Sunday at the Wachovia Center, has grown into a significant event on the Philadelphia sports scene. Almost $20 million has been raised for multiple charities. Comcast SportsNet will televise the carnival (4-6 p.m.; replay from 7-9 p.m.) The carnival is a chance for fans to meet current Flyers and Flyers alumni.

Ever since the second wives carnival, in December 1977, some proceeds from have gone to the Barry Ashbee Research Laboratories at the Isadore Brodsky Institute for Cancer and Blood Diseases at Hahnemann University Hospital.

For younger Flyers fans, Barry Ashbee doesn't mean much. He's probably just a name from the Flyers' Stanley Cup-winning past. But for those who knew Ashbee - teammates, fans and media members - he is still fresh in their minds and hearts.

Although Ashbee was an NHL Second All-Star team defenseman in his final season (1973-74), he wasn't a star with the Flyers. The stars were Bob Clarke, Bernie Parent, Bill Barber and Rick MacLeish.

Ashbee was one of the solid players, with Gary Dornhoefer, Joe and Jimmy Watson, Ed Van Impe, Ross Lonsberry, Dave Schultz and Bob Kelly.

Ashbee was a defensive defenseman, a guy who toiled in the minor leagues until he was 30 years old. "Ashcan," as he was known to teammates, was a popular player for the Hershey Bears before the Flyers signed him. He was tough and dependable.

His career ended in a 1974 Stanley Cup Playoff game against the New York Rangers when he was struck in the eye by a puck. After the Flyers' Cup-clinching victory over Boston, my story in the Daily News began with Ashbee, wearing sunglasses, leaning against a wall in the Flyers' Spectrum locker room and saying, "You'll never see a bunch like this again."

The Flyers added Ashbee to Fred Shero's coaching staff. At first, the proud Ashbee resisted the appointment because he didn't want to be the recipient of "charity." But Ashbee grew into the job and likely would have been Shero's successor, after he moved to the Rangers. Sadly, however,
Ashbee was diagnosed with leukemia. He died in May 1977.

The first wives carnival was held in February of 1977. It was an immediate success despite a big snowstorm. The wives decided to hold the second carnival in December of 1977, close to the Christmas holidays and also to avoid any snow problems. After Ashbee died, the wives decided to dedicate the carnival to him.

Mary Ann Saleski, the wife of former Flyers winger Don Saleski, was the first chairperson of the carnival.

"The wives wanted to do something to give back to the community," said Mary Ann, now senior vice president of the Comcast-Spectacor Foundation. "Mr. [Ed] Snider said we should do the event in the Spectrum because we'd have more control. Someone in the office suggested a carnival. It (quickly) became a signature event."

In 1987, the Flyers Wives received the second Humanitarian Award, presented by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. (Other recipients of the award with Flyers connections are Eric Desjardins, John LeClair and Eric Lindros).

Mary Ann is pleased to see current Flyers and their wives enjoying their participation in the carnival. Lisa Primeau and Manon Desjardins are the chairpersons of this year's carnival. "Now, it's more of a way for the wives to get to know the community," Mary Ann said.

Dr. Isadore Brodsky, chief of Hahnemann's division of hematology, says work in the Ashbee Lab has helped cure aplastig anemia. "It's a very rare disease where the marrow is entirely wiped out," Brodsky said.

Ashbee's widow, Donna, and their children have stayed in the area. Donna works at a law firm in Berwyn, PA. Daughter Heather, her husband and children, and son Danny and his wife will be involved in the carnival on Sunday.

"When Heather was living in Boston for five years, after they got married, she missed the carnival," Donna said.

Barry's three sisters and their husbands also will be at the carnival.

The first few carnivals Donna attended after her husband's death were difficult.

"It was tough, but I did go," she said. "In two or three of them, I worked in the booth where Clarkie and Terry Crisp were. That made it easier."

Back then, Flyers fans that knew how important Barry was to the team would talk with Donna about him.

"It's not as much now," she said.

The Flyers Alumni always include Donna in their social gatherings.

Ashbee's lasting impact is still evident in several ways. The Barry Ashbee Trophy is awarded each season to the Flyers' top defenseman. The Ashbee Award is presented annually to the Phantoms player who best exemplifies Ashbee's qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. There are photos of Ashbee in the Flyers' locker rooms in the Wachovia Center and at the Sovereign Bank Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.

During Ashbee's time with the Flyers, he and I had a good relationship. I could always go to him for insights about the team.

Sometimes, my question would be greeted with a gruff "Stirring up trouble again?" challenge. But then he'd answer my question.

We had our share of arguments about hockey issues, but the next day I'd make a point of seeing him. I'd begin with, "As I was saying..." He'd glare at me, then the glare usually melted to a smile.

Ashbee's name came up unexpectedly recently while I was speaking to a sports journalism class at Drexel University. When a student asked me to select the toughest story I've ever covered, I was momentarily caught off guard. Then I replied, "Barry Ashbee's death."

As I talked about Ashbee, I could feel myself getting emotional. Sports writers aren't supposed to get too close to the people they cover, but after all these years I still am affected by the relationship with Ashbee. I think it shows how much he meant to people who knew him.

Listen up!

Here are more reasons why the Flyers' television team is an enjoyable listen.

During a recent Flyers-New Jersey Devils game, a camera focused on Lou Lamoriello. He leads the league in titles: he is the Devils interim coach, CEO, president and general manager.

Posing a rhetorical question, Steve Coates wondered, "When he has executive meetings, who does he talk to? Himself?"

Following a delay of game penalty, when a Flyers player flipped the puck over the glass, Gary Dornhoefer offered a solution to the questionable penalty. "Why not make the glass higher?" Dorny asked.

That said one improvement with the Dornhoefer-Coates-Jim Jackson trio would be to ease up on its complaints about referee's decisions. But this occurs with every NHL broadcasting team.

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.
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