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Flyers Heroes of the Past: Bernie Parent (Part 2)

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

For Part 1 of Flyers Heroes of the Past: Bernie Parent, click here.

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 tells 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 never improved to an appreciable degree. Under doctor's orders, he tearfully announced his retirement from the game.

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 his Life

At first, 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 title he was given, Parent was in no frame of mind to be of much help to the organization - or himself.

Although he continued to wear a smile in public, Parent fell into a deep, dark 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 always 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.

Unlike his first post-career position in the organization, Bernie excelled this time around. 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.

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.

Taking a job as a vice president for business development of a Cherry Hill marketing firm, Bernie accepted a lower profile in the Flyers organization. He later fulfilled a personal dream by spending a year sailing on his boat. Today, he is one of the Flyers' hockey ambassadors to the community.

To this day, Bernie Parent remains a beloved figure throughout the Delaware Valley. A charter inductee in the Flyers Hall of Fame, Parent's number 1 jersey has been retired by the team. In 1984, Parent became the Flyers' first player to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

Bernie Parent's name is synonymous with grace and excellence on the hockey rink. Just as importantly, Parent is known as a warm, compassionate human being who has never been afraid to face up to his flaws.

He has celebrated the good times and weathered the tough times with uncommon grace and refreshing honesty. Bernie has emerged with his smile intact and boasts countless numbers of friends and acquaintances who feel enriched to have known him.
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