On June 23, 1973, tears flowed at the Philadelphia Spectrum. The Flyers had just announced the completion of a May 15 trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The deal sent goaltender Doug Favell and a 1973 first-round draft pick to the Leafs in exchange for the rights to goaltender Bernie Parent and a 1973 second-rounder.
Favell cried in front of a reporter interviewing him about the deal, and Flyers general manager Keith Allen and team president Ed Snider also could not help but get choked up.
The mood in Philadelphia brightened considerably when the team announced that Parent had signed a multi-year contract. But Parent understood what his old friend Favell was feeling.
Two years earlier, on January 31, 1971, the skate was on the other foot. The Flyers dealt Parent to the Leafs as part of a three-way deal with the Boston Bruins that brought prospect Rick MacLeish and veteran goaltender Bruce Gamble to Philadelphia. On that day, it was Parent who wept.
|Bernie Parent chats with Philadelphia Daily News writer and philadelphiaflyers.com columnist Bill Fleischman in an undated photo. (Flyers Archives) |
“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.”
During his time away from Philadelphia, original Flyer Parent blossomed from a good goaltender into a great one. While in Toronto, the tutelage of his childhood idol Jacques Plante helped him conquer the only remaining obstacle in his journey to greatness – the mental aspects of goaltending.
“Jacques meant so much to my career,” says Parent today. “I grew up as a goaltender and he helped me with my focus. Being nervous can be a good thing.”
After spending a tumultuous season with the financially troubled Philadelphia Blazers of the World Hockey Association, Parent refused to accept the pay cut vindictive Toronto owner Harold Ballard offered him to return to the Maple Leafs after Blazers’ players checks started coming late or not at all. Parent, who took himself out of the lineup during the WHA playoffs, accepted the Leafs’ trade to the Flyers.
From the perspective of the Flyers’ players, Parent’s return to the team meant an upgrade in goal. As well-liked as Favell was among his teammates and Flyers fans, he had suffered letdowns in several key games stretching back to the club’s inaugural season of 1967-68.
“Dougie always did the best he could for us, but we needed a little bit better,” remembers longtime Flyers defenseman Joe Watson. “Favell’s style was to make every save look spectacular. The truth is that if we had gotten better goaltending in 1973, we could have gone further than we did. We weren’t the most talented team, but we had a lot of great players, we believed in ourselves and we hated to lose. Bernie was the missing piece in goal. Every game we knew he’d give us a chance to win.”
Parent received a standing ovation from the Spectrum crowd in his first pre-season game before the 1973-74 season opener. He had been an immensely popular player during his first stint with the club, and the fans were thrilled to have him back on a team that looked ready to make noise in the Western Conference.
Forty-five minutes later, the crowd turned on Parent. Rusty and not yet in game shape, he got lit up for seven goals by the New York Rangers in less than 30 minutes of action. At least three of the goals were stoppable.
The fans booed Parent loudly as Head Coach Fred Shero summoned him to the bench and sent in Bobby Taylor. An embarrassed Parent sat on the end of the bench as a chant of “Bring back Favell!” arose behind the Flyers bench.
Two weeks later, on October 11, 1973, the regular season started. In a dramatic twist of fate, the Flyers played Favell’s Maple Leafs in the season opener. Parent was very anxious before the tilt.
“That was one of the most nervous nights of my career,” he recalled. “It wasn’t just another game to me. I knew I had to produce. Playing against Dougie just added to it.”
The happy-go-lucky Favell was calmer – at least on the outside – before stepping onto the ice. He even agreed to be interviewed by local TV reporter Hugh Gannon before the game.
Gannon asked Favell if there was one Flyers’ player he feared coming into the game.
“Well, not Terry Crisp, that’s for sure,” he joked.
Before the game started, the Flyers had a special surprise in store for the 17,007 fans at the Spectrum. Unannounced, the team brought in singer Kate Smith to sing “God Bless America.” It was the first time the 1930s radio icon made a live appearance at a Flyers game, although the team had been playing her recorded rendition of the tune from time to time since December 11, 1969.
The Spectrum crowd went berserk as the 66-year-old singer approached the microphone and “KATE” flashed in huge letters on the scoreboard.
“I’ve played before larger crowds, but I’ve never received a greater ovation,” she told columnist Jack Chevalier after the game. “It was fantastic, and I’m sorry that’s such a mediocre word. The cheers went right through me – deep inside me. I couldn’t say anything. They just wanted me to sing.”
|Bernie Parent holds up his jersey with some help from his wife Carol after the press conference to announce his return in 1973. (Flyers Archives) |
After singing, Smith stayed at the Spectrum to watch the game. She sat in a private box with Flyers’ owner Ed Snider and NHL President Clarence Campbell. Also on hand was her 88-year-old uncle, Fred Ditmars, a native Philadelphian and Flyers fan from whom she had originally learned of the team’s remarkable record when her song was played.
“It’s my first hockey game in about 35 years,” she said. “I used to watch the Rangers.”
Parent exhaled deeply and placed his white mask over his mustachioed visage as Smith finished. He received a final tap on the pads from defenseman Joe Watson and skated out to the top of his crease for the opening faceoff.
Both clubs played cautiously in the early going. Toronto was not quite as deep as Eastern Conference powerhouses Boston, Montreal and the New York Rangers, but there was plenty of talent on the roster.
The Leafs were led by future Hall of Fame (and Flyers) center Darryl Sittler and a rookie defenseman from Sweden named Börje Salming, himself a future Hall of Famer. Beyond those two stars, the club boasted other young talent on the roster that included the likes of Lanny McDonald, Rick Kehoe and future Flyers European scout Inge Hammarström. Among the veterans were Hall of Famer Dave Keon and 1972 Summit Series hero Paul Henderson.
After the cautious start, Toronto strung together a pair of good shifts, and Parent had to make the game’s first two difficult saves.
Looking to give his club some energy, Shero sent enforcer Dave “the Hammer” Schultz onto the ice at about the 7-minute mark of the opening period. The Flyers’ strategy heading into the game was to test the Leafs’ physically, especially their tandem of Swedish youngsters.
Schultz made a beeline for Salming. After exchanging slashes, the two dropped the gloves at 7:20 for the first fight of the new season. The Spectrum crowd roared appreciatively.
Less than a minute later, an overzealous Andre “Moose” Dupont took a cross-checking penalty in the Flyers zone. Parent made a strong save against Keon and the Flyers’ penalty killers took care of the rest.
The game remained scoreless until shortly past the midway point of the first period. That’s when checking liner Terry Crisp, the same player Favell had identified as the least likely player to score against him, strode over the blueline and accepted the puck from Bob “The Hound” Kelly. At the 12:52 mark, he unleashed a 25-foot slapshot that hit Favell’s glove and went into the net.
Crisp, a future Stanley Cup winning head coach with the Calgary Flames, later chuckled when he was informed of Favell’s pre-comments.
“I’m not mad,” the low-scoring Crisp said afterwards. “He’s always kidding me about my shot. He used to drop his glove in practice and invite me to shoot at his bare hand.”
Parent made the lead stand up for the remainder of the first period, although the Leafs outshot the Flyers, 12-7, and generated the majority of the good chances. The Flyers knew they were lucky to be ahead after the first 20 minutes.
“Right from the beginning, whenever we had a game like that, we knew Bernie would be there and we’d get the ship righted,” said Bill Barber, the Flyers Hall of Fame left winger who played his second NHL season in 1973-74.
In the second period, the Flyers were the more aggressive and physical team. Led by team captain Bobby Clarke, Philly outhit, outhustled and outshot the Leafs, 10-6. But this time it was Favell’s turn to rise to the occasion against his former teammates. He turned aside a pair of tough chances from “Cowboy” Bill Flett (who finished with a game-high six shots on goal) set up by Clarke.
Late in the middle stanza, Dupont tangled with Toronto’s Mike Pelyk and drew an extra minor for high-sticking from the altercation. Parent closed out the period with a close-range stop on a pinching Ian Turnbull and veteran defenseman Barry Ashbee iced the puck to safety. Dupont’s penalty expired with two seconds remaining in the period.
The third period got underway with the teams at full strength. But that didn’t last long. At the 53-second mark, veteran Flyers defenseman Ed Van Impe jostled with a Leafs player, jabbing him with the blade of his stick. Referee Wally Harris slapped Van Impe with a five minute spearing major, waving away Flyers captain Clarke as he attempted to plead Van Impe’s case.
Now Parent was back on the spot again. The 28-year-old goalie rose to the occasion, and the Flyers’ penalty killers neutralized the Leafs power play as the five minute penalty entered its latter stages. The crowd roared its approval as Van Impe stepped back on the ice.
The Flyers re-took control of the game briefly and then killed off a Bob Kelly roughing minor. Finally, as the clock ticked down below six minutes, Philadelphia got some valuable insurance. With Denis Dupere in the box for the Leafs, Clarke worked the puck to Ashbee. The gritty defenseman fed Barber, who zipped the puck past Favell with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.
As tough as Parent was to beat with a one-goal lead, he was practically invincible with a two-goal cushion. The Flyers’ defense kept the Leafs to the perimeter and Parent swallowed up the shots he saw. The final score was 2-0 Flyers, with Parent turning back all 28 shots he saw for his first of 12 regular-season shutouts in 1973-74.
While no one knew on the night of October 11 what was in store, Flyers coach Fred Shero already knew Parent would make a huge difference for his team.
“He’s the best goaltender I’ve ever coached,” Shero said after one game, eliciting chuckles from reporters used to the Fog’s penchant for overstatement.
In retrospect, Shero’s words proved to be prophetic. The opening night victory over Toronto started a magical two-season ride that ended with a pair of majestic Stanley Cup parades down Broad Street and two Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies for Bernie Parent.