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Great Moments: Propp's Four-Goal Game Electrifies the Spectrum

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers
Throughout the season, will take a look back at some of the Great Moments in Flyers history with contributing writer Bill Meltzer. We will also be providing rare, and never-before-seen multimedia from the archives here in the Wachovia Center to supplement each column.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Brian Propp slideshow

During the course of Brian Propp’s10-plus seasons in Philadelphia, Flyers fans were used to hearing public address announcer Lou Nolan make the following announcement: “Flyers goal scored by number 26 Brian Propp.”  The Lanigan, Saskatchewan native is the second most prolific goal scorer in team history, trailing only Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Bill Barber.

“Propper,” who scored 369 of his 425 NHL goals while wearing the orange and black, may have been the best offensive winger in club history in terms of his ability to score (or set up) goals from just about anywhere over the blue line. When Propp got a shot off anywhere from the high slot or from the circles in, the next faceoff was usually at center ice.

A big part of what made Propp such a prolific goal scorer was his competitive instinct. Some naturally gifted players are happy to call it a night and take a mental holiday once they get on the score sheet. Seeing the red light flash only made Propp hungrier for his next shift.
Brian Propp does his infamous "guffaw" after a goal at the Spectrum. (Flyers archives)

“I always remember that when I had two goals, I wanted that hat trick,” said Propp, who accomplished the feat 10 times (combined regular season and playoffs) as a Flyer.

Heading into the 1986-87 season, Propp already had to his credit four seasons of 40 or more goals as well as campaigns in which tallied 39 and 31 times. He had also become more of a complete player than he’d been in his early days, and had developed into a lethal shorthanded scoring threat on the penalty kill.

Propp, like virtually every player who suited up for the Flyers during Mike Keenan’s four-season stint as head coach (1984-85 to 1987-88), played some of his best hockey under “Iron Mike’s” despotic direction. Although Propp scarcely heard a positive word from his coach during their time together, Keenan later credited him as a vital performer on his Philadelphia clubs.

“Brian Propp was a seasoned vet and Tim Kerr was a proven goal scorer and we had Dave Poulin as our captain and he was young, but he was a strong leader. We had success with those guys helping the young (forwards) along,” Keenan told Fox Sports.

During the 1986-87 season, Propp added a little flair to his frequent goals. After scoring a goal, especially an important one, he would remove his right hand from his glove, and thrust it skyward with a gleeful cry of “Guffaw!”

The “guffaw” had its origins in the standup routine Canadian comic Howie Mandel performed in that era. Propp and a friend attended a live performance by Mandel in Atlantic City and were in stitches when the comedian directed the audience to start making the aforementioned hand motion rather than applauding.

Once Propp started doing the guffaw on the ice, it became a sort of trademark. There were guffaws aplenty in the first 27 games of the 1986-87 campaign. Propp lit the lamp seven times and added 16 helpers for 23 points in the team’s first 18 games. During that time, the Flyers raced out to a 12-4-2 record. That’s when Propp and the Flyers truly caught fire. Over the next nine games, spanning November 20 to December 7, the Flyers won seven times. Propp racked up a staggering nine goals and eighteen points during that stretch.

The high point of Propp’s run of brilliance came on December 2, 1986. That night, he had the biggest scoring game of his NHL career. He punished the St. Louis Blues for four goals, earning a raucous standing ovation from the Spectrum crowd on what was also an outstanding night in Flyers defenseman Mark Howe’s Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Backup goaltender Glenn “Chico” Resch got a rare start in net for the Flyers in the tilt against the Blues. Flyers rookie goaltender Ron Hextall, on his way to a Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy-winning season, had started 20 of the 24 previous games, including the last 16 in a row.

Hextall’s emergence made disgruntled former starting goaltender Bob Froese expendable. The affable Resch was at the end of his 14 year NHL career. The 38-year-old, who had once been a standout for the Islanders before slowly being supplanted by Hall-of-Famer Billy Smith, was a more willing and gracious backup to the rookie Hextall. Froese was soon to be traded to the Rangers for defenseman Kjell Samuelsson in a rare Flyers-Blueshirts deal.

St. Louis countered Resch in goal with veteran Greg Millen. Millen was a solid NHL keeper during his 14 seasons in the league, spent largely with weak teams. The 1986-87 Blues were one of the better teams for whom he played: a first-place team in the weak Norris Division (St. Louis’ 32-33-15 record was sufficient to edge out the Red Wings for the top spot).

But no matter which club he played for, Millen never had much success against Philadelphia. In 23 career games against the Flyers, Millen was tagged with an ugly 3-18-3 record, 4.45 goals against average and .871 save percentage. In particular, Brian Propp routinely tortured Millen. Heading into this game, Propp had scored 10 goals in games against Millen when the latter played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Hartford Whalers.
Brian Propp was drafted by the Flyers in the first round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. (Flyers archives)

Propp didn’t wait long to renew acquaintances with Millen. At the 5:05 mark of the opening period, the Flyers’ left winger lit the lamp at even strength to put his team ahead, 1-0. Kerr and Pelle Eklund earned the assists on the goal.

The lead held up until the 14:08 mark. With Scott Mellanby in the penalty box on a major penalty, Blues defenseman Ric Nattress dialed up a shut from the point that beat Resch to tie the score. The St. Louis power play continued as the Blues looked to take the lead.

Instead, Propp stepped back to the forefront. Defenseman Brad McCrimmon intercepted the puck and passed ahead to Poulin. The Flyers captain was joined by Propp on the rush. Propp, who scored five shorthanded goals that season and had tallied another seven during the 1984-85 season, got the puck in the slot and took care of the rest to make it a 2-1 Flyers lead.

In the second and third periods, Propp and Howe combined to dismantle the Blues. First, Howe tallied just 1:19 into the middle stanza to increase the lead to 3-1. That’s how the score remained through two periods, as both teams generated 21 shots through 40 minutes. In the third period, Propp and Howe finished the job.

At the 2:44 mark of the third period, Propp completed the hat trick. He was set up by two of the best passers in the game in Eklund and Howe and made no mistake against the beleaguered Millen. A few minutes later, Flyers enforcer Dave Brown scored a rare goal at the 5:26 mark to forge a 5-1 lead. The rout was on, and Keenan sent Propp out for the next shift.

The delighted Spectrum crowd didn’t even have time to sit down after standing to applaud Brown’s goal. Knowing that Millen was ripe for the picking, Propp made up his mind to shoot as quickly as possible if he got a chance. On the ensuing center ice faceoff, Eklund quickly chipped the puck to Propp, who raced over the blue line.

“I remember that as soon as I got over the blue line, I fired another shot low to the stick side,” recalls Propp, now the Flyers’ radio analyst on 610 WIP.

Propp’s shot rippled the mesh in the back of Millen’s net. A mere seven seconds had elapsed after Brown’s tally. The goal, Propp’s fourth of the game and 15th on the season, sent an already raucous Philadelphia crowd into a frenzy.

But the Flyers weren’t finished putting on a show. With a little over six minutes left in the game, Philly earned its second shorthanded goal of the game. Howe received the puck from Ron Sutter and unleashed a wicked wrist shot that beat Millen cleanly. That did it for Millen, who was pulled from the net with the score now 7-1. Rick Wamsley mopped up the final 6:08 of the game.

Normally, in the final few minutes of a blowout, fans make their way to the exits early to get a jump on traffic. But very few people among the sellout crowd of 17,091 headed out before the final buzzer. They stayed to give Propp and Howe standing ovations as they were named the first and second stars of the game. Resch, with 26 saves on 27 shots was honored as the third star.

There’s no telling how much longer Propp’s torrid run could have lasted. He tacked on three more points over the next three games, but sustained a serious knee injury in the midst of scoring a goal and an assist in the Flyers’ 5-2 win over the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers on December 7. The injury forced Propp to miss the next 27 games.

Propp scored four points in his first two games back in the lineup as he went on to score 31 goals and 67 points in just 53 games. Had he stayed healthy the entire 1986-87, he stood an excellent chance to register his first career 50-goal and 100 point season. As it was, he had to “settle” for adding 12 goals and a career-high 28 points in 26 playoff games, as the Flyers came within a single victory of winning the 1987 Stanley Cup against an Oilers team packed with Hall of Famers in their primes.
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