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Backchecking With Bernie Parent

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Hall of Fame Goalie Talks About Life Before the NHL, With the Flyers and After the Injury

By Zack Hill

                                   Parent still holds the team record for most shutouts with
                                                              50 in his Flyers career

Flyers' Hall of Fame goaltender Bernie Parent recently sat down for an in-depth interview with to discuss his life before professional hockey, playing on the Flyers' championship teams, the sudden end to his career and his life after hockey.

Question: What have you been up to?

Question: Let’s start over. What have you been up to?
"I have been representing different companies in new business development. I’ve been doing a lot of PR for these various companies. I’ve also had the opportunity to play some golf and go fishing. My favorite local place to fish is Cape May, New Jersey. I was actually on the Federal Express float for the Thanksgiving parade in Philadelphia."

Question: You actually got started comparatively late in your hockey career. Can you tell us about it?
"I was a little bit late getting started compared to most other kids. I was 12 years old when I put on my first pair of skates. My family could not afford the equipment, so I had to wait until I grew into my brother’s equipment before I started playing. I put the equipment on and I really wanted to be a defenseman, but the skates were way too big for me. The coach saw me skate around the rink only one time and he grabbed me and said, ‘Don’t ask me any questions, you just became my goalie.’ Obviously, I couldn’t skate too well, so I became the goalie. The first game that we played our opponents scored 21 goals against me. They could have scored 22, but I made a heck of a save at the end of the game. Needless to say, I haven’t seen that coach since. There is a lesson to be learned about this and that is...I believed in myself. That day was the first time I ever played wearing skates. In those days, I always played street hockey wearing only boots. There were no blades, just plain old boots. Being on skates for the first time was difficult to say the least. I said, ‘Give me one more chance. I’ll go home and practice and then I’ll come back and try again.’ About a month later, the goalie got hurt and I got a phone call. So after a month’s worth of practice wearing the skates, I came back and we won the game. I was on my way."

Question: As you progressed, when did you realize that you were the real deal and could make the NHL?
"Probably my last game of my NHL career (Laughs). When you play juniors, which I did at (the Boston Bruins’ farm team ) Niagara Falls and you played in goal, your dream was to play in the National Hockey League. At the time, there were only six teams. It didn’t matter where I played, I just wanted to make it to the NHL. I was always impressed being inside an NHL rink, looking at 18,000 fans watching and cheering the players. It was overwhelming. I remember thinking that it must be awesome to play in front of so many people. In my second year with Niagara Falls, we won the Memorial Cup, making us the best team in Canada. After I turned 19, I turned pro with the Boston Bruins. I wasn’t quite sure then that I had made it because they had Eddie Johnston and Gerry Cheevers playing in front of me. They sent me to their farm team in Oklahoma. Wouldn't you know it, a month later, both goaltenders were injured. The Bruins didn’t have a choice but to use me. I played 45 games that season. That’s when I realized that I had a chance to stick around and make a career out of it."

Question: What are your fondest memories of playing in the NHL?
"You have different goals as you move on in life. My first was to make the NHL, the second goal was to reach some level of success as a goalie, like winning the Vezina Trophy. Having said that, I don’t want it to sound like I’m selfish in this approach. But the better you do as an individual, the better you can help the team accomplish the ultimate goal and that is winning the Stanley Cup. We were fortunate enough to win two."

Question:...And perhaps being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which you are a member?
"The amazing story about this was that when I got traded from the Flyers to Toronto in 1971, I thought my career was in jeopardy. I didn’t know where my career was headed. Little did I know that I was going to play two years with my idol, Jacques Plante. I learned so much in those two years playing with him. I was a raw talent at the time and he refined me extremely well. When I rejoined the Flyers, the team was ready to win and in my own way, I was ready to help them win the Cup."

Question: Which Cup do you remember the best?
"People ask me which Stanley Cup I remember the best and I remember the second Cup the best. The first one is so overwhelming. It’s like you are numb to everything. It’s something you dream about your whole life and it’s very difficult to visualize what exactly is going on. But the second Cup against Buffalo, we were able to sit back a little bit and really enjoy what winning a championship was all about."

Question: You had mentioned Jacques Plante as being your hockey idol. Did you have anybody you looked up to away from the rink?
"The support of my family and my parents was something I will never forget. I played on a lot of outdoor rinks and I can remember seeing my parents standing out in the cold watching me play. I would be playing on the outdoor rink and there was my mother standing there in this big fur coat, along with my father. It was incredible. I was also fortunate as I matured through the ranks that I always had excellent coaching. The coaches were hard and tough, but as a young player you need that kind of direction of picking up good habits and a winning attitude."

Question: What can you remember about the game in the fog?
"We will probably never see this happen again in an NHL game. It was incredible. Here it is, the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, and every five minutes you see players on the ice, skating around with sheets or bed linens to remove the fog. I remember at times you could only see from the waist up. But you learn as a goalie to watch the motion of the stick of the players so you have an idea on the direction of the puck. But I remember when (Sabres) Rene Robert scored the overtime goal. (Sabres) Gilbert Perreault shot the puck to my left and I heard it hit the dasherboard. I could not see the puck because of the fog. It came out toward the circle and Robert was skating toward the circle. How Robert saw the puck, I’ll never know. But he took the shot and scored the goal. It was a heck of an experience."

Question: How devastating was it for you to have your career prematurely cut short because of an eye injury?
"It was a very difficult time for me because it was the end of my hockey career. Even worse was that, at the time, doctors didn’t know if I was ever going to see out of my eye again. It was a double dose of devastation. Thank God, my vision came back. Once I realized my career was over, the Flyers came to my aid and helped me get involved with different aspects of the organization. As a player in those days, I didn’t have a clue about what to do with my life besides play hockey. The Flyers really helped me."

Question: To be at the top of your game, and then suddenly have it taken away like that, did you go through a period of depression because of this sudden void in your life?
"Actually depression was more when I played behind Joe Watson (Laughs). No seriously, you learn a lot as a kid growing up about the pros and cons of the game of hockey and life in general. You learn that if you have a setback, you have to re-evaluate and say, ‘Where do we go from here?’ I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by good people who gave me some good guidance and helped me through that period of my life."

Question: You were the first athlete ever to have his face on the cover of TIME magazine. How cool is that?
"It’s nice, but I don’t think about it too often. I’m grateful that it happened, but actually the cover photo of TIME should have been a photo of our whole team. We all should have been included."
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