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Backchecking With Bob Clarke

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Clarke talks about his days in Flin Flon, his playing career and life as a general manager

By Zack Hill

                                                    Bob Clarke has been a member
                                                        of the Flyers organization for
                                                                the past 33 years.

Flyers General Manager Bob Clarke recently sat down for an in-depth interview with to discuss his days in Flin Flon, his playing days and his present position with the Flyers.

Question: What have you been doing during the lockout?
There is a little bit to do because the Phantoms have started to play, but there is not a whole lot that we can do concerning the Flyers. We get to play a little golf this time of year and that is something we have not had the opportunity to do in 35 years. It is not what we want to do, but it is something to do."

Question: Let’s start from the beginning. What was it like growing up in Flin Flon, Manitoba?
"Flin Flon was a great place to grow up. Back in those days, we did not have a television in our house until I was 12 or 13 years old. We played sports, whether it was hockey, baseball or fishing. We also could go back in the bush and hunt. In a small town like Flin Flon, we had the freedom to jump on our bikes and go anywhere we wanted. We did not have to have constant parental supervision. Flin Flon was small enough that we didn’t need our parents driving us everywhere. As kids, we did it on our own. Every kid in town was like that."

Question: When did you start playing hockey?
"I put skates on when I was about three years old, as did all the other young kids in Flin Flon. We played on the outdoor ice at the rink at the end of our street. I did this until I was about eight and then I started playing organized hockey on Saturday mornings at the indoor rink. The rest of the time was spent at the outdoor ice."

Question: Do you still stay in touch with any of your childhood friends?
"Yes. I go back every two or three years and see them. There are a lot of guys that I grew up with who are still there. Some of them have spent their whole lives working in the mines and raising their families in Flin Flon. They all still love hockey and when I go back, we always have fun stuff to talk about. I really enjoy going back there."

Question: When did you realize that you had what it took to make it to the NHL?
"I was so far removed from professional hockey that I didn’t realize I had a chance until I attended my first professional training camp when the Flyers drafted me. I knew at that stage that I could compete, at least at the American Hockey League level. I had seen a couple of NHL games when I was 18 or 19, but by watching them you have no way of knowing how good you are. I never thought I was going to make the Flyers’ final team roster. I thought I would be sent down to the Quebec Aces. I was lucky and I ended up with the Flyers that year."

Question: Were you concerned about playing with diabetes?
"Not at all. I was diagnosed as a diabetic when I was 13 or 14 years old. The doctors assured me that diabetes would not stop me from playing sports. There were things that I had to do to take care of myself, but being diabetic never affected me playing hockey."

Question: Were your parents concerned about you being a diabetic and playing hockey?
"Diabetes was not as well known as it is today, so it worried my mom to death. In those days, it was all about eating special foods. My foods had to be weighed. I had to take a shot every day. But it never bothered me to take a shot or not eat sugar. It was just something I had to do to live."

Question: What advise would you give an athlete or the parents of an athlete who has diabetes?
"The way that I approached being diabetic was that I has a hockey player who happened to have diabetes. I never considered myself a ‘diabetic hockey player.’ I had to do things, health-wise, concerning my diabetes, but I never let it stop me from playing or from doing anything. You can do or try anything you want and still have diabetes, just make sure you treat your diabetes. Being a diabetic is certainly no reason to give up doing things that you enjoy, other than drinking Cokes and eating chocolate bars."

Question: When you were named captain of the Flyers in 1972, you were the youngest captain ever for the Flyers. Were you a vocal or quiet captain?
"I was not the most vocal person in the locker room. Joe Watson was the vocal guy. But I was never afraid to stand up and say what was on my mind. I was taught my whole career to be a good team player and good team players are people who respect and support what the coach is trying to do. You follow what message the coach is trying to convey and you make sure the other players follow, too. I never thought a lot about being team captain. Actually, the first time they offered the "C"to me I turned it down. We had a good captain (Ed Van Impe) and they didn’t need me. (Head Coach) Freddie Shero forced me to take it, but I never viewed myself as a leader. I was a player on the team who did what was necessary to try and win games."

Question: You "did what was necessary to try and win games"...hmmm...were you considered a dirty player?
(Laughs) "I was accused of being a dirty player. My philosophy was always ‘get the other guy first and let him try and get even.’ I used whatever methods, right or not so right, it took to try and win games. Sometimes I probably stretched the rules a bit."

Question: Obviously, if you were asked about your fondest memories of playing in the NHL, you would state winning two Stanley Cups. But, do you have a single memory during the Stanley Cup Finals that you will never forget?
"One memory in particular took place the third game back here at the Spectrum. The series was tied at one game apiece against the Bruins and (Bill) Barber went down the side and fired a wrist shot at Bruins goaltender Gilles Gilbert. Billy really had a great slapshot, but never wristed it as much as he slapped it. This time, he wristed a shot and fired the puck into the top of the net. It was like a rocket. It wouldn’t have mattered if Ken Dryden and Tony Esposito were both in the net. That puck was going in, regardless. I was on the ice so I had a great view. That goal was so impressive to me. The other great memory was when the Bruins series had just ended and Joe Watson was behind the net with the puck. That’s embedded in my mind."

Question: Same question, but it is the Summit Series.
"The Summit Series was an extremely violent series. We really got our (butts) kicked the first game in Montreal. It was a shock to our team and the hockey world. At one point during the next game, we were shorthanded and Peter Mahovlich took the puck from our end and went through their whole team and scored. You can watch hockey for 10 years and never see anybody skate through the whole team and score a goal when you’re shorthanded like that. It was one of those great moments that you are a part of. Even though I was watching, it remains in my mind forever."

Question: Who is the best player you have ever faced?
"Up until Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr was the best player I have ever seen. If there was another league above the NHL, Orr belonged there. He was that much better than the rest of us."

Question: One of the most famous photographs in Flyers history is a photo of you and Bernie Parent holding up the Stanley Cup and you have this huge toothless smile. Do you remember when you lost your first tooth in hockey?
"Sure. I was practicing in juniors with the Flin Flon Bombers and I was cruising through the middle of the ice and one of my buddies, Craig Reichmuth, came through and drilled me in the face with his shoulder and knocked my tooth out. It was a good, clean check. I got up and swore at him and he said, ‘well, keep your God (darned) head up!’ It was a good lesson for me. Gerry Hart (another Bomber teammate) got me and knocked another tooth out. The same thing happened. I wasn’t paying attention and he drilled me. That was another good lesson for me. I lost another tooth when I got hit with a puck in Minnesota. Al MacAdam (former Flyer) went to fire the puck out and I wasn’t looking and it hit me right in the mouth. I wasn’t even on the ice. I was sitting on the bench. The whole tooth flew out onto the ice. It looked like a dentist had pulled it out with a pair of pliers. The linesman picked it up off the ice and skated over to the bench and handed it to me. I have only lost four teeth, but I think that photo makes it look like I lost more. And, no, I didn’t keep my tooth the linesman gave me."

Question: Do you have any regrets from either your playing days or since becoming general manager?
"In the last 35 years, I don’t know if there has been another team in the NHL that has won more games than the Flyers so I have had lots of things to be happy about. Do I wish I played a couple of more years? Probably. Do I wish I could take back the Dave Poulin trade? Yes. Do I wish I could take back the Brad McCrimmon trade? Yes. But overall, the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Question: Speaking of trades, what is the best trade you ever made?
"The best deal we made for the Flyers was when we got (John) LeClair and (Eric) Desjardins from Montreal. We were a team going nowhere. We were something like 3-7 starting off the season. That trade changed the whole atmosphere and confidence level of our entire organization. Desjardins was an all-star and LeClair was about to turn into one. We had no idea that LeClair was going to be that good. But that deal turned out pretty good."

Question: What don’t you like about being general manager?
"There was a time when the agents first started in the business where it was real ugly from both sides. You were always in squabbles with agents and that got frustrating. That was a tough time. Both sides now, managers and agents, are much more professional. Everything is based on what has already happened. It makes it easier for both sides."

Question: Could the two Flyers teams that won the Stanley Cup in 1973-74 and 1974-75 compete in today’s NHL?
"We would only be kidding ourselves if we think the players 30 years ago were as good as they are today. In those days, we were a great team. Everybody contributed and everybody had their roles and that is what makes a winning team. But we would never be able to compete with the Flyers teams of today. We were not nearly big enough or fast enough for this type of modern day hockey. Hockey is played by much bigger men. They shoot the puck harder; they do everything faster and it is a much different game. I suppose the game will be much different 25 to 30 years from now, too."

Question: You have a special relationship with Flyers Chairman Ed Snider. How did you guys become such good friends and can you beat him in either tennis or golf?
(Laughs)"I’ll kick his (butt) in golf because he doesn’t play, but he would do the same to me in tennis because I don’t play. Our relationship started a long time ago. Even though I was an employee, there was the same commitment to winning. Mr. Snider gave us the ability to trust him. He never let us down. He never did anything that wasn’t good for us as individuals and as a team. Mr. Snider took his responsibility as an owner very seriously. We were the first team in the league that was really treated first class the whole way. Our wives and children were treated the same way. He wanted to win as badly as we did. He was the reason we won. We can talk about Bernie (Parent) in goal, (Rick) MacLeish, (Reggie) Leach, Barber and myself, but if we didn’t have Ed Snider we could not have won those two Stanley Cups."
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