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Backchecking With Don Saleski

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Former Flyer talks about life before and after Big Bird

By Zack Hill

In addition to Don Saleski, the Flyers drafted Bobby Clarke and Dave Schultz in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft.

Don Saleski was the Flyers sixth round choice (64th overall) in the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. He joined the Flyers organization for the 1970-71 season and played for the Quebec Aces and Richmond Robins before joining the Flyers full time for the 1972-73 season.

He played eight seasons for the Flyers (1971-72 to 1978-79) before being traded to the Colorado Rockies during the 1978-79 season. Saleski was a member of both of the Flyers' Stanley Cup Championship teams (1974-75 and 1975-76).

Saleski recently sat down with to discuss his life before and after the Flyers, his "prediction" and the nickname "Big Bird."

Question: What have you been doing since retiring from hockey in 1980?
"After retiring from hockey, I worked for Aramark for 18 years. I began my career at Aramark as the sales director in the company’s business services group. After a series of promotions, I became the area president of Aramark’s sports and entertainment group. After leaving that company, I worked for SMG (Spectacor Management Group) and later worked for Club Systems Group where I was the president and COO. I recently decided to start my own business, Business Edge Development. My company helps other organizations achieve, accelerate and sustain profitable growth by improving performance among front-line staff and managers. If anyone is interested or would like more information, they can contact me at

Question: You are also getting involved in speaking at leadership seminars, correct?
“Yes. I talk about the characteristics of an effective leader and what one needs to do to be a good leader. The principles that I discuss include - discipline, direction, organization, responsibility and courage.”

Question: Can you tell us how you met your wife, Mary Ann?
“She was Ed Snider’s administrative assistant. I was new in town and I met her around Christmas time. There were not a lot of malls back then and I had to do some holiday shopping and I asked if she wanted to go along. We were dating and a couple of months later she told Ed that she was getting married to some hockey player. He had no idea that we were dating. She actually told him at a Flyers game. She tried to point me out to him, but he thought she was pointing to someone in the stands. She told him, ‘No, he is wearing number 11 on the ice.’ We were married in six months time. Everybody told us that it would not work because we hardly knew each other. Thirty-two years later we are still happily married.”

Question: How is your family?
“We have two children, Erika (28) and Adam (27), living in Washington D.C. Erika is a graduate of American University and received her M.B.A. from the University of Chicago and just accepted a job in Washington D.C. Adam has an undergraduate degree from the University of Scranton and received his law degree from Widener and is involved in contract work.”

Question: After the Flyers lost to Montreal in the 1973 playoffs you were quoted in the book Full Spectrum as saying, “I went to Canada that summer and told everybody we were going to win the Stanley Cup next year.” Why were you so confident?
“I remember Mary Ann and I got married that summer and I took her back to Canada to introduce her to everybody. When I was up there, I was telling everyone that we were going to win it because the entire team had this feeling of confidence. We had a good run in the playoffs and we had great leadership with our Head Coach Fred Shero and our captain Bob Clarke. It was a matter of all of us coming together for the common goal of bringing the Stanley Cup to Philadelphia. I was convinced that we were going to win. There was no team in the NHL that was going to beat us. When I was telling everybody back home, they had a hard time believing me. The night we won the Stanley Cup I called everybody back home from a telephone in the locker room and let them know we won. People remember us as a team who liked to play rough, hence the nickname Broad Street Bullies, but we were loaded with talent, too.”

Question: You were traded to Colorado near the end of your career. Did that surprise you or did you want it to happen?
“ I asked (General Manager) Keith Allen to trade me. The Flyers were going in a different direction by playing a lot of the younger right wingers. I was not playing a lot. When I did play, I wasn’t getting a regular shift and there were other games when I did not play at all. I was near the end of my career so I asked Keith to trade me to a team where I would be able to make a contribution.”

Question: What was it like playing for Colorado and its head coach, Don Cherry?
“Don Cherry was in a tough circumstance. Don went from coaching a strong, talented Boston Bruins team to a very young team with little talent in Colorado. He had a hard time dealing with that.”

Question: How was that for you?
“It was difficult. I went from winning close to 50 games (a season) with the Flyers to winning 15 with Colorado. When you are competing every night just trying to keep the score close, it’s a whole different mentality then when you are competing to win. It was tough on me, but I also felt bad for the young guys on the team because they would really get down and demoralized. We had a real poor hockey team.”

Question: Besides winning the Stanley Cup with the Flyers, what are your favorite memories about your playing days?
“Beating the Russians was special. But when I think of memories I think of the team and how we had a common vision. We supported each other and we really had this bond. We still do. I don’t see the guys that often, but when we do see each other there is the feeling of excitement. It is almost like a brotherhood.”

Question: How did you get started in hockey?
“We lived on an Indian reservation in Saskatchewan and my dad made this rink in our backyard. I skated on it a lot of times by myself. I didn’t start organized hockey until I was 11. My first year of playing organized hockey was interesting because I never played with other kids before so I was pretty much a puck-hog. I would get the puck and try to score goals and not pass it to anybody. I was not used to having teammates.”

Question: Did you consider yourself a tough, enforcer type of player?
“I never considered myself a tough guy. I was more of an instigator. I caused a lot of problems and Dave Shultz would finish them off. I was competitive and wanted to win, so I did whatever I could to help the team.”

Question: You played on the Sesame Street line with Dave Schultz (Grouch) and Orest Kindrachuk (Oscar). How did you get the nickname “Big Bird?”
“Orest gave it to me. If my memory is correct, during a pre-game warm-up at the Spectrum some kid with his mother was watching us skate and the kid says ‘that guy (me) looks like Big Bird.’ Orest heard the kid and he was all over me and it stuck from there.”
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