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Backchecking With Orest Kindrachuk

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Former Flyer talks about school, hockey and retirement

By Zack Hill

Orest Kindrachuk played five seasons for the Flyers and was a member of both Stanley Cup Championship teams.
After playing four seasons for the Saskatoon Blades of the WCJHL, Orest Kindrachuk was signed as free agent by the Flyers in July of 1971. After a season in the American Hockey League, he joined the Flyers' lineup full time for 1973-74 season. In five seasons with the Flyers (1973-74 through 1977-78), Kindrachuk was a member of four division championship teams and three teams that advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, including two Stanley Cup Championship teams. He was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins prior to the 1978 Amateur Draft in a deal that eventually brought Behn Wilson to Philadelphia.

Kindrachuk recently sat down with to talk about his childhood, his selection of hockey over medicine, his NHL career and his love of the Delaware Valley.

Question: What have you been doing since retiring?
"Since retiring in 1982, I took some time off and then I got involved in the insurance business and in the packaging industry."

Question: How is your family?
"My wife, Lynn, recently received her Master’s degree and is now the assistant athletic director at Gloucester County College and oversees the fitness center there. We have two great sons. Zak, 25, graduated from Monmouth University in 2004 and is now pursuing a career in radio. He lives in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Jake, 22, graduated from Wake Forest in this month and will be involved with investment banking in Chicago."

Question: When did you start playing hockey?
"I started skating when I was three years old. Skating and playing hockey is all a kid would do in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Ice rinks were everywhere. Families had them in their backyard. My parents’ rule was that I had to be home by 9 p.m. When I got to be seven and eight years old, I would deliver newspapers and then go straight to the ice rink. I would do this every day."

Question: When did you think that you had the talent to make it to the NHL?
"Saturday Night Hockey on television in Canada was like a religion. We planned everything around that event. I was probably eight or nine years old when I told my mother that she was going to be watching me play one day on Saturday Night Hockey. That was my goal. When did I really know? I took the year off the season I was drafted and decided to study pre-med at the University of Saskatchewan. I played in a commercial league that year. The next year I decided to come back as an overage player and had a really good year. After my draft year, Jerry Melnyk (former Flyers scout) had seen me play and put me on the Flyers’ draft list."

Question: What is a commercial league?
"It is a league that athletes go to after playing junior hockey who weren’t quite good enough for the National Hockey League. There I was, a 19 year old playing against guys 28 to 32 years old. The talent level was high and these guys were tough and mean."

Question: What made you decide to put hockey on hold to study pre-med and then what made you change your mind and put studying on hold?
"I felt at the time that I really wanted to be a doctor and the odds of making the NHL were slim because there were a lot less teams than there are today. I was playing in the commercial league when I started thinking that I could always go back to school. Chronologically, I would not always be young and in top shape to play hockey so I decided to give it a try. Eventually, the Flyers invited me to their training camp. What is crazy is that if I would have played my draft year I might have been selected fairly high then I may never had the opportunity to play for the Flyers and be on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Things really fell into place for me. Call it destiny."

Question: You played against Bob Clarke in juniors. What was that like?
"I played for the Saskatoon Blades and Clarkie played on a goon squad, the Flin Flon Bombers. The Bombers were tough, but they did have talent. Teams would go into Flin Flon for a two-game series and it would be intimidating as hell. I always maintained that if a player came out of the Western Hockey League as a pretty good player, he was also going to be a tough player."

Question: Is it true that the first game you played in juniors was against Flin Flon?
"Yes. I was 16 years old and weighed about 140 pounds and we were playing in Flin Flon. Exactly seven seconds into the game, there was a full-scale brawl. Everybody was on the ice fighting and I am sitting on the bench, thinking, ‘What the hell is going on here?’ But I went out and mixed it up."

Question: Why did this start so early?
"During warm-ups, there were some antics going on between the two teams. Flin Flon was notorious for coming almost to the opposing team’s blue line during warm-ups just to intimidate the other team. It was their building and their ice and they felt that they had the right. We had guys who didn’t like that."

Question: When you played for the Flyers, your linemates were Dave Schultz and Don Saleski. Did having these two on your line give you more open ice to operate?
"It was interesting. A lot of times when we would go on the road our line would have to play against our opponent’s top line. The three of us were plus players. We could keep up with anybody. We were actually a very good line."

Question: What were some of your career highlights?
"Career highlights come in the form of a ladder. Each rung in the ladder brought me a new highlight. The first rung would be the desire and ability to make the NHL. I had an opportunity to sign in the WHA in the early 1970s for a lot more money, but I grew up dreaming about playing in the NHL. The next rung on the ladder would be winning the Stanley Cup. To compete in the Stanley Cup Finals is fabulous, but to win two in a row and be in three Finals was awesome. The press was unbelievable. Heck, when we were competing in the Finals, reporters wanted to know what color socks we were wearing. They wanted to know everything about us. I remember one year we had a week off because we had a bye. I was quoted in the newspaper as saying, ‘In my week off I am going to tour Philadelphia.’ I remember my wife and I taking the subway down to Center City and fans would stop us and say, ‘Wow, you really are touring the city, aren’t you?’ We were being recognized everywhere. On the other end, our team would go to our opponent’s city where we were absolutely hated. That gave us just as much pleasure."

Question: Do you regret not signing a contract in the WHA for a lot more money?
"No. Your ultimate goal as a youngster is to play in the NHL."

Question: The Flyers were not very well liked by other NHL teams, but when you played the Russians, did feelings change?
"Yes. That was another rung in the ladder. All of a sudden the League is on our side when we played the Russians. They wanted us to do well. They came into our locker room to wish us luck. For years, the NHL could not wait to suspend or fine us. They really did not like us. But when we played the Russians, they were in our corner. Here is a quick story. We were about an hour late for a luncheon with the Russian Red Army Team on the Friday before the game. We did not care what they thought. Freddy (Shero) gets up and says he’d like to welcome the Russian Red Army to Philadelphia...‘the Cradle of Liberty,’ just to rub it in a bit. The following day on Saturday we had a morning practice at the Spectrum and the Russian team was watching us from the bleachers. After we were finished, they started to practice and we all left. We never even watched them. We did not care. The game was scheduled for 1:00 p.m. the next day, but we were all in the locker room at 9:00 a.m. We were chomping at the bit. We wanted a piece of them."

Question: You were traded to Pittsburgh in 1978. Where you upset about this?
"No. It was time in my career to move on. The last rung in the ladder was when I was traded to Pittsburgh. About two weeks into Pittsburgh’s training camp, the players elected me team captain. To be named team captain for an NHL team is something I feel really good about. That was quite an honor."

Question: Even though you were traded to Pittsburgh you still kept your house in Philadelphia. Why?
"Philadelphia has been great to all of us who played for the Flyers. We were the blue-collar team that Philadelphia fans could relate to. There are still folks in the area that think we won the Cup five years ago. If that is not flattering, I do not know what is. I cannot say enough about the Delaware Valley. We have lived in the same house since 1974."

Question: Who would name their kid "Orest?"
"I am 100 percent Ukrainian. My mom’s brother was named Orest and they named me after him. Remember the Johnny Cash song ‘A Boy Named Sue?’ Names like that do make you a little tougher (laughs)!"

Question: Did teammates call you Orest on the ice?
"Not if they wanted me to pass the puck to them. I could tell who wanted the puck and who didn’t. A player that did not know me would call me Orest. Players that knew me would call me ‘O’ or ‘Oscar’ or ‘Ernie,’ from Sesame Street. Don Saleski was known as ‘Big Bird,’ Dave Schultz was the ‘Grouch’ and I was called either ‘Oscar’ or ‘Ernie.’ Nicknames were, and still are, big on the ice."
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