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Backchecking With Reggie Leach

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers Hall of Famer talks about his career, accomplishments and life after hockey

By Zack Hill

                                      Reggie Leach still holds the NHL record for most
                                         goals in a playoff year with 19 (Edmonton's Jari
                                                           Kurri tied the mark in 1985).

Right wing Reggie Leach played eight seasons for the Flyers from 1974-75 through 1981-82 and was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame in 1992. He is seventh on the Flyers All-Time List in goals with 306. Leach recently sat down with to discuss his hockey career, some of his playing accomplishments and his life after hockey.

Question: You scored 61 regular season goals (team record) and 19 playoff goals (NHL record) in 1975-76. Did you get the feeling that every time you shot the puck you would score?
"Yes. I was really in the zone coming off the 61 regular season goals and then going into the playoffs. I used to tell Clarkie (Bob Clarke) to give me the puck and I’ll score. Billy (Barber) and I used to dump the puck into the offensive zone and let Clarkie go fish it out. He knew where we were going to be. If I wasn’t there, he knew that I’d be there in a second. He did not have to look too hard. That is why our line was so productive."

Question: Did you practice shooting a lot?
"Always. All I would do in practice is shoot, shoot, shoot. When I was little, I would shoot at this wooden board at my house all summer long. Later in my career, I could hit the goal crossbar 10 times in a row from 30 feet out. Anyplace in the top circle I could hit. Not only did I have an accurate shot, I had a hard shot."

Question: Hence the nickname "Rifle." Who gave you that nickname?
"Keith Allen called me the ‘Riverton Rifle’ and it was later shortened to the ‘Rifle.’ I was known for having a fast shot. They said that I was clocked at 115 mph ---and that was with a wooden stick."

Question: When did you begin playing hockey?
"I played street hockey as a young kid growing up in Riverton, Manitoba. I actually started out as a goaltender. I was too short and too fat to be running up and down the road chasing the puck, so they stuck me in front of the net. I did not start skating until I was 10 years old and didn’t own my first pair of skates until I was 14."

Question: Your grandparents raised you. Can you tell us about that?
"They adopted me when I was a baby. They were my mom and dad. Both have since passed away. I was youngest of 13 children."

Question: One of your greatest games was when you scored five goals (on seven shots) against Boston in the playoffs in 1976. It has been told that you can blame that performance on partying too hard the night before. True?
"True. I actually scored three of the five goals using a backhand shot, which was odd because I hardly ever shot backhanded. It was just one of those games where the net seemed bigger than it was. The night before the game we were out for a ‘Happy Hour’ that turned in to ‘Happy Hours.’ I stayed up a little too late and I overslept and missed the next morning’s skate. When I arrived at the game, I was pretty hung over and Freddy (Shero) was going to bench me. Clarkie told the coach to let me play and I told Clarkie to just give me the puck and everything would be fine."

Question: You and Bob Clarke have been friends for a long time. How did you to come to be friends?
"I got scouted at a very young age playing hockey in Riverton. I was a defenseman for Weyburn, Saskatchewan, when I was 14. I can still remember that I was the last person cut because another kid was 18 and they decided to keep him instead. Eventually, a scout from the Detroit Red Wings saw me play and I signed a contract with their junior team, the Flin Flon Bombers (Manitoba) when I was 15. When I attended training camp, the coach said that I was too fast to play defense, so he moved me to forward and they put me on Clarkie’s line. It was great. Clarkie is one year older than me and we really clicked together. Once we got to know each other, we were together 24 hours a day in the summertime. I was sort of lazy every once in a while and Clarkie really pushed the hell out of me. Clarkie and I were linemates for three years at Flin Flon. When Clarkie left, everybody said that I wouldn’t be any good without him that fourth year. I guess you could say that I fooled them because I won the scoring title that year and everything else that had to be won. After that, I was selected by Boston (third overall) in the 1970 Draft."

Question: Isn’t it kind of ironic that you guys were reunited and became part of the feared LCB line (Leach, Clarke, Barber) for the Flyers?
"Clarkie always denies this, but I heard that he wanted me here after the first Stanley Cup. They were trying to get me prior to that, but California wouldn’t let me go. Finally, the deal was made and Clarkie, the rascal, put me on the spot. He told everyone that I would score 50 goals in my first season with Philadelphia. I had only five goals by Christmas time, but I got the wheels spinning and ended the season with 45 goals."

Question: You always played well against Montreal’s Hall of Fame goaltender Ken Dryden. Why the success?
"I heard from some of his teammates that Kenny was actually afraid of my shot. That is why I shot so much on him. I would shoot high on him all the time. Billy Barber and I would always try to aim for a goaltender’s head or top of his shoulders for our first shots in a game. This would intimidate the goalie. Back then, the goalies weren’t nearly as protected as they were today, so we would hit unpadded areas around their shoulders or shoot right at their helmets. We used to hurt them right off the bat to start the game. Once we got inside their heads, the battle was practically won."

Question: Was there any consolation in winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and losing in the Stanley Cup Finals?
"Not really. We were going for three Cups in a row. We had a lot of injuries going against Montreal. Yes, they beat us four straight, but three of the first four games were one-goal games. The 4-0 sweep was not indicative of how close the series was. Gary Dornhoefer was injured; Bernie (Parent) was out. We were a banged up team. That Montreal team was probably the best team that I have ever seen put together. All their lines were great, they had huge defensemen and they had Dryden. We had to shoot the puck from the top of the circle because that was as close as we were going to get."

Question: Who was the best coach you have ever played for?
"Pat Quinn. He made me a better player by giving me more responsibility other than just being a goal scorer. He built my confidence up. He would call me on the telephone to see how I was doing and was a positive person. Heck, he even let me kill penalties in 1980."

Question: Who has been the most influential person in your life, hockey-wise?
"Bob Clarke. He was always there, always pushing me in the right direction."

Question: What are you doing these days?
"My wife, Debbie, and I own a commercial landscaping business in Delaware. Debbie oversees the business inside and I do the grunt work outside. I have been in the landscaping business since I retired about 21 years ago. If I have an extensive job, I’ll hire some extra people, but for the most part I do all of the work. I’ll leave the house at 4 a.m. and get home around 7 p.m. We work until the end of November, take a couple of months off, and then start the process over again."

Question: Are you involved in hockey at all?
"Yes. I am the assistant coach for the St. Marks High School ice hockey team in Delaware. I like being the assistant coach because head coaches get fired first before the assistants do (laughs). I get pretty hyped up on the bench, so unfortunately I have gotten a few penalties for yelling at the referees. This was my first year and I really enjoyed it."

Question: Do you have any children?
"I have a son and a daughter, Jamie and Brandie, and Debbie has two sons, Rudy and Brandon. Jamie played five seasons in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Hartford and Florida from 1989 through 1994. He actually has a ring from when the Penguins won the Cup. Brandie is a chiropractor and she and her husband have a daughter, Jaden, with another baby on the way. Rudy is back in school as a full-time student and also works in the insurance business and Brandon is a personal trainer living in North Carolina. It is ironic that we recently built this fabulous five-bedroom house and it’s just me a Deb now. But we all are close and are one really big happy family."

Question: Is there anything else you would like to add?
"I think my life has changed around since I met and married my wife, Debbie, in 1995. She’s a wonderful person. Debbie keeps me out of trouble and keeps me on the straight and narrow. I met her at a Flyers Alumni game, so it is all Joe Watson’s fault."
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