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Spectrum Memories: The Hammer Returns

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers

Dave Schultz spent four seasons playing for the Flyers from 1971-76. He is fifth all-time in franchise history with 1386 penalty minutes, and had 51 goals and 64 assists for 115 points in 297 games. He was a member of both Stanley Cup winning teams in 1973-74 and 1974-75.

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Whenever a popular player gets traded and returns to play against his old team for the first time, the player has a little extra motivation to perform well. Usually, the home fans give their former hero a polite ovation as he steps on the ice for warm-ups and then focus on the game itself.

But when Dave “The Hammer” Schultz returned to Philadelphia for the first time after the Flyers traded him to the Los Angeles Kings, the enforcer’s presence was more than a footnote to the game.  In many ways, Schultz was the player who most shaped the Broad Street Bullies’ the over-the-top brawling image that made the team the scourge of the NHL during their two successful runs to the Stanley Cup. The Flyers were the league’s top road draw and sold out the Spectrum every game.
Dave Schultz and Andre "Moose" Dupont come together during Schultz's return to the Spectrum. (Flyers Archives)

Schultz wasn’t necessarily the best fighter in the NHL, but he was the most active. The Hammer would work himself into a frenzy before he even hit the ice, and he had a flair for showmanship. His four years in orange and black were among the most memorable Philadelphia careers of any player in club history.

Schultz loved to be the marauding hero at the Spectrum and the bad guy on the road. He would egg on road fans in a manner reminiscent of a pro wrestling villain, doing things such as exaggeratedly pinching his nose shut as he was escorted off the ice, just to let the crowd know he thought they, their team and their arena stunk.  In Philadelphia, however, Schultz could do no wrong. He had the biggest fan club – called Schultz’s Army – of any individual player on the team. Schultz was so popular that he even recorded a novelty song called “The Penalty Box” and it shot to the top of the local charts.

Schultz could also play hockey when he wanted to. While his defining legacy was the fact that he topped 300 penalty minutes in three consecutive seasons (topping out at an astounding 472 in 1974-75), he also had a knack for coming through in the clutch. The Hammer scored 20 goals in the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup season and played an important role in each of the three playoff series the Flyers won to claim the 1973-74 championship.

In the 1974 quarterfinals against the Atlanta Flames, Schultz scored the overtime game winner in the deciding game. In the semifinals against the New York Rangers, Schultz’s lopsided thrashing of Dale Rolfe in the seventh game dispirited the Rangers and helped inspire the Flyers to victory. In the finals against the Boston Bruins, Schultz assisted on Bobby Clarke’s overtime game winner in Game 2 – the one victory the Flyers needed at Boston Garden in order to gain home ice advantage and win the Cup at the Spectrum.

Such deeds would not soon be forgotten by Flyers fans, even after Schultz was traded to the Los Angeles Kings on September 29, 1976. As luck would have it, the Kings paid a visit to the Spectrum on October 10. By his own admission, Schultz was nervous about the game – so much so that he was unable to sleep a wink the last three nights leading up to his Spectrum return.

As soon as Schultz took to the ice for warm-ups – looking out of place in the Kings’ purple and gold road uniform – many fans were still filing into their seats. The building was half-full but a large percentage of the early-arriving fans were there specifically to greet Schultz. He received a loud ovation. There were pro-Schultz signs and banners around the arena, among them “Dave, you are still the Hammer of our hearts”, “I want my Hammer back, Keith [Allen]” and “We’re still your loyal subjects, Schultzie.”
Flyers fans welcomed back one of their all-time favorites to ever play at the Spectrum. (Flyers Archives)

But if there’s one thing Flyers fans loved more than their favorite (ex) Broad Street Bully, it was the team itself. Schultz had been made expendable by the emergence of two tough young players – Mel Bridgman and Paul Holmgren – who were more skilled on the ice than the Hammer. The club also had wild haired, bearded defenseman Jack McIlhargey, who would drop the gloves with anyone in the league. It seemed almost inevitable that Schultz would clash with one or more of these players, with Holmgren (with whom Schultz had had the least interaction as teammates) being the most likely opponent.

Schultz received hearty applause when he stepped on the ice for the game’s first shift. That would soon change. A scrum developed after a stoppage of play 35 seconds after the opening faceoff, as Bob Kelly and the Kings’ Dan Kozak shoved at each other. As the other players crowded around, Schultz gave a gratuitous shove to Bridgman. The crowd murmured.

Schultz later delivered a cross-check to Rick MacLeish. For the first time in Philadelphia, the Hammer heard some boos. Later in the first period, Schultz was angry after being knocked down by Gary Dornhoefer. He delivered a quick slash to former Bully cohort, Andre “Moose” Dupont, then returned to the Los Angeles bench and taunted his former teammates. By now the boos were raining down on Schultz and the fuse had been lit for an explosion between the Flyers and Kings.

Late in the first period, the Kings’ Dave Hutchinson high-sticked Bridgman in the face. Immediately, McIhargey dropped the gloves and popped Hutchinson with a right hand, while Dupont made a beeline for Hutchinson, leading a charge off the bench. As the situation escalated, Schultz sought out Holmgren.

“Let’s go, you S.O.B.,” Schultz sneered.

The rookie, who had been wearing a visor to protect an eye injury, gladly obliged. Following the code of the era, Holmgren ditched his visor as the fight began. Holmgren had both a size and reach advantage over Schultz and was the better natural fighter, so he didn’t need to “hide” behind the visor. Holmgren pummeled his opponent with right hands. Schultz was immediately on the defensive and got stung by a flurry of heavy shots that landed cleanly. At the conclusion, Holmgren threw Schultz down to the ice.
Schultz eyes the Flyers' Rick MacLeish. (Flyers Archives)

Every one in the building knew they had just witnessed the coronation of a new heavyweight champion of the Spectrum. Holmgren received a big ovation as he skated off the ice. Schultz, meanwhile, exchanged taunts with Dupont as the Flyers’ defenseman was restrained from going after his former teammate. Schultz was booed loudly as he left the ice.

Ross Lonsberry gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead midway through the second period. It would prove to be the only goal Bernie Parent would need – or receive – to backstop the club to victory. The Flyers limited LA to a single shot on goal in the middle period. Meanwhile, the fisticuffs continued with another round of fights breaking out at the 15:59 mark. Parent closed out the shutout victory in the third period, turning back nine shots

After the game, most of the talk centered around Schultz’s return. For his part, Schultz attempted to embrace his newfound villainous status in Philadelphia, saying that he had come to play hockey but the Flyers had ganged up on Hutchinson for an accidental high stick. Holmgren, for one, took the whole situation all in stride but other Flyers players expressed annoyance at the Hammer’s antics.

“I had a feeling I’d be the guy he would go after,” said Holmgren. “I was the one he hadn’t played with.”

For the remainder of his playing career and several years thereafter, Schultz had a strained relationship with the Flyers. But time heals all wounds. In the years following his retirement, Schultz mended fences. He made his home in the Philadelphia area and became very active in the team’s alumni association. To this day, whenever he makes at appearance at a Flyers game, he receives warm applause from the home fans.
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