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Parent recalls 'magical time' with Flyers

Legendary goalie tells of helping Philadelphia to back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1970s

by Dave Stubbs @dave_stubbs / Columnist

So how long has it been since Philadelphia Flyers goaltending legend Bernie Parent won his back-to-back Conn Smythe trophies as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

"I think I was having breakfast with Moses," Parent said over the weekend from his Philadelphia home, dissolving into laughter after delivering a line that surely he's used more than once.

Maybe it wasn't quite that long ago. Parent won the Conn Smythe in 1974 and again in 1975, helping the Flyers to consecutive Stanley Cup championships.

If the Conn Smythe was sterling, the goalie's statistics were platinum: 12 wins against five losses in the 1974 playoffs, with two shutouts and a 2.02 goals-against average; he was 10-5 with four shutouts and a 1.89 GAA the following season.

"When you look at the calendar, it was a long time ago," the 71-year-old Montreal native said. "But in your mind, it's always the same -- it seems like it happened a year ago."

Parent's Conn Smythe wins marked the first time a player had been so honored in consecutive seasons; only Mario Lemieux has done it since, winning in 1991 and 1992 with the Penguins.

Parent also won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's outstanding goaltender in each of his Conn Smythe seasons.

His career was cut short at age 34 in 1979, a high stick clipping his right eye through his mask and permanently damaging his depth perception. Five years later, Parent would be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

He recalls with great fondness his youthful Flyers of 1974, who defeated the Boston Bruins in a six-game Stanley Cup Final.

"We had a well-balanced team, a team that believed in itself," he said. "The odds were against us. We were an expansion team, in our seventh year in the League, and we were playing the Bruins -- Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge, Wayne Cashman, all those great hockey players. The Bruins should have won in four games.

"But I tell people that if you believe in yourself and you're surrounded with a good team, then you can do beautiful things. We were nothing really special, just a bunch of kids. … But (coach) Fred Shero came up with the great idea that everybody should keep the puck away from Orr.

"Freddie, I'll never forget this, told us, 'You don't have to hit Orr, but stand in front of him, make him work.' At the end of the game, Bobby was tired. And at the end of the series, he was tired."

Parent paused, then laughed again.

"And when you have a French goalie, good things can happen."

Parent was a hockey god in Philadelphia; bumper stickers in Philly during his prime proclaimed, "Only the Lord saves more than Bernie Parent."

Video: 1974 Cup Final, Gm6: Flyers beat Bruins for first Cup

He recalls being so exhausted after the Flyers' 1974 Stanley Cup victory that he turned in early, began stirring at 6 a.m. and wondered whether it had all been a dream.

"I tiptoed very carefully downstairs and opened the front door, and the big headline in the paper on the porch said, 'The Flyers win the Stanley Cup!'" Parent said. "So I got dressed, came out awhile later, shook hands with some people, and then turned around to see a big 'Congratulations' had been painted on my house. I had to have the whole place repainted, but it was worth it.

"The next year, I had about 15 people keeping an eye on the house. But you know what? If it had been spray-painted again, that would have been fine."

Parent better recalls the 1975 championship, the Flyers chartering back to Philadelphia after their Cup-clinching victory in Buffalo with the trophy standing in the airplane aisle.

"The whole plane got quiet for about a half hour," he said. "Everybody was looking at the beautiful trophy we had just won. What a magical time that was."

After each Cup victory, Parent proudly accepted the Conn Smythe but deflected praise to the Flyers.

"Individual awards have to be presented, but in my mind it's always the team," he said. "You can never achieve those awards unless you're surrounded by good players. When we won those two years, I was the goaltender, but we had defensemen, forwards, coaches and the beautiful people in Philly. Only then did we have a chance to win. You do your job individually but you have to work together."

Teamwork is a common theme for Parent in his motivational public speaking, alongside a message of taking risks and conquering fears.

"When there's risk involved, fear comes in," he said. "And when fear comes in, most people back away. That's when people miss out on great opportunities in life. My philosophy is, if I assume it's not going to work out, I take the first step anyway. If it doesn't work out, learn from it and move on.

"Surround yourself with a good team. If you remember this when you move on in life, then life will be good to you."

Parent devours hockey to this day, watching the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center and enjoying more games on TV than he can count.

No matter the result of the Stanley Cup Final between the San Jose Sharks and the Flyers' cross-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Parent was certain that every fan - himself included - was in for a treat.

"The beauty about this year is that it's not predictable," he said. "You have no clue what's going to happen the next game. It's good hockey, very exciting. The speed of the game, the way guys skate, is just incredible.

"In the old days, it was up and down the ice. Today, my God, there are players all over the place. You have the puck on your blade for a second and somebody is on top of you. You constantly have to be in motion. But that's what makes it so exciting to watch."

Parent believes the team that pushes outside of its comfort zone will be crowned champion.

"The worst thing to do in sports is play it safe," he said. "Take your chances, and may luck be on your side to win the game. At least you tried. When you do, you become a better team. …

"Freddie (Shero) wrote on our blackboard, 'If we win tonight, we walk together forever.' That's a powerful statement. It's what we did in Philly, and it's what every Stanley Cup champion has done."

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