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Flyers salute Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke

by Mike G. Morreale

PHILADELPHIA -- Scott Hartnell never had the privilege of witnessing Flyers legend Bobby Clarke in action, but judging by that toothless grin, he can ascertain his passion for winning.
Winning was all Bobby Clarke was passionate about.
"I didn't watch him in the 70's, but from just talking with (GM Paul) Holmgren and the guys who were around when he was player, he was the ultimate competitor," Hartnell said. "He gave it his all every shift. You can see by his toothless smile back in the day; he just left it all out there on the ice."
Clarke, 61, returned to the ice on Thursday, in fact, when the Flyers presented their Hall of Fame center and his family the original retired number banner that hung from the rafters at the Spectrum prior to the team's game against the Nashville Predators at Wells Fargo Center, Clarke was joined by his grandson.
"I just hope to be remembered as a good team player," Clarke said. "When I look backwards, and I have lots of time to do that, I came to a team that Ed Snider and Keith Allen were committed to winning. They were committed to spend the money to do whatever it took to win.
"For a decade and a half, I was treated better financially, emotionally … every which way you could imagine, than probably (Bobby) Orr or (Phil) Esposito in the years I played. I played most of my career with (Reggie) Leach, (Bill) Barber and (Bernie) Parent. You'd almost have to be no good at all to not have success with that level of players."
Clarke, who wore No. 16, not only helped lead the Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cup crowns in 1974 and '75, but won the Hart Trophy as League MVP three times and was a nine-time NHL All-Star. He is one of four Flyers players, including Bernie Parent, Bill Barber and the late Barry Ashbee, to have their number retired by the organization.
Clarke's ceremony was the third of four "Banner Nights" at Wells Fargo this season. Barber will have his No. 7 jersey presented to him on March 31 when the Flyers host the Atlanta Thrashers.
Terry Crisp, a teammate of Clarke's during those Cup years and now a Nashville broadcaster, recalled how valuable his friend was to an entire city.
"I'm always asked, 'If you're going to start a franchise, what player would you like to have?' " Crisp told "Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux? There's one player in my mind and that's Bob Clarke. To me, Bob Clarke was the ultimate warrior. When he played, there was only one way to play and that was to win … take no prisoners.
"A lot of guys today go into the locker room and mouth off and don't back it up," Crisp continued. "When Clarkie stood up and was talking and preaching at you, he then went out and took it on the ice. If you're going in a foxhole, you want Bobby Clarke in that hole with you."
Taken with the 17th pick in the 1969 Amateur Draft, Clarke remains the franchise leader in games played (1,144), assists (852), points (1,210), plus/minus (plus-506) and shorthanded goals (32). He was captain on the two Stanley Cup teams in 1974 and '75, led the team in scoring eight times and even took the club to three Stanley Cup Finals as general manager (1985, '87 and '97).
"He was the face of the organization and a big reason for their success and winning those championships," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I have had the privilege to see him every morning when he comes in and we talk hockey. The fact he gets to be honored in front of the fans in this hockey market he helped build is great."
Clarke also holds franchise playoff records for most games played (136), assists (77) and points (119). During the team's Cup run in 1974, Clarke produced 5 goals and 16 points. After dropping Game 1 in the Cup Final to the Boston Bruins, Clarke scored one of the biggest goals of his career in overtime of Game 2 when he lifted a rebound over Bruins goaltender Gilles Gilbert for the win at Boston Garden. The Flyers would go on to win three of the next four games to become the first expansion team to win the Holy Grail.
"I don't consider it a big goal," Clarke said of the Game 2 OT winner. "I mean, if we don't win that series, it's an insignificant goal, right. We won the series because Bernie Parent stood on his head and everyone played great. I got a goal in overtime, but again, it was only one small part of beating the Boston Bruins. It was just another goal if we didn't win the series."
During the '75 playoffs, Clarke scored 4 goals and finished with 16 points. Crisp recalls the relationship between Clarke and Flyers coach Fred Shero at the time of the Cup victories.
"Fred and Clarkie were good friends, and Fred leaned on Clarkie as much as he did any coach or anybody else in the organization," Crisp said.
Said Clarke: "I knew Freddy as good as any player here, but I don't know that anybody got really close to Freddy. He was just part of the team, only a big part and a tremendous coach. He was never superior than anybody else or lower than anybody else. He made a contribution to help the team win. When the team wins, there's enough glory for everybody -- and we all got a lot of glory from winning."
During the 1975-76 season, the Clarke-Barber-Reggie Leach line established a record for most goals by a line with 141, including 30 by the kid from Flin Flon, Manitoba. He set a personal best with 119 points that season.
Clarke, who retired following the 1983-84 season, was a first-ballot inductee into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1988, Clarke and Parent became the first two inductees into the Flyers Hall of Fame.
"He was obviously a legend here in Philadelphia … one of the best captains I think the city has ever had and the best sports figure," Hartnell said.

Clarke likes what he sees in this year's Flyers team and is optimistic the club can go even farther than last year.
"I love this team," Clarke said. "I think this is a really good team, it's really deep. We've had lots of good teams over the years, the (Dave) Poulin era, the (Eric) Lindros' group. But I guess you can't call them great because in order to be great you have to win the Cup. But this is a really good team. It's got every ingredient you would want."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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