-- A day before the Flyers and Rangers renew their rivalry during the game's biggest spectacle, four legends got together to talk the breaks of the game.
For Philadelphia, Bill Barber
and Dave Schultz represented the two-time Stanley Cup dynasty of the 1970s, while New York alumni Rod Gilbert
and Eddie Giacomin kept them in check, much like they did so many years ago. In all, it made for an insightful, entertaining Miller Coors / NHL Winter Classic Legends Event.
The roundtable discussion, moderated by NHL's Barry Melrose
, was at turns entertaining and poignant, as the greats discussed everything from concussions to fighting to referees to, most importantly, the rivalry that helped define their storied careers.
The crowd of 120 -- about half of whom were too young to remember those heady days -- was quickly won over by the endearing, intelligent and often self-deprecating personalities seated on stage.
"The major difference is, in our day, you got singled out if you could skate," said Barber, who is now a scouting consultant for the Flyers. "Today, you get singled out if you can't skate. And everybody can shoot."
Schultz, known as the "Hammer" in his playing days for his tough brand of hockey, kept the crowd in straits with his snappy responses. When Melrose asked him whether he preferred the old referee system or the current two-man, Schultz answered matter-of-factly.
"I'd prefer none!"
The four shared candid opinions on the evolution of the game. All four agreed that the minimal protective equipment of their era forced players to be more careful and police themselves. But Barber reminded the audience that that old-school mentality had its ups and downs.
"You got in front of the net back then, you better get out fast," Barber said, referring to the danger of cheap shots. "But I really miss the 1-on-1 battles. Not intimidation, but confrontation. Good, hard-nosed hockey. I just don't know how we get that back with the new rules."
Outlaw fighting, the group agreed, and the League would lose a key self-policing aspect that keeps instigators at bay.
Said Schultz: "Who's to say that if fighting leaves the game, that those smaller players won't just start instigating at every turn?"
"When small guys started trouble, you just want to pitchfork them into the next century," Barber quipped.
Eventually, Melrose turned to the rivalry. Each former player recounted his fondest memory, often riffing off the answer of their opponent.
"When they came into the League, we beat them most of the time. Then they got the 'The Fog', Freddy Shero, I don't know what he had but it was something," said Gilbert, who became the first Ranger to have his jersey retired, in 1979. "In 1974, when they won the Cup, I scored in Game 6 in overtime to send it back to Philly. Then I remember we outshot them at their place, but we couldn't get over that hump."
"The major difference is, in our day, you got singled out if you could skate. Today, you get singled out if you can't skate. And everybody can shoot." -- Bill Barber
"Goaltending is everything," Barber said. "I really think it was two cities. New York was always more exciting, but Philadelphia was also a city. I think that really built the rivalry. First of all, it's tough to play in Madison Square Garden – your ice is terrible. You'd sit there and smell like elephant poop for about two weeks."
"That was our secret," Gilbert shot back.
Schultz was just happy he didn't recognize any Rangers fans, the type that "used to throw beers at me", among the crowd.
Giacomin remained conciliatory: "You knew you were in for a game any time you faced those guys."
On Monday at 3 p.m., the hockey world will find out if that's still the case.