The Penguins want to keep forging ahead when they meet the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But, excuse Penguins General Manager Ray Shero if he takes a few looks back.
That’s because this matchup is a significant one for Shero, who spent part of his childhood growing up in Philadelphia while his father, Fred, coached the Flyers to their most-recent Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and ’75.
Shero remembers watching many good Flyers-Penguins games in the 1970s.
“I remember the light blue uniforms, Ron Stackhouse, Steve Durbano, Bob ‘Battleship’ Kelly. There were some great games,” he said. “I was 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. Pittsburgh had some real good teams then, too, with Syl Apps and Lowell MacDonald. There was good history.”
|Ray Shero |
According to Shero, the Penguins-Flyers rivalry is more intense in recent years than it was in the past.
“The Penguins, in particular, I never had a hatred for at all. They had some skilled players,” he said. “Back then, the Flyers had the big rivalries with the Bruins and the Rangers and things like that. The Penguins were a good team, but it wasn’t like it is now. The rivalry is greater. That’s why I think the series will be a great series for both cities and both teams. I think both teams are looking forward to it.”
However, like a true Philadelphia resident, he didn’t enjoy coming to Pittsburgh.
“I personally did not like Pittsburgh youth hockey. I’d come here with the Little Flyers and get skunked all the time,” he said with a laugh. “I didn’t like Pittsburgh youth hockey, but my sons are playing in it right now, so I really enjoy it.”
Part of the 1967 NHL expansion (along with the Penguins), the Flyers developed into a strong and physical presence known as the “Broad Street Bullies” in the 1970s. Ray Shero got the chance to see that develop for himself once his father took over as head coach in 1971-72.
“This goes back to probably 1970 or ’71. They’ve had the same owner since they came into the league in 1967 in Mr. Ed Snider. When they lost to St. Louis in the playoffs maybe their second or third year in the league and they got beat up, they decided they weren’t going to get pushed around anymore,” he said. “That’s the direction they went as a franchise and my father came in as the coach for seven years and they had some pretty tough teams. A lot of people – most hockey people – realize they did have skill as well. There were some Hall of Famers on that club.
“You look back at the Broad Street Bully era and there was no third man in rule (for fights). It’s hard to believe. There were bench-clearing brawls every week. That was really the Broad Street Bullies.”
While the Flyers play a physical brand of hockey now, it’s nothing compared to those “Broad Street Bullies” squads. Nevertheless, that era of Philadelphia hockey is one the fans relish.
“When I think of Philadelphia now, they are a highly-skilled club and they do play in-your-face hockey. But the mentality in Philadelphia, I think of the Flyer fans and their game presentation – they are still living the glory days of the Broad Street Bullies and they loved it,” he said. “The last two championships they won came in 1974 and ’75 with the Broad Street Bullies. A lot of players still live in the area there and they are treated like royalty and they are never forgotten. They love their rough-and-tumble hockey just like they did a long time ago. They have the old-time fights on the Jumbotron and they have Ron Hextall chasing people and fighting. It’s great stuff and the people love it.
“I go back there now and see the fans and they are just crazy. I walk out of the arena and think they are just crazy and then I realize I was one of those. They are passionate about their hockey team and they have been for a number of years, just like they are here in Pittsburgh. This series should be a lot of fun both fans in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.”
Now in his second season with the Penguins, Shero has a pretty good feel for what the Flyers-Penguins rivalry has developed into over the past couple decades.
“I think this year, I really got a taste of it. Last year, it was probably a little brand-new for me,” he said. “I had been away from Philadelphia for a long period of time and was new in Pittsburgh last year. But, this year, I certainly got a taste of it. A few of those games have been pretty heated. I could sense the rivalry on the street with the people.”
In addition, Shero has three more connections to Philadelphia – Kimmo Timonen, Scottie Upshall and Scott Hartnell. Shero helped all three develop when the the trio played in Nashville, where he was an assistant general manager. Now, those three are key pieces of the Flyers’ puzzle.
“All three of those guys I was with for many years in Nashville,” he said. “No disrespect to anyone else, but Kimmo is probably their top defenseman. Timonen is a guy who plays 24 minutes a night and plays in all situations and really moves the puck well and is very underrated defensively. He’ll probably be part of their top shutdown group.
“Scottie Hartnell had a slow start, but he’s played great hockey the second half of the year for them. He plays an honest game and he’s a hard guy to play against. Scottie Upshall had an up and down year, but certainly he has great speed and he’s playing a role for them right now and doing a great job. He was a real factor in that series against Montreal. All three guys have added a lot to their team this year. I give credit to Paul Holmgren for acquiring all three of them.”
Despite all the sentimentality, Shero is looking forward to this series.
“I was hoping the matchup would happen at some point – that means we’ve moved along in a playoff series,” he said. “When I first got here, that was the goal – to make the playoffs and we were certainly fortunate enough to last year and this year. Both Philadelphia and our team have played good hockey, so I am looking forward to it.”