When Milt Schmidt talked to Fern Flaman about a week ago, one Hall of Famer to another, Flaman told Schmidt not to worry. He had a cold and he’d be going into the hospital for a day or two and everything would be fine.
Knowing Flaman’s legendary toughness, Schmidt probably should have known better. By that time, Flaman’s 85-year-old body was full of cancer and he had only days to live. Flaman died Friday night and his death became known to the hockey world when league vice-president Jim Gregory announced it at the draft on Saturday.
Flaman was renowned for his toughness, but could also play defense at a high level. He was a premier shot blocker and terrific defensive defenseman whose vicious bodychecks were well noted by his opponents. Gordie Howe once called Flaman the toughest player he had ever played against and Jean Beliveau once said of Flaman, “When I go near that fellow, believe me, I look over my shoulder.”
Schmidt, who lived in the same Boston suburb as Flaman and remained close friends with him, agreed with those sentiments. Flaman and Schmidt played together on the Bruins from 1947 to 1951, when Flaman was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was traded back to Boston for the 1954-55 season, Schmidt’s last as a Bruin. Like Schmidt, he was also captain of the Bruins.
“One thing I can say is that if there was anyone tougher than Fern Flaman during my career, I can’t imagine who it would be,” Schmidt said. “I played with and against some great defensemen and he was one of the greatest. He was a great stay-at-home defenseman.”
After retiring from the NHL in 1961, Flaman went on to become a player-coach with the Providence Reds of the American League. He later coached Northeastern University for 18 years, leading the school to four Beanpot Tournament championships and a Hockey East title in 1988. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
“We’ve lost a great man, a great person and a great National Hockey League player,” Schmidt said.