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An Oral History of the Broad Street Bully-era Philadelphia Flyers

Adam Proteau
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Flyers players (left-right): Jimmy Watson, Dave Hoyda, Bobby Clarke, Bob Kelly, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach; In rear: Flyers coach Fred Shero. (Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

News

An Oral History of the Broad Street Bully-era Philadelphia Flyers

Adam Proteau
By:

The Philadelphia Flyers' famed "Broad St. Bullies"-era teams won the franchise's only two Stanley Cups – and although those teams were feared for the toughness of their players, equally frightening was their skill and commitment to each other.

WITH MATT LARKIN

The Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s are renowned as the most fearsome unit ever to skate on an NHL sheet of ice. Winners of two Stanley Cups (1973-74 and 1974-75), they made headlines and enemies at every turn thanks to an aggressive style of play and memorable characters including their leader and best player, Bobby Clarke, their quiet-but-brilliant coach Fred ‘The Fog’ Shero and tough guys Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz, Andre ‘Moose’ Dupont and Bob ‘Hound Dog’ Kelly. The Hockey News spoke to a number of key members of the Broad Street Bullies (named for the street on which the Flyers have played through their existence) to get their perspective on the truth behind the tremble in their opponents’ knees:

After joining the league in the initial expansion of 1967, the franchise, owned by local businessman Ed Snider, made the playoffs in each of its first two years. In both post-season tournaments, however, they ran into a St. Louis Blues team that was bigger, stronger and nastier than them – and they lost both times. But it was the way the Flyers lost – bashed-up and pushed around – that left a bitter taste in the mouth of the man bankrolling the operation. And as Snider subsequently explained to GM Keith Allen, that was the impetus for change in Philadelphia.

ED SNIDER, OWNER: We had a bunch of little French-Canadian players, Andre Lacroix, Jean-Guy Gendron, and so forth. And the Plager brothers and Noel Picard terrorized us in Game 7 of our first playoff. That was one of the worst brawls I had ever seen. Some of our guys went down in a bloody heap after being suckerpunched. I looked at all this, and I couldn’t stand it. Then the next year we weren’t in the playoffs, but during the season we were being manhandled. So I said to Keith, “Look, we’re an expansion team, we may not be able to skate, we may not have great players, but we can go out and get the toughest son-of-a-bitches in the world, and I don’t want to see our team ever get beat up again. I don’t give a goddamn about this having one policeman. Let’s have five or six.” And that’s the beginning of the Broad Street Bullies. That was our modus operandi. We didn’t get beat up anymore. I didn’t invent fighting in hockey, and I don’t necessarily love it. I’m just saying I don’t want anybody to kick the s--- out of a Flyer ever again.

Allen spent the next few years drafting players who could play, but who could also take care of themselves and their teammates: Schultz, Kelly, Don Saleski. Yet they didn’t know Schultz would become their most feared fighter until after they selected him 52nd overall in 1969.

DAVE SCHULTZ, LW: The bottom line is, they’d gotten intimidated and the organization decided, hey, let’s get some tougher guys and protect ourselves. But I came out of the woodwork. Bob Kelly was a tough guy in junior. I was not. It was only after the Flyers drafted me and they sent me to the Eastern Hockey League that I started fighting. It’s not that I’d ever really liked it. I was just a shy, mild kid. But somehow when I went to the Eastern League, if a guy ran at my teammates, I went after him, and I soon discovered I could do OK. It wasn’t fun or easy, but, on the other hand, I enjoyed the rewards, people loved it, and that’s the way hockey was played.

In 1971, another crucial component of the Broad Street Bullies’ success was added when Snider and Allen brought aboard former Rangers defenseman and longtime minor-league bench boss Fred Shero as coach. At 46, Shero was far from the aggressive personality he wanted to see from his hockey team, but he didn’t have to be one. He was a player’s coach and, for that team, a perfect fit.

BERNIE PARENT, G: Everybody loved him. Freddy would never challenge a player in front of the group. It was always behind closed doors in his office. We respected him for that. He was very disciplined.

SNIDER: If you look at his minor league record, he always won. I got to know him, and we’d talk, and he’d tell me his philosophies. One day, we lost a game, and we had about six guys out, key guys. And I said, “Fred, in your comments” – this was the next day after I read in the paper – “you didn’t mention the fact we had six guys out.” And he said, “I didn’t want to give the team an excuse to lose.”

BILL CLEMENT, C: Freddy was kind of a loner, but all you had to do was be in his company long enough to realize he loved his athletes. He had a great sense of humor. He was incredibly innovative the way he thought the game. But my first impression was, “Wow, this guy is really quiet and shy.”

JOE WATSON, D: Whenever there was a problem with management, Freddy always sided with the players. And the players loved him for that, because a lot of times the coach slides in with management.

BOB KELLY, LW: Freddy was the perfect guy to manage our team. Nobody wants robots – you want people with character and some personality. Freddy was good. He’d write on the board, “Take the shortest path to the puck, and arrive in ill humor.” Another time, (left winger) Rick MacLeish wasn’t doing something or hadn’t been playing well, so Freddy brings in a pail of water and says “MacLeish, put your hand in this pail,” and when MacLeish takes it out, Freddy says, “If you don’t get going, as long as it takes your hand to dry is how long it’s going to take to replace you.” But we had a lot of faith in Freddy. He got a lot of us to our greatest heights as players and as people. I have utmost respect for him.

But for all the smarts the Flyers had in the front office – Snider says the late Allen is to this day the best GM the team has ever had – and all the toughness and skill the team had built up on the roster, the central engine in the Broad Street Bullies machine was the same thing that made them ultimately so frightening to the opposition: a 5-foot-10, 185-pound center from Flin Flon, Man., named Bobby Clarke, who was as ferocious of spirit as he was talented with the puck. By his third season in the NHL, Clarke was a 35-goal scorer who was fearless – not only in games and practices, but in the demands he made of his teammates to raise their play. And in hockey parlance, nothing was scarier to opponents than a superstar who would go through walls to win.
 
SNIDER: Bobby Clarke was as good a hockey player as I’ve ever seen and the best captain we’ve ever had. He was unbelievable. I never saw him play a bad game. Every game may have not been great, but he set the tone for the team.

GARY DORNHOEFER, RW: He didn’t really say a lot, but when he did, everybody listened.
CLEMENT: Oh, it’s immeasurable, his importance to the team, the level of leadership. Bobby knew how to pull people, and he did that with me a couple of times. He also knew how to pull people aggressively when that window of opportunity was limited and challenge them to give the team more. And I heard him do that very quietly. I was sitting between him and the guy he said it to on the bench in the Stanley Cup final against Boston, and he leaned in front of me, and he was angry. And he just told him, “I sure as hell hope you’re saving it for Thursday night, you son of a bitch.” And then he just sat back up. And the game the player played the next night was unbelievable.

Clarke was named to Team Canada’s 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union – and the spotlight and pressure, as well as being around the cream of the crop of the game’s elite, made Clarke an even more complete player and determined leader upon his return.

KELLY: ‘Clarkie’ went there as the fifth center and was on the first line by the time he came back. I think that was the first time he’d ever been around guys like (Bobby) Orr, (Phil) Esposito, (Wayne) Cashman, (Brad) Park, and all the guys who were true leaders. He came back a totally different person. A lot of the adversity over there changed him, and when he came back he was immediately given the ‘C’.

JIMMY WATSON, D: He inspired his other teammates. He certainly did that for me. I would watch Clarkie first of all go out there and work very hard in practice. That inspired me. Then, when you got to the arena to play the game, Bobby was always in there as one of the first guys ready to go. That was very inspiring. Here’s our best player, and he’s so totally focused. He would always say great job if you did a good job, and if you didn’t he would look you right in the eye and say “Come on, you’ve got to get going.” I love that. That took a lot of stones to be able to go to somebody and tell them you’ve got to play harder, you’ve got to do more.

BOB CLARKE, C: One person can’t lead a team, and if you ask 10 people, they’ll all have a different definition of what leadership is on the team. I think it’s just a group of guys. You know, the top players have to be your hardest workers, have to be your top players, have to follow the rules of the team, get to practice early. All those kinds of things. And then everybody…I don’t know what the right word is, it’s not necessarily lesser talent, but people who aren’t the leaders will follow. But it’s a bigger job than one guy can do, even though I got a lot of credit for it. We had a few guys who had it a lot as well.

Despite Clarke’s humility, his teammates would’ve gone through a wall for him, because they realized the converse was equally true.

KELLY: Clarkie was the bread and butter, man. You’re not touching him.

CLEMENT: I’ll tell you one thing that’s always pissed me off. It’s when other players say, “I didn’t like Clarkie, he didn’t fight his own battles, you know he’d start the s--- and then all of the Flyers’ tough guys would jump in there.” But here’s what you don’t know: Bobby Clarke never asked anybody to fight for him, and Bobby Clarke would’ve fought to the death if there was nobody else on that team that jumped in to defend him. He never asked them. He said the guys that jumped in to defend him did it with reverence and respect and dedication and loyalty for Bobby. Let me put it this way: there’s no way we win two Stanley Cups without Bobby Clarke.

For Clarke, the Flyers’ crown jewel was Parent, who put together two of the most dominant seasons by a goaltender in league history.

CLARKE: We were good enough and deep enough to win a Cup if anybody had got injured, except Bernie. If we lost him we wouldn’t have won the Cup. Either Cup. He was that good for us and that important to us.

BILL BARBER, LW: Bernie’s style complemented how we played. Our style was to keep everything to the outside. We gave him an opportunity to play the angles and there were no rebounds. In front of our net was a tough area to go into and play and score goals. We played a 1-2-2 system or a 1-4 system, and we took pride in how many shots we allowed.

CLEMENT: Bernie, for at least five years, was the best goalie in the world.

The Flyers’ first Cup win came over an equally rugged Bruins team that had Orr, Esposito, Derek Sanderson and other tough customers. But while the Flyers were the underdogs, they had a work ethic that couldn’t be topped. That, combined with Shero’s smarts, made them the fastest expansion team to win a Cup in NHL history (seventh season) – a record that still stands. 

JIMMY WATSON: One of our battle cries in the dressing room was, “We will never be outworked.” And I love that battle cry.

JOE WATSON: I remember getting into Boston, I picked up the Boston Herald and saw a quote that said, “This is anti-climactic, we just beat a better team to get to the final, and we’re gonna play for the final of the Stanley Cup.” And I looked who the hell could make a quote like that, and I saw Freddy Shero said that. So I look to Freddy and say, “How the hell can you make a statement like that?” And he says, “Joe, we haven’t beaten them in seven years. We’ve got to try a little reverse psychology, get ’em thinking maybe they aren’t as good as they were.”

KELLY: Fred came in to tell us the game plan and he said, “I think the game plan is going to be we’re going to give Orr the puck.” We said, “Why the hell would you give Bobby Orr the puck? That’s the last thing you want to do.” But it worked out. He just said, “I want you to work him, pressure him. By no means spear him or hurt him, but just bump him, make him skate around you, tire him out. As the series wears on, it’s going to be tough on him.” And Freddy was right. 

Adding to the Flyers’ mystique: a singer named Kate Smith. The myth grew that Philly couldn’t lose whenever she belted out God Bless America, via video or in person, at the Spectrum. Entering Game 6 of the 1974 final, the Flyers were 36-3-1 with Smith singing. The Bruins’ Esposito tried to jinx her by presenting her with a bouquet of roses, but it didn’t work.

BARBER: The players really welcomed it. It was kind of unique. Instead of the national anthem, she sang God Bless America. It was just something different. It kind of identified our team. The timing couldn’t be any better for her presence.

DORNHOEFER: It just went on for years and years and years: “Are they gonna play Kate tonight?” It was interesting the record we had whenever God Bless America was played and also when she was there.

After their first Cup win, the Flyers were the league’s No. 1 target. But their Broad Street Bullies style made them a target well before then. Thanks to their protective attitude toward one another, they were loathed everywhere they went.

JIMMY WATSON: We had rivalries with everybody. All the New York teams, Boston, Toronto, Montreal, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, the list goes on. It was love or hate the Flyers, man, and there wasn’t much in between.

CLEMENT: It’s a hard game. And when you understand you might have an advantage because of intimidation and – I hate to phrase it like this because I’m afraid it’ll come out wrong – with a team coming in, it very often had a defeated attitude. You can tell when a team’s scared of you. It lent itself to a feeling of invincibility at the other end of that emotion, meaning on our bench. We certainly weren’t ashamed.

SCHULTZ: We didn’t take nothin’ from nobody.

Thanks to the furious fists of Schultz, Kelly and Dupont, the Flyers had the capability to turn back their most menacing opponents.

DORNHOEFER: Well, Schultzy, he could throw ’em. He’s such a mild-mannered guy, you would never associate Dave Schultz with a guy that when he got on the ice he was a terror. But it didn’t matter who, he had some fights that he also lost. He just went out there and if it was time to do something, he would do it. A tremendous team player. 

SNIDER: Schultz, when he came in, he was such a hero in this city because, quite frankly, he’d beat up every guy that used to beat us up, one at a time.

SCHULTZ: I wasn’t tough physically, I was tough mentally. I never once would have ever said, “Do you want to go?” to an opponent. I don’t want to go! Why would I want to go? But if somebody ran one of my teammates, I’m goin’. You always responded. And that’s what I did if somebody did something. It was all about protecting your own players.

JOE WATSON: Bob Kelly. ‘The Hound’ could throw thirty shots to your one, he was so quick. I call him ‘Machine Gun Kelly’ because he could throw his fists so quickly. 

KELLY: If you had a stick up in someone’s head, you had to be accountable for your actions. What gets lost in the mix is that it wasn’t the fighting that changed the team, it was the talent on the team that changed it.

JOE WATSON: Then we had Moose Dupont, who was very intimidating, Moose would use the stick, and his English was not that good, so you had a hard time understanding what the hell he was saying. (laughs)

KELLY: I played against Moose in junior, and my mom called him ‘The Boxcar.’ He was about 250 pounds, and he thought nothing of hammering you.

CLARKE: We took a lot of pride in the way we played the game. Not only were we winning, we were playing the game properly and the fighting was part of the personality of the team. There are lots of teams in the league who had as many tough guys as we did, but our reputation became so big that it was intimidating to other teams.

The Flyers’ reputation earned them the wrath of media and fans in every other NHL city and led to a number of wild, unforgettable scenes on and off the ice.

SNIDER: Everybody hated us. We loved that.

WATSON: Holy mack. I remember one time we were playing in St. Louis and Jimmy McKenzie, our trainer, said something to Steve Durbano. Durbano, he took his stick and put it right to Jimmy’s mouth and knocked four of his teeth out. ‘The Hound’ jumped off the bench and beat the living crap out of Durbano. He took him all the way across the ice, knocked him down, picked him up all the way across the ice and threw him in the penalty box. And it started at our bench and went all the way across. Oh my God, it was one of the worst beatings I’ve ever seen a guy take.

CLEMENT: One night against Oakland there was a fight in the penalty box. Schultz and Saleski were in the penalty box with Mike Christie from Oakland, and Jimmy Nielsen from Oakland, he jumped in to even the fight up, even the numbers up. I jumped in to give us another man advantage, grabbed Nielsen and threw him upside-down into the spit on the floor. And I remember Saleski had Christie tied up. Saleski just popped him and cut him wide open above his eye, and I remember Christie saying, ‘You guys think you’re tough, huh? You got two of you.’ He had blood all over his face, put his arms down to his side and said, ‘Go ahead, hit me again.’ And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe he just did that.’ Don didn’t hit him, and it’s funny: he ended up playing with Mike Christie.

KELLY: We used the road as a motivator. We used to get a kick out of headlines like “The Animals Are Coming To Town,” “Lock Your Kids In The House,” and we used to use that as a motivator, all the different things they would write about us. That helped spur Schultzy’s ego a bit – in Buffalo, they were hanging likenesses of him, and we took all kinds of abuse, but it was great.  We thrived on that and the more they wrote, the better it was for us. We were loved in Philly and that’s the only place we cared about.

CLEMENT: We lived by a pack mentality, and that’s what made us so successful, that bond. When you’re really close with somebody, you’re almost blood. You can’t tell me one person that if they saw somebody trying to take advantage of a loved one, or blood, a brother or sister or whatever, they wouldn’t just jump in and do whatever they had to do. And that’s just kind of the way we operated.

KELLY: We played Boston here, and (Paul) Holmgren and Cashman get into it, both get thrown out, and both go up behind the benches and go back, and start brawling on the concrete, so both teams go back there and fight. That’s why they put up that infamous Holmgren Gate in the back to separate teams. 

SCHULTZ: I fought Terry O’Reilly eight times in the NHL. Eight times! That’s unheard of. But the Bruins were the toughest. They were a great team. I hated them.

Sometimes, fans felt the urge to test their mettle against the Flyers away from the rink – though they wouldn’t dare challenge the players with their fists.

JOE WATSON: Reggie Leach had arms like a blacksmith. We used to go to this place in Vancouver, the old Ritz Hotel, and all these miners and loggers would come into this place. We’d go down there and Reggie would be arm wrestling for a whole table of beer. I remember we had curfews at 11 o’clock at night and we’d be there for six, seven hours. We’d leave still have four or five tables full of beer, and Reggie would be arm wrestling these loggers and miners and winning these battles (laughs). Reggie would put ’em down.

The Bullies were famous for being as close off the ice as they were on it. Their regular hangout: a South Jersey bar named Rexy’s. 

CLARKE: We practised over in South Jersey and most of the players lived in South Jersey. In those days you practised, and you went and had a couple of beers and lunch. And Rexy’s was on our way home. It was a working man’s bar and restaurant. Just worked perfect for us. Every day. And we’d go after games.

JOE WATSON: That was an unwritten rule. You had to be there for an hour or 45 minutes hanging around with the guys, then you could depart with your friends or wherever you wanted to go. The guy that owned Rexy’s, Pat Fietto, had to expand it five times because of the Broad Street Bullies. He just had such big business there and it was hard to get in the parking lot. People were standing outside waiting for us to come in. It was really a warm feeling going in there because you know you had all the support of the fans whether you won or lost. We normally won, so that was nice, but the support was overwhelming, and when we went there we could never buy a drink. Somebody would always buy you a drink or your food.

After the Flyers won back-to-back Cups, they continued winning as many games as, if not more than, any other team outside of Montreal. But their biggest fright may have come in January of 1976, when they played the final game of the NHL’s series against the mighty Soviet Red Army team that had gone undefeated against the Rangers, Canadiens and Bruins. Given the political tensions of the Cold War, the fear was that the Flyers would lose at the old Spectrum and the NHL would be humiliated. But the Flyers weren’t playing for the league.

KELLY: When (then NHL president) Clarence Campbell and his group walked in and said, “We’ve got to beat the Russians for the sake of the National Hockey League, we’ve got to do this, this and this,” it was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, get out of here.” We’ll do the best we can for our fans and for ourselves before we worry what the NHL thinks about us. The pride was in ourselves. They didn’t need to give us a pep rally. Clarkie hated the Russians then and hates them even more today, I think. 

CLARKE: It was meaningful because we were Stanley Cup champs and they were outplaying and beating most of the NHL teams they played. It was kind of like us representing the NHL against the Soviets. And it wasn’t even a close game. The Russians accused us of hitting and being violent, but there was hardly any of that. They were just scared.

JIMMY WATSON: Freddy said, “Look, they’re just going to pass the puck all over the place, and we’re just going to stand there. We’re not going to chase them down. They’re going to try and pull us out of position, but we’re going to be very disciplined. They made about five or six passes on the opening faceoff. We just all kind of stood there and nobody moved. They frankly didn’t know what to do. We weren’t falling for it. So Freddy had us very well prepared for that.

PARENT: Make no mistake, those guys were very talented. But throughout the games, nobody would hit them. And Freddy made the point that you have to hit those guys between the two bluelines. You can be a great player, but if you know somebody is going to clobber you, you might not play exactly the same. That’s what we did. We didn’t play dirty, but we played a tough physical game with them. They weren’t accustomed to this and that made a big difference in that game.

The Flyers stymied and frustrated the Soviets to the point that, after a hit on star forward Valeri Kharlamov, they retreated to their dressing room.

CLEMENT: I know one thing hardly anybody knows: the Russians were intimidated by the Flyers before they got to Philadelphia. I’ll tell you how I knew: Before our game against the Red Army, the Soviet Wings team played NHL teams on their tour and they played in Pittsburgh. And the Atlanta Flames were playing in Pittsburgh against the Penguins one of those nights, and they stayed in a hotel – the same hotel as the Red Army team. And Kurt Bennett, who I played with in Atlanta was there. Bennett had studied Russian at Brown University, and he said, ‘I knew what they said, I knew they were intimidated by the Flyers.’ I said, ‘Well, how do you know that?’ He said, ‘Well, when I was talking to them all they wanted to know about was Schultz and Kelly and Saleski’, and they just kept going over all the names and wanting Kurt to tell them about them: How big is (this Flyer)? Is (that Flyer) a really tough guy? You know, all those things. So there’s no question the Flyers reputation had worked itself into the Soviet Red Army’s locker room long before the team arrived.

KELLY: I don’t believe we intimidated to them to the point they had to leave the ice. We just totally destroyed their whole game plan. They had obviously reviewed tape on us, and we didn’t play anywhere close to the same style against them as we did against the NHL teams. They were kind of robotic. They were waiting for us to break down, run all over the ice and chase them, and we wouldn’t do that. I think that and the hitting just totally frustrated them when they had to go back into their room and come up with something. I don’t think we intimidated them physically; I think we disoriented them by not doing what they expected us to do. 

All in all, the Broad Street Bullies legend endures because of their toughness, their colorful characters and the wild-and-woolly era in which they played, but it all would’ve been an orange-and-black sideshow without wins. The Flyers had plenty of those, too. And when considering the sum of their legacy, that’s what scared opponents the most.

PARENT: We had three players who ended up in the Hall of Fame. Not too many people talk about this. We had players who were willing to pay the price to make something happen.

CLEMENT: One of the most underrated things about our team was how hard we worked. The majority of our players were really hard workers, so as long as we applied ourselves in a work ethic sense, a lot of the times we won based on the pride we had for having that ability to perhaps intimidate some of the teams that came in.

JOE WATSON: Mayhem was part of our team, and I guess that’s part of the intimidation that we carried for those years when we were doing what we were doing. I know we weren’t given a lot of credit for what we were doing, but you know the end result is, the ultimate thing is to win. Doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win. And that’s the way we looked at it. It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And we looked at it that they’re trying to take money out of our pockets, we’re trying to take money out of their pockets, so may the best man win, and we did that pretty consistently.

DORNHOEFER: There are stories of teams coming into Philadelphia, that they were thinking about the contact that was going to be administered against them. There were some teams, when they came through the Spectrum, they didn’t want any part of it. They knew they were going to get hammered. And so that intimidation, that physical style really helped.

SNIDER: Whenever the league had an opportunity, they wanted to suspend this guy or that guy. We were constantly fighting with the league office. But the point is that those rules, who set them? Who said you were limited to one policeman? Who said you even had to have a policeman? Who said fighting was allowed in hockey? We didn’t break any rules. We just enhanced them.

CLARKE: It was the old ‘Us Against The World’ theory. The refs are trying to screw us, the league was trying to screw us, but screw them, we’ll beat them anyway.

SCHULTZ: Yeah, we were tough. Yeah, we didn’t take any crap. Yeah, we had some brawls and all that. But those brawls were, in my opinion, just as much initiated by the opposition as they were by us. I think people forget we had a great team. We didn’t win because we fought. We deserved what we earned.

An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Nov. 3, 2014 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Subscribe here.

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An Oral History of the Broad Street Bully-era Philadelphia Flyers