O Canada, Flyers stood on guard for Cup

Don Cherry's wet dream.

Don Cherry’s wet dream.

Toronto Kampf and Cage Liner

At first, Terry Crisp didn’t believe it.

Then he Googled the roster of his 1974-75 Philadelphia Flyers, on a hockey data base where birthplaces of each player are represented by that country’s flag.

“Top to bottom, all of them had the maple leaf,” Crisp said. “So it’s very true, we were the last all-Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup. You weren’t thinking that (45 years ago Wednesday when they won the second of consecutive titles), but you do now. What a point of pride for all the Flyers.”

Yes, amid the ‘Cradle of the Nation’, where God Bless America ruled the rink and the Spectrum was a good 640 kilometres away from the nearest northern border point, a full-blooded Canadian lineup ranked as high in Philly as Rocky Balboa atop the Art Museum steps. Counting management and coaches, going coast to coast, the Flyers had two British Columbians, three Albertans, five from Saskatchewan, four Manitobans, nine Ontarians, including Parry Sound’s Crisp, and three Quebecois.

“Modern era players and fans might not (appreciate) that, having grown up with the European influences,” Crisp said. “It started with Borje Salming, then all the Swedes and Russians in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Then American hockey got stronger and the NCAA was churning out players.

“We were Canadian, though mainly we were a good match, a blue collar team in a blue collar city that was dying for a championship. And we won two of them.”

Only eight years old before that first title, the Flyers weren’t even on the radar for NHL expansion. But when original owner Ed Snider heard rival cities such as Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington were being considered among six new entries, he hustled up the $2 million franchise fee. He worked a last-minute deal with the Mayor to save a small footprint for an arena where Philly’s new football and baseball stadiums were being built.

General manager Bud Poile choose the name Flyers from the minor league team he’d coached in Edmonton, while he and Saskatoon-born coach Keith Allen did extensive scouting prior to the ‘67 expansion draft. Their haul included Ed Van Impe, Joe Watson, Gary Dornhoefer and Bernie Parent, bedrock for the two Cups (Parent was traded to the Leafs and then retained).

After the Flyers were out-muscled in early years by another new team, the St. Louis Blues, they gravitated to a more roughhouse mentality, around the time Winnipeg’s Fred Shero became their coach in 1971. Shero would come in for much criticism as the Flyers turned fighting and intimidation into a weapon that many teams across the continent emulated in the following decade. But using Soviet hockey Anatoly Tarasov’s cookbook with Canadian ingredients, he always maintained tenacious team work, not terror, made the orange and black so lethal.  “It didn’t hurt we were the Broad St. Bullies,” Crisp laughed. “But what we could really beat you with was skill. You wanna fight us, fine. But that left Bobby Clarke, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach and Ross Lonsberry open.”

After being acquired from the New York Islanders in 1972, six-year NHL veteran centre Crisp was called into ‘Freddy the Fog’s’ office.

“Fred says ‘I’m putting the pieces together for a certain game plan. We’re not all created equal, so you’re not getting as much ice time as Clarke’. I looked him in the eye, thinking he can’t be serious. I considered myself a scorer. But you know, he was right. He put Bill Clement and I out there to kill penalties and with all the calls against us, we had lots of ice time. It got so enjoyable for me I’d yell at the ref if Bill Barber or anyone on our team tripped somebody and there was no penalty.”

Crisp reflected that within the Flyers’ Canadian shield were regional rivalries that kept the dressing room loose.

“You had the Watson brothers (Joe and Jim) from Smithers, B.C. You had the strong farm boys from the Prairies who’d lifted all those bales of hay when they were younger. And come on, who’d ever heard of Flin Flon, Manitoba? Yet we’d found Clarkie there.

“Western players would all talk about how good the hockey was out there, then Bernie would stand up and say ‘yeah, but you can’t do it without a French Canadian goalie’. Moose Dupont would chime in with Bernie, then the Ontario guys; me, Barber, Dornhoefer and The Hound (Bob Kelly) got into it. There was some great kibitzing.”

The Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Cup, beating the Rangers in a seven-game semi-final and defeating the Boston Bruins in ‘74.

“I was always most proud of that first Cup, that we’d beat the big boys from an Original Six team with Orr and Esposito,” Crisp said. “I think the only other guy on our team who’d ever won a Cup to then was Ted Harris with the Canadiens.

“Being in Philly then was like being in Utopia. But people said, ‘aw, they were just lucky’. So the second time we won, it was a vengeance mission from the very start to prove ‘em wrong.”

The Flyers had to survive another seven-game semi, nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead to the Islanders before getting past the Buffalo Sabres in six games.

While the grateful town hung a Flyers’ sweater on William Penn’s statue over City Hall, the team also inspired a huge following in their home and native land. Those frustrated with the Leafs, sworn opponents of the Habs and with the Canucks not yet contenders, became big Flyers fans, especially in the West. To this day, their visits to Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton draw an old guard audience.

“You choose the identity of a team when you’re probably 6-to-9 years old,” middle-aged Rick LeFort of Saskatchewan told NBC Sports at a 2018 Oilers game. “At my age, I cheered for the Bullies; Clarke, (penalty king) Dave Schultz and so forth. I moved to Manitoba years later, where the connections are Bobby and Reggie Leach.”

Shero, meanwhile, made sure the Flyers never strayed from the script. He pinned stern notes on the ceiling of the team meeting room to make sure they were paying attention, knowing bored players would eventually look up there.

Sensing they needed to digest some humble pie one day, Shero hauled a full pail of water to the middle of the dressing room. He told MacLeish to roll up his sleeve and stick his elbow in for a few moments, then remove it.

“Now look at the hole in the water,” Shero told him.

“What hole?” the puzzled MacLeish asked.

“Exactly,” Shero replied, glancing around the room. “That’s how much we’d miss you if you were gone.”

But a big part of the Flyers story was their enduring bond off the ice. Shero would forewarn the players wives at training camp there’d be a lot of absenteeism due to team ‘meetings’ after practice and right through spring, but that the fame and playoff bonuses would make their sacrifices worthwhile.

“If there was going to be a party at someone’s house,” Crisp said, “Schultz would go around to every guy in the dressing room in that voice and say ‘you’d better be there and stay at least an hour, no exceptions’.

“But every time there was a larger team function, Mr. and Mrs. Snider made sure wives, girlfriends and families all came. First line, fourth line, it didn’t matter, you were made to feel like a valuable part of the team.

“We’re still like that. I’m in Nashville (as an analyst for the Predators), but many of the guys retired in the Philly area and if there’s an event, we all come back. A whole bunch of us were just on a Zoom call the other day that they’re streaming for the fans. Bernie was breaking us up, just like the old days.

“An all-Canadian Cup team will probably never be duplicated.”

Stanley Cup was elusive to players

The back-to-back all-Canadian champion Flyers never got the chance to bring the Stanley Cup to the Great White North.

In the days before each player was allowed a day with the trophy, Terry Crisp barely recalls seeing it after the dressing room celebration.

“We did have it poolside one day at someone’s house,” he recalled. “But I never had a day with it. Heck, I won it again in 1989 (as coach of the Calgary Flames) and didn’t get it then, either. The way I see it, the NHL owes me three days with the Cup.

“If I did get it, it’s automatic I’d take it to St. Marys (Ont.) where I started playing (Jr. B) and maybe home to Parry Sound.”

After their two Cups, the Flyers lost the 1976 final to the Canadiens. The Habs had Rick Chartraw on their roster, a Venezuelan-born, American raised defenceman/forward who ended the all-Canadian dominance of Cup rosters to date. The face of the NHL had already changed.

“It was unfortunate the way Europeans were treated when they first came over,” Crisp said. “That was a bad attitude on our part, inflamed by the press talking about them coming here to take Canadian and American jobs.

“That’s why I have so much more respect for a guy such as Borje Salming. On Philadelphia, we threw everything at him, he took it and gave it back.”

Flyers 1974-75 roster

Player Pos. Birth Date Hometown

Bill Barber LW July 11, 1952 Callander, Ont.

Tom Bladon D Dec.  29, 1952 Edmonton, Alta.

Bobby Clarke C Aug. 13, 1949 Flin Flon, Man.

Bill Clement C Dec. 20, 1950, Buckingham, Que.

Terry Crisp C May 28, 1943  Parry Sound, Ont.

Gary Dornhoefer RW Feb 2, 1943 Kitchener, Ont.

Andre Dupont D July 27, 1949 Trois-Rivieres, Que.

Larry Goodenough D Jan. 19, 1953 Toronto, Ont.

Ted Harris D July 18, 1936 Winnipeg, Man.

Bob Kelly LW November 25, 1950, Oakville, Ont.

Orest Kindrachuk C September 14, 1950 Nanton, Alta.

Reggie Leach RW April 23, 1950 Riverton, Man.

Ross Lonsberry LW February 7, 1947 Watson, Sask.

Rick MacLeish LW January 3, 1950, Cannington, Ont.

Bernie Parent G April 3, 1945 Montreal, Que.

Don Saleski RW Nov. 10, 1949 Moose Jaw, Sask.

Dave Schultz LW October 14, 1949 Waldheim, Sask.

Wayne Stephenson G January 29, 1945, Fort William, Ont.

Bobby Taylor G January 24, 1945 Calgary, Alta.

Ed Van Impe D May 27, 1940 Saskatoon, Sask.

Jimmy Watson D August 19, 1952 Smithers, B.C.

Joe Watson D July 6, 1943, Smithers, B.C.

GM Keith Allen Aug. 21, 1923 Saskatoon, Sask.

Coach Fred Shero  Oct. 23, 1925, Winnipeg, Man.

Assistant Barry Ashbee July 28, 1939, Weston Ont

Assistant Mike Nykoluk Dec. 11, 1934, Toronto, Ont.