As a century of slugfests comes to an end, and we open the book on a new millennium of melon mashing, it seems a good time to give props to the greatest gang of hockey goons of the last hundred years. There have been many fine groups of rink ruffians over the seasons, but the Philadelphia Flyers, known as the Broad Street Bullies in their heyday, once assembled the most intimidating collection of thugs in hockey history. Their success speaks for itself.
It’s been quite a while, but back in the day, you couldn’t find a tougher team than the one Philly put on the ice night after night. Recognized as the single most fearful franchise in professional sports, the Bullies, as they were called from the early ’70s to the late ’80s, played with a fire and reckless abandon that kept the opposition second-guessing every move they made.
Get your stick up on a Flyer, any Flyer, and you’d have to answer to scud-thrower Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, arguably the most celebrated ass-kicker in the annals of the NHL. And if that wasn’t enough of a deterrent, Schultzie was backed up by a long and lethal list of accomplished assassins such as Bob Kelly, Dave Hoyda, Paul Holmgren, Mel Bridgman, Frank Bathe, and Don Saleski, to name just a few. Hell, opponents didn’t even have to lay out a Flyer in order to get a close encounter with a Philly hit man—for Philadelphia, goonery was the gameplan. Lay down the law early on and the opposition ended up playing on their heels, looking to react instead of initiate. The Flyers were repeatedly involved in bench-clearing brawls, leading the league to institute stricter rules concerning full-scale donnybrooks.
And just how did Philadelphia’s brawling, back-alley style of play pan out for the team? How about five division titles (including four consecutive), four Stanley Cup Finals appearances (including three consecutive), and back-to-back championships (1973-74 and 1974-75) during the ’70s? From ’72 through ’78, the Flyers made it to at least the semifinals every year—not a bad track record, to be sure.
As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, things didn’t change much, except for the names and numbers on the players doling out the punishment. Glen Cochrane, Dave Richter, Don Nachbaur, Darryl Stanley, Ron and Rich Sutter, Lindsay Carson, Dave Brown, Rick Tocchet, Craig Berube, and Terry Carkner all donned the orange and black at one time or another during the decade, and Flyer-style hockey remained the same: drop the gloves first, ask questions later. Although the Bullies never brought the Cup back to Broad Street, success was a constant throughout the ’80s, with four division titles and two Finals appearances.
While relatively timid during the ’90s, the Flyers have fielded a squad reminiscent of years gone by for the 1999-2000 season. Accomplished enforcers Sandy McCarthy and Craig Berube were picked up late last season by Flyer brass, who were fed up with their club rolling over in the playoffs to stronger, more physical teams. The 1-2 punch of Berube-McCarthy is ably backed up by Luke Richardson, Chris Therien, and even superstar Eric Lindros—each ready, willing, and able to get it on at the drop of a glove.
Now the Flyers have one of the biggest, strongest teams on the circuit, and they seem determined to make another run at Lord Stanley sooner rather than later. A recent home-and-home series with the Toronto Maple Leafs illustrated that the old-school Flyer style is back, as the two teams racked up multiple fighting majors and raised the on-ice temperature a bit with a full-scale, five-on-five brawl. Will they ultimately hoist the championship chalice once again? Only time will tell, but you better keep your head up while you wait. Until next time, see ya in the sin bin!
More of the season’s best battles to date:
Dec. 10 Jason Strudwick (van) vs. Cale Hulse (cal)
Only two minutes in, these two ruffians are already swinging away! Calgary-Vancouver happens to be one of the league’s lesser-known rivalries, but you can bet on gloves a-droppin’ and fists a-poppin’ any time they cross paths on the frozen pond. Both bruisers get in their shots, but Strudwick takes the decision on points by outduelling Hulse in the long run.
Dec. 17 Mike Eagles (was) vs. Todd Harvey (nyr)
A slight surprise here as Rangers’ heart-and-soul Harvey (since traded away) gets dropped to the ice face-first by an Eagles left hand that lands right on the button. Eagles is pretty tough for a little guy, but how much respect can you have for a guy who throws ’em while wearing a face shield? Hey Mike: Lose the Plexiglas!
Dec. 22 Sandy McCarthy (phi) vs. Krystoff Oliwa (nj)
They don’t get any bigger or badder than these two behemoths, who have fought before and will no doubt fight again as their teams’ main mallet-throwers. A give-and-take affair here as they each hit the bull’s-eye with heavy rights and lefts. A pretty even dustup in the end, with the Sandy-man getting the slight nod on points.
Dec. 23 Ryan Vandenbussche (chi) vs. Jamie Pushor (dal)
Bob Probert (chi) vs. Grant Marshall (dal)
Well, well, well, how about a double dip? Vandenbussche and Pushor get things going with their own version of punch-the-clown—Vandenbussche taking the decision from a game-yet-overmatched Pushor. But it’s just a stagesetter for the main event, as living legend Probert really brings ’em to their feet in Chi-town with a classic haymaker-fest versus Marshall less than 30 seconds after the undercard. Marshall gets in his share, but in the end Proby is just too much, thumping away until Marshall can take no more.
Dec. 23 Jeff Odgers (col) vs. Rob Ray (buf)
That this one turns into a rock ’em-sock ’em slugfest is no surprise as these two toughies are well-known for their toe-to-toe approach to fisticuffs. Odgers has no equal in the heart department and proves it here by outlasting the rambunctious Ray in a center-ice free-for-all.
Dec. 26 Dennis Bonvie (pit) vs. Ryan Vandenbussche (chi)
Straight off the set of Slapshot 2 comes Bonvie, ready to draw and fire at a moment’s notice. More than willing to oblige the Pens’ pugnacious prizefighter is Hawk he-man Vandenbussche, and the two titans get it on with a do-si-do that sees Bonvie taking the decision—barely—in one of the year’s best so far.
Dec. 27 Peter Worrell (fla) vs. Reid Simpson (tb)
Worrell is back from a long stint on the Panthers’ injured list, and Simpson is back from a season-opening stay in the IHL before gaining a second life by being traded to the Lightning. Put ’em in the same rink and whaddya get? A center-ice soiree, of course! In the finale of a fight-filled affair, Florida style, Worrell is just too big for Simpson, repeatedly finding the range with a right-hand haymaker, much to Reid’s dismay.
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