With an invigorated style of play that brings to mind the old days of hockey hijinks in Philadelphia, the present day Flyers have surged into the NHL playoff hunt. Thanks in large part to a familiar new coach, and a revisiting to the rambunctious brand of hockey that brought the franchise its only Stanley Cups back in the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, Flyer fans are proud once again to don the orange and black. Their team’s old school—and newly successful—game is a combo of elbows hitting under the chin and pucks hitting the back of the net.
When the Flyers were known as sports’ baddest bad boys back in the ’70s, legendary sluggers like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Andre “Moose” Dupont, Bob “Hound Dog” Kelly, Paul Holmgren, and Mel Bridgman did the damage—intimidating the opposition with nothing but brute force. This, in turn, allowed the Flyers’ skill players like Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber to roam the rink unhindered and pile up the goals.
Flash to the present and, surprise surprise, you’ve got Clarke as the club GM and his buddy Barber as the team’s new coach, a winning arrangement thus far. Annually touted as one of the league’s most talented teams—on paper, at least—during the Eric Lindros era, Philadelphia has fallen frustratingly short of their much-forecasted championship. Instead, the team usually bows out softly, with No. 88 acting more as hindrance than hero. By mid December, Clarke had had enough, and handed the helm of the Flyer ship to Barber, the former Flyer captain who still holds the team record for career goals with 420.
Together, Clarke and Barber have instilled their old-school attitude on this year’s squad. The Flyers have dropped the mitts 17 times since Barber took over, a much more active pace than their pre-Barber total of 13 fights over the season’s first 12 weeks. And fists-and-mayhem have proven to be a winning mix once again, as the Flyers’ 7-2-5 record under Barber indicates. Of those 14 games, Philadelphia’s foot soldiers have had fights in eight of them, including punch-filled games against rival New Jersey (four fights on December 16), Florida (four fights on December 27), and Tampa Bay (three fights on December 28), all victories.
Throwing haymakers these days for Philly are seasoned scrappers like Luke Richardson and Chris McAllister, rookie renegade Todd Fedoruk, and the newly acquired P.J. Stock, who’s become the team’s main nuisance for the competition. Time will tell whether or not this team can parlay its recent rash of success into a long-term run in the playoffs, but for now this balance between skill and brawn has revived the state of hockey in Philadelphia, and gotten fans back in the mood.
Until next time, see ya in the Sin Bin!
More of the season’s best bouts to date:
Nov. 29 Sandy McCarthy (nyr) vs. Jim McKenzie (nj)
Good friends off the ice, heated rivals on it; these veteran pugilists have met before. Devil dinger McKenzie takes this matchup, landing with both the right and left on the receptive Ranger McCarthy.
Dec. 20 Reed Low (stl) vs. Brad Brown (nyr)
A center-ice showdown at Madison Square Garden sees the youngster Brown get off early and pop rookie ruffian Low in the mug more than once. The Blues bad boy is sent off for a handful of stitches and some ice for his eye, which is nearly swelled shut.
Dec. 21 Tie Domi (tor) vs. Ken Belanger (bos)
True heavyweights toe the line in this main event. Belanger stands a head taller than Domi, but the Maple Leaf masher gets inside and does his thing late to take home yet another win over a bigger opponent.
Dec. 23 Donald Brashear (van) vs. Scott Parker (col)
They don’t get any bigger or tougher than these two titans, who go at it early and often in this matchup. Both can land big time blows—and they do—but Brashear’s edge in speed gets him the close decision in an entertaining stroll down sin bin way.
Dec. 28 Luke Richardson (phi) vs. Kyle Freadrich (tb)
Freadrich is huge, standing over 6-7. But Luke has him right where he wants him—down on the ice—and quick, as a solid right uppercut finds the mark and splits the Lightning giant above the right eye.
Dec. 28 Stu Grimson (la) vs. Reid Simpson (stl)
In the year’s most devastating one-puncher, King Grimson crowns Simpson with a whopping right-hand bomb, leaving the Blues bashee seeing double, streaming scarlet, and wondering exactly what year it is, anyway.
Jan. 2 P.J. Stock (phi) vs. Turner Stevenson (nj)
Stevenson’s got a big size advantage on Stock, but what does that matter? P.J. is almost always outsized in the ice ring. It’s a draw as both get in a few good shots in an energetic encounter behind the net.
Jan. 5 Todd Fedoruk (phi) vs. Steve Staios (atl)
This mismatch ends with Fedoruk snickering on his way to the sin bin after beating a crimson tattoo into the face of Staios. The Thrasher thrashee is left slurring the words “I am not an animal” after his right eye swells into a grapefruit.
Jan. 6 Derek Morris & Jeff Cowan (cal) vs. Kelly Buchberger & Ian LaPerriere (la)
A daring double-dose of dome denting as the Flame youngster Morris shows vet Buchberger a couple of his digits up close, and then LaPerriere evens the score with a flailing left hand on Calgary’s Cowan.
Jan 6 Jim McKenzie (nj) vs. Sandy McCarthy (nyr)
Another couple of rounds from this pair of pummelers gets the Garden faithful out of their seats early . . . and slightly later, too, as the “good friends” meet in the ice ring not once but twice in the contest’s first period. In the end, McKenzie earns another decision in this crosstown collision.