Hockey’s Coldest War: Part II
Read Part I of Ed Gruver’s story here.
When the Broad Street Bullies faced off against the Red Army team at the height of the Cold War, more than a quarter of a billion people tuned in for the collision of hockey superpowers
BY ED GRUVER
At the height of his team’s reign of terror over the NHL, Philadelphia Flyers captain Bobby Clarke delivered a chilling message to the rest of the league: If you’re going to beat us, you’re going to pay a big price.
The Broad Street Bullies
Many NHL players weren’t willing to pay the price that beating the Broad Street Bullies demanded, and they developed what became known as the Philly Flu. It was a mysterious malady that at the height of the Bullies’ heyday afflicted even the most rugged rink rats. To opponents, arriving at the Spectrum was like arriving at the gates of Hell.
“We were proud of guys coming down with the Philly Flu because that meant they were intimidated before they even stepped foot in our building,” Flyers forward Dave “The Hammer” Schultz said in Ross Bernstein’s book, The Code: The Unwritten Rules of Fighting and Retaliation in the NHL.
“I used to hear stories from opposing players when they would have to come into Philly to play us at the Spectrum. They would all be laughing and joking on the bus from the airport until they got to the Walt Whitman Bridge, then the entire bus would go silent. The big joke was that they would pull up to the arena and turn off the engine, only the bus would keep shaking.”
The Philly Flu was no joke to NHL insiders.
“The Philly Flu was a real thing, and guys did not want to play them,” Glen Sonmor, a physical player in the NHL of the 1950s, said in The Code. “They won with fear and opposing players were truly scared of them.”
“We used to hear about the Philadelphia Flu,” NHL referee Ray Scampinella wrote in his book Between the Lines. “I’m not sure if anyone ever claimed injury or illness so they wouldn’t have to play Philly, but I’m sure they thought about it. It was said the visiting dressing room was the quietest dressing room in sports – a lot of nerves.”
The Flyers’ harsh treatment of visitors extended to referees as well. Scampinello recalled throwing Bobby Clarke out of a face-off in one game.
“Just drop the puck,” Clarke growled. “Nobody f—king came here to watch you tonight.”
Intimidation through aggression was a big gun in the Bullies’ arsenal, but it wasn’t their lone weapon. The Stanley Cup champions boasted some sterling talent. Clarke, left winger Bill Barber and goalie Bernie Parent were future NHL Hall of Famers. Tutored by the great Jacques Plante, Parent was the league’s best goaltender in 1974 and ’75 when he won the Vezina Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy both seasons. Many consider those two campaigns the finest back-to-back seasons by a goalie in NHL history. Parent punctuated both years with Stanley Cup-clinching shutouts of Hall of Famers Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and the Big Bad Bruins in ’74 and Buffalo’s famed French Connection Line of Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault and all-stars Rene Robert and Rick Martin in ’75.
Right wing Reggie Leach, who led the champs in goals in 1975 with 45, was considered by opponents in a poll taken at the time by Hockey Digest to have one of the NHL’s best slap shots. Second-line center Rick MacLeish, second on the team in ’75 with 38 goals, was said to own the best wrist shot and quickest release. Even enforcers like Schultz were capable of scoring 20 goals in a season, as The Hammer did in the 1973-74 campaign.
In 1976, the Flyers were fronted by their LCB Line – Leach, Clarke and Barber – which set an NHL record for goals that season with 141. Clarke claimed his third Hart Trophy – and second in a row — as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player in ’76 and the Flyers skated to the best record (51-13-16) in franchise history.
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers
It was an enigmatic team fronted by an enigmatic coach — Freddy “The Fog” Shero. It was a nickname Shero detested, but it was attributed to him due to his detached personality, quirky quotes – “People generally get what’s coming to them, unless it has been mailed” – and because his “system” was beyond the grasp of fellow coaches.
“The legacy of my father should be as an innovator,” Ray Shero, Pittsburgh Penguins Executive Vice President and General Manager, said in an email. “I believe he was ahead of his time in many facets of the game on and off the ice: the first assistant coach in ’72; video; off-ice training. … He made a positive mark on the game.
“People know the fighting of the Flyers, but St. Louis and Boston were fighting, too. The (Bullies) had an image, but they had good players. I’m sure he’s proud to say that he was a true ‘player’s coach.’ I think his players wanted to play for him. They played hard for him and they won.”
The Flyers won in large part because Fred Shero developed a systemized approach that saw his team working in cohesive five-man units, a strategy he borrowed from the father of Soviet hockey, Anatoly Tarasov.
“I figured if the Russians could use complete five-man units with defensemen who were used to a certain forward line, we could,” Shero told Hockey Pictorial in 1977. “Then it dawned on me to make everyone on the team able to drop into any of those positions. Everyone became interchangeable, based on the center or the defense combination.”
Once he grasped Tarasov’s methods, Shero built a system based not on ad-lib shooting but on finely-honed units employing a disciplined approach to basic defensive hockey. Writer Frank Orr explained in a 1976 edition of Hockey Illustrated:
“The defensemen stand up at the blue line, the back-checking wingers turn opposition attacks towards the middle of the ice and the team never is outnumbered in its own zone. The Flyers have set patterns to working the puck out of their own zone and forechecking it in the attacking zone.”
In addition, the Flyers became the first NHL team to employ a full-time assistant coach – Mike Nykoluk – and also the first to undergo in-season conditioning, study game films and have a morning skate. Revolutionary ideas, but all long since adopted by NHL teams.
From a technical standpoint, the Shero System was less mysterious than the man whose name it bore. It involved three main parts: forechecking in the opponent’s end; a five-man system of interchangeable players; and physical play. The basic tenets were a calculated use of violence and disciplined positional play.
“There are four corners in a rink and there are two pits, one in front of each net,” Shero said at the time. “To win a game, you’ve got to win the corners and the pits. You give punishment there and you take it, which is why we have more fights than most teams.”
Some believed the Bullies would be victimized by their own brawling brand of hockey. “The more they hit the more tired they get,” Montreal Canadiens road-runner Yvan Cournoyer told Hockey magazine in its December 1974. “By playoff time, the Flyers will be exhausted from their checking.”
The Flyers’ physical play would have indeed worn them down had Shero not also believed in another revolutionary idea: Short shifts for his players. At a time when superstars like Boston’s Phil Esposito could be on the ice for as long as four minutes at a time, the Flyers skated in one-minute shifts.
“I want the players to skate like hell,” Shero said then, “and then get off the ice.”
Shero, who made a pilgrimage to the Soviet Union following the Flyers’ Cup victory in 1974 to study the intricacies of Russian hockey, borrowed several tactics of the Soviet game. While the rest of the NHL was practicing the old “take the puck behind your net” system, Shero’s Flyers adopted the Soviet system of quick counter-attacks, rapidly moving the puck to the open man rather than wasting time setting up behind their net.
The Shero System was disparaged by some. Howie Meeker, the squeaky voiced analyst for Hockey Night in Canada during the 1970s, scoffed at the notion that Shero had learned from the Russians. Former Detroit Red Wings all-star Ted Lindsay agreed.
“Fred Shero likes to talk about the influence of the Russians on his system,” Lindsay told Hockey Illustrated in 1976. “But in watching his team play, I’d say he’s been influenced a helluva lot more by Hap Day.”
Clarence “Hap” Day guided the Toronto Maple Leafs to four Stanley Cups from 1947-51. The Leafs employed a clutch-and-grab style that emphasized positioning. Four, and at times five, Leaf players lined up along the blue line awaiting the opponents’ attack. Day augmented his disciplined defense with intimidation tactics, carried out by enforcers like Wild Bill Ezinicki.
Shero, a serious student of the game, acknowledged that he borrowed as much from Hap Day as he did from Anatoly Tarasov.
“We don’t do anything the Toronto Maple Leafs of the late Forties didn’t do,” Shero told Hockey Pictorial in 1977. “Oh, perhaps a few little refinements, but basically we do the same thing. We send one man in to forecheck – usually the center – and the wings peel back and pick up their wings along the boards. If the opposition forces their way out they have to make perfect passes or we will intercept them.”
Once Shero’s strategies succeeded in wearing out Bruins’ superstar Bobby Orr in the 1974 Finals and shackling Buffalo’s famed “French Connection” line in the ’75 Finals, opposing coaches took heed.
“The Montreal Canadiens play more interesting hockey but the Flyers will keep on winning because their system is one which takes advantage of the other team’s mistakes and uses those mistakes to beat you,” Sabres coach Floyd Smith told Hockey Pictorial in 1977. “The Flyers don’t really try to score themselves, they just wait for a mistake in the other guy’s end and then capitalize on it.”
By 1976, even the free-wheeling Montreal Canadiens, bossed by Scotty Bowman, were using a modified version of Shero’s System. So, too, were the Bruins’ Don Cherry and the Islanders’ Al Arbour. Combined, the Canadiens and Islanders went on to build dynasties that resulted in four Cup titles apiece in the next eight years, and the Canadiens, Isles and Bruins together appeared in 11 Cup Finals from 1976-83.
“There is no doubt we copied much of the system from Shero and the Flyers,” Bowman told Hockey Pictorial in 1977. “We had to copy from Freddy to beat him.”
Added Cherry in the same issue of Hockey Pictorial, “When you look at the Bruins, the Bruins are the Flyers. If I’ve had any success as a coach, it’s because I’ve imitated Freddy Shero.”
Canadiens goalie Ken Dryden had a goalie’s-eye view of the Shero System, and told the Montreal Gazette in 1975 that the more he saw of it the more impressed he was.
“They seem to have specialists for everything,” Dryden said. “They have their scorers, MacLeish, Lonsberry, Barber, Clarke and Leach. They have those defensemen who are impossible to dislodge in front of the net. They have a designated workhorse in (Gary) Dornhoefer who’s as good at his job as anybody. They have their designated fighters like Schultz and Saleski.”
Years later, in his autobiography The Game, Dryden remembered Shero’s Flyers as a “good but limited team,” one that needed a system. “To be effective, they needed to play just one way,” Dryden wrote, “and to play it so well they could overcome any team.”
Shero was a coach ahead of the game. In his celebrated system, every player knew where they were supposed to go and everyone stayed in their positions. It was the first time in NHL history that a style of game had been perfected.
Yet it was the Flyers’ free-swinging ways that garnered the most attention. Battling their way to a second straight Cup title in 1975, the Bullies led the league in penalty minutes with 1,969, an average of nearly 25 per game. Leading the way were Schultz (an NHL record 472 penalty minutes) and Andre “Moose” Dupont (276).
Dupont, a beefy, 6-foot-1, 200-pound defenseman, had no illusions as to why the Flyers brought him up to the big club after he had posted a ridiculously high number of penalty minutes in the Central League.
“They want me to hit,” the Moose told reporters.
Schultz’s mark in 1975 shattered the previous record for penalty minutes (348) he had amassed the year before, and he became the poster boy for the Broad Street Bullies. In his book, The Hammer: Confessions of a Hockey Enforcer, Schultz lamented the amount of brawling he did on the ice. Yet he realized fighting was an integral part of his profession.
“Hockey is a contact sport for men,” Schultz said at the time. “It’s not the Ice Follies.”
“Schultz realizes he doesn’t have speed or skill,” Shero said then. “So what’s he here for? To beat up the other guy.”
The national media took note. Playing on the name of the popular TV series “Mod Squad,” Newsweek dubbed the Flyers the “Mad Squad.” Sports Illustrated called them the “notorious Mean Machine.” Time put the Flyers on its cover and titled its story “War on Ice: Courage and Fear in a Vortex of Violence.”
In his book, A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Hockey, New York Times hockey writer Gerald Eskenazi noted that the trouble with the Flyers is, “they were so good when they began their streak of Stanley Cup victories that their violent nature received more publicity than if they had been an also-ran team.”
There had been other tough teams in NHL history — the Big Bad Bruins of 1969-74, the 1969-72 St. Louis Blues – and ironically it was the Bruins and Blues who were instrumental in the Flyers adopting their muscular style. Fronted by defenseman “Terrible” Teddy Green, the Bruins of the early 1970s were labeled “The Animals.” When they took the ice at Madison Square Garden, New York organist Eddie Layton taunted them with a bouncy version of the song Talk to the Animals. Before there was the Philly Flu there was the Boston Flu, and even Schultz was not immune. Bruin stars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito would seek to intimidate The Hammer by skating up to him and delivering a message: “Hey asshole, the boys are going to get you tonight.”
In the 1969 playoffs, St. Louis’s Plager Bros. – Bob and Barclay – hammered the young Flyers into submission. Not wanting his team to ever be physically intimidated again, Flyers owner Ed Snider instructed his brass to draft bigger, tougher players.
In time, the Flyers employed a bevy of enforcers. Urged by Shero to “take the shortest route to the puck carrier and arrive in ill humor,” intimidators Schultz, Dupont, Bob “Mad Dog” Kelly and Don “Big Bird” Saleski racked up penalty minutes in record numbers while clearing the way for skill players like Clarke, Leach, Barber and MacLeish. The Flyers borrowed from the Bruins and Blues and built a style the NHL had never seen before.
As Stephen Brunt noted in his book Searching For Bobby Orr, when the Big Bad Bruins were at their peak from 1969-72, their individual penalty leaders totaled 125, 131 and 142 minutes in those respective years. They were the NHL’s most feared intimidators, a team despised by the rest of the league for their rough play. But beginning in 1972-73, the Big Bad Bruins were elbowed aside by the Broad Street Bullies, who posted three players with more than 200 penalty minutes, Schultz leading the way with 259.
“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out what we do on the ice,” an embattled Clarke told Sports Illustrated in 1974. “But if we’re so bad, why haven’t they locked us up?”
Amid the furor, the Flyers became big box office for the NHL. They appeared regularly on national TV, sold out arenas in every city and graced the covers of national magazines. Songs about the Broad Street Bullies and about Schultz in particular hit the airwaves. To hockey purists, however, the high-gloss treatment given the league’s bully boys also gave their sport a black eye.
“The Broad Street Bullies were a hugely intimidating team,” Dryden reflected in The Game. “I once saw the admirable and contemptible side by side, the simple, courageous game they played, their discipline and dedication, Bobby Clarke, Bernie Parent, their no-name defense, Fred Shero. It was the way they turned a hockey wasteland into something vibrant and exciting. It wasn’t the brawling and intimidation that finally turned me. It was their sense of impunity. They were bullies. They showed contempt for everyone and everything. They took on the league, its referees and teams; they took on fans, cops, the courts and politicians. They searched out weakness, found it, trampled it, then preened with their cock-of-the-walk swagger — ‘C’mon, ya chicken, I dare ya!’”
It was an approach that helped the Flyers bully their way to the top of the NHL. But there was a new challenge in 1976, and as Schultz remembered in 1999, “The question remained: How were we going to match up against the Soviets?”
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers
Vladislav Tretiak, for one, didn’t seem concerned about the coming showdown. Following an impressive 5-2 win over the Bruins in Boston Garden, a reporter asked the Soviet’s star goalie about facing the Flyers.
“If the Philadelphia Flyers play a fair game,” Tretiak stated with confidence, “then the result will be no worse than tonight’s.”
If by “fair” Tretiak meant non-physical, the Soviets were in for a surprise.
“We don’t like them and they don’t like us,” Kelly told reporters. “It’s going to be a war.”
War on Ice
By the time Bobby Clarke and Alexander Maltsev skated to centre ice for the opening face-off, two warring factions were competing for the future of hockey.
Raging on one flank were the Flyers, aka the Broad Street Bullies, a team that combined skill and savagery in a system so unique it allowed a band of underachievers to twice seize the Stanley Cup.
Rampaging on the other side were the Russians, aka the Red Machine, whose slick skating and pass-oriented approach ruled international hockey.
On top of the tensions created by the conflicting strategies of the two teams, East-West political tensions were crystallizing on Spectrum ice. Both sides wanted to determine not just the world championship, but the superiority of their culture.
Soviet coach Konstantin Loktev and his Red Army players knew what the Broad Street Bullies were all about. The Russians remembered Bobby Clarke’s slash on Valeri Kharlamov four years earlier.
“If you want the people here to be friendly, you will not mention the name of Boo-by Clarke,” interpreter Felix Rosenthal told Sports Illustrated writer Mark Mulvoy on a visit to Moscow in 1975. “Boo-by Clarke is what we call a no-no.”
A cartoon in the official Soviet newspaper Pravda portrayed the Flyers as marauding thugs bearing clubs instead of hockey sticks. Red Army players, however, seemed less than impressed with the Bullies’ belligerent ways.
Defensive strongman Valeri Vasiliev told Toronto Star hockey writer Frank Orr that Montreal was “much the strongest club” in the NHL. “Philadelphia,” Vasiliev opined, “is a much lower rated team.”
Regardless, the Russians remained wary of what awaited them in the Spectrum. When Shero visited the Soviet Union for a coaches’ clinic following the Flyers’ Stanley Cup title in 1974 – The Fog openly campaigning for a showdown series between his Bullies and the Red Army team — he brought back a sheaf of Soviet newspaper clippings about his team and, in particular, about Dave Schultz. When the Red Army and the Flyers gathered at the ill-fated goodwill get-together on the eve of the game, the Soviets studied Schultz at length. On Mulvoy’s trip to Russia, Yakushev had asked about The Hammer.
“This Schultz I keep reading about,” Yakushev said. “Is he really a good fighter?”
Because the Russians were just months away from participating in the Olympics, the Flyers’ rowdy reputation – and the possibility of injuries — was very much on the minds of the Soviets. At the luncheon, an apprehensive Loktev sought out Shero to insure a cleanly-played game.
The Fog grinned.
“Shero told me it was very difficult for him to work with his team because of two players – Bob Kelly and Dave Schultz,” Loktev said in the book The Red Machine: The Soviet Quest to Dominate Canada’s Game. “Shero said he never knew what these two were going to do at any given moment.”
Shero did feel, however, that he knew what the Russians were going to do. The Fog had studied Soviet hockey, had incorporated elements of its system and shown his squad films of the Red Army’s games against the Rangers, Canadiens and Bruins.
“I think it was important for my father (to beat the Soviets) regardless of how the other teams fared,” Ray Shero remembered. “The Russians were another way to judge how good his team was. My father had a long respect for the Russian game, systems, tactics and training.”
A year prior to his Bullies facing the Red Army, The Fog broke down the Soviet style of play in his autobiography, Shero: The Man Behind the System:
“In the last thirty years, since the beginning of the red line, we (in North America) have done nothing in center ice. Every other (NHL) team does the same thing: They get the puck over to the center; if the wings are covered, they shoot it in. The Russians have advanced beyond that stage. Instead of shooting the puck, they will create openings… The Russians are creating openings even in their own zone. They will weave and cut to get away from the wings and create openings.”
Shero told his team to ignore the constant weaving and motion of the Red Army offense. Other NHL clubs had chased the Soviet puck-carrier and been trapped up ice. The Fog borrowed from Hap Day’s Maple Leaf teams and instituted a 1-4 defense – four Flyers set up along the blue line and a fifth — almost always a center, be it Clarke, Rick MacLeish, Terry Crisp or Orest Kindrachuk – pursuing the puck carrier.
Defenseman Joe Watson recalled that it was not the first time Shero employed the 1-4 alignment. “Anytime we had the lead in a game and there were 10 minutes or less to play, we would go to the 1-4,” he said.
“Teams still use it, it’s the ‘trap,’” he said, referring to the famed neutral zone trap used by the New Jersey Devils in their Cup runs in the 1990s. “It’s the same damn thing.”
Ray Shero agreed. “When the (first) puck was dropped, the Red Army won the face-off and proceeded to make three or four tic-tac-toe passes,” he recalled. “But the Flyer forwards never moved. They never got into chasing the puck all day. (It was the Flyers’) form of ‘trap’ for that game.”
In a team meeting, Clarke warned his mates that the Soviets would skate backward into their own zone and try to lure the Flyers out of position while looking for an opening. Patience, Clarke said, was the answer. That, and take the body when the Russians came into the Philadelphia zone.
The way the Flyers figured it, they had to hit the Russians and hit them again every time they had the chance. If they let the Soviets skate around and play with the puck, as the Rangers and Bruins had, the Red Army would roll over them. Hit them, Joe Watson said, and they’ll play like any ordinary hockey team.
Feeling icy toward the Russians, the Flyers were hot for a cold war. Bullies winger Ross Lonsberry promised reporters there would be “some brutal hits out there.”
Unlike Game 6 of the 1974 Finals when Shero inspired his club with a quote for the ages – “Win today and we walk together forever” — encouragement prior to taking the ice against the Soviets came from two unlikely visitors to the Flyers locker room: NHL President Clarence Campbell and the league’s referee-in-chief, Scotty Morrison.
“Look boys,” said Campbell, who was no fan of the Flyers, “our reputation is at stake. You’ve got to win this game.”
Morrison’s message to the Bullies?
“He told us they were going to let us play,” Joe Watson said, the relish in his voice still evident 35 years later.
“I knew,” Schultz said in the 1999 Hockey Digest issue, “this was going to be fun.”
The atmosphere in the Spectrum was electric as game time neared. Amid the dimming of the arena lights for player introductions, a chorus of boos was heaped on the Soviets as the spotlights fell on them. The Soviet anthem, The Internationale, was played to a respectful but chilling silence. The rowdy crowd erupted when a recording of Kate Smith’s God Bless America – a song that had become a talisman for the Bullies – blared throughout the sold-out Spectrum. The cheers were so loud the final words of Smith’s song were drowned out by an ocean of noise.
“I was 13 years old (in 1976) and remember the game well,” Ray Shero said. “(There was) A huge buildup since the Flyers were the last NHL team to play (the Red Army) on their NHL tour. No one had beaten them. The 3-3 game with Montreal was as close as the NHL came.”
The combination of Smith’s song and the Flyers playing on home ice had proved virtually unbeatable during the Bullies’ era. During the 1975-76 season, the Flyers were an NHL-record 36-2-2 at home. Their Cup championship campaigns the previous two seasons saw the Bullies go 32-6-2 and 28-6-5 at the Spectrum. In their three Stanley Cup final seasons from 1974-76, the Flyers were 96-14-9 on home ice.
No game, however, not even their red-hot rivalry with the Rangers or the Stanley Cup finals, meant as much to the Bullies as the Red Army game. Years later, in an interview for a documentary on the game titled “Conflict on Ice,” the impact of the showdown with the Soviets remained foremost to Fred Shero.
“It was the most important event in the Flyers’ history,” he said. “It was a game where there was so much on our shoulders. We had to win-or-else. The NHL and all the hockey fans in the world almost demanded we win because nobody else had beaten (the Red Army) that year. There was so much pressure on our players it was unbelievable.”
Despite being arguably the premier face-off man in the NHL, Clarke lost control of the opening puck to Maltsev. A review of the original broadcast reveals the Red Army immediately employing its elliptical style; skating circles within circles, the Soviets made 11 passes before moving forward. Students of the sport recognized an early trend. Red Army players passed with one thought in mind: Get the puck to a player who is free and in the best position to continue the attack. Statistics at the time revealed that the Russians passed the puck as many as 270 times in a game, almost double the 150 passes NHL teams averaged.
As instructed by Shero, the scrappy Clarke gave chase to forecheck and the rest of the Flyers fell back to their blue line. For the first time since the ’72 Summit Series, the Soviets were greeted by the gap-toothed face chillingly familiar to a generation of NHL players — Bobby Clarke. Future New York Islanders Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier would tell Flyers announcer Gene Hart that Clarke “had that look in his eye, that toothless half-smile, half-sneer that made you feel as though he could stare right inside of you.”
Bottling up the neutral zone, the Bullies did not allow the Soviets to use their signature speed. The Russians had longed to play the Flyers, but they would eventually reach the same exasperation level as NHL stars like Phil Esposito, the Bruins’ top gunner. In the aftermath of the 1974 Stanley Cup loss to the Flyers, Espo lamented the lack of skating room allowed by the Bullies.
“How can you skate,” Espo asked at the time, “if someone is on top of you and hitting you all the time?”
The Flyers planned a similar treatment for the Soviets.
“We’ll show them a real Iron Curtain,” The Fog told his team before the game, and the opening minutes saw the Flyers frustrate the Russians with their 1-4 defense.
“They tried to penetrate our blue line,” Joe Watson recalled, “but couldn’t.”
The Bullies knew the Red Army could carry the puck between the blue lines all night, but it wouldn’t mean a thing unless the Soviets could score. The Flyers had the patience and discipline to wait at their blue line, and they knew the Red Army had to bring the puck to them eventually. Kharlamov and Co. could keep going backwards all they wanted, but they had to come forward at some point to score. Once they started coming forward, the Flyers took them physically, knocked them off the puck, and made certain the Soviets weren’t so eager to come forward again.
Said Schultz in Hockey Digest, “Coach Shero knew what to do: He devised one of his famous systems. He wasn’t going to send us chasing the Soviets around the ice; he wanted us to lay back in the neutral zone and dare the Soviets to skate through us. When they came forward, he wanted us to greet them with ill will. Sparked by the tremendous buildup to the game, the pressure from the league to win, and Kate Smith’s rousing rendition of God Bless America, we came out of the gate flying. We threw a few jarring hits and the Spectrum crowd was whipped into a frenzy.”
Convinced the Soviets were skilled but soft and heeding Shero’s advice to take the body, the Bullies quickly claimed control. Winning the majority of faceoffs, bumping the Russians off the puck and forechecking ferociously, Philadelphia owned a 12-1 advantage in shots on goal midway through the opening period. Had it not been for the startling play of Vladislav Tretiak, the Bullies would have blown the game open early.
NHL players and coaches who had faced Tretiak for the first time in the 1972 Summit Series thought he survived primarily on his superb reflexes. By 1976, however, NHL players and coaches were impressed by how much the Red Army goalie had developed his game. Former Bruins boss Harry Sinden thought Tretiak was playing the angles much better than before. Almost to a man, the Flyers felt that if not for Tretiak, they would have scored in double digits.
“Tretiak was the difference,” Joe Watson remembered. “Otherwise, we would have won 10-1.”
“He’s big,” center Rick MacLeish told reporters, “and covered much territory.”
The Bullies were not only assaulting Tretiak’s net, they were assaulting his defenders as well. Boris Mikhailov had his face massaged by the gloved hand of Dave Schultz one minute, then had Moose Dupont’s stick waved menacingly under his nose the next. The midsections of Maltsev and Boris Alexandrov felt the educated handiwork of Ed Van Impe. A review of one particularly damaging 16-second sequence shows Dupont leveling Alexander Gusev at the Flyers’ blue line, Bill Barber sending Vasiliev flying in the corner and then turning and knocking Valeri Kharlamov head-over-skates with an elbow along the boards. In the most telling sequence of all, Kharlamov felt Clarke’s stick rapping against his ankles, a chilling reminder of their 1972 encounter.
The Russians responded in kind. The Soviets shied away from body checks and brawling, but they were not above using questionable tactics. By all accounts, the Soviets were slick and quick and knew how to trick.
“They were pretty violent as far as stick work,” Al Sims, an NHL defenseman who played against the Russians in the 1970s, said in The Code. Sims recalled the Russians using their sticks on the back of the legs of NHL players and, he added, “in different, sensitive areas where you don’t have padding.” The Soviets were also accused of “slew footing” – kicking an opponent’s skate from behind, causing him to lose balance and fall backward. “Skate cutting” was another Soviet tactic, kicking a sharp skate blade across an opponent’s skate laces to cut them and force the opponent to replace them and thereby miss a couple of shifts.
“I played against them, I understand some of the things they do,” Clarke told a CBC reporter in 1976. “They’re going to do all these little things to try and throw you off your game, try to mess with your mind.”
Joe Watson remembered something else disturbing about the Russian players. “They smelled,” he said. “I don’t think they bathed too often.”
The Russians drew the game’s first penalty, Alexandrov elbowing Gary Dornhoefer early in the first. The tank-like Vasiliev dropped Clarke in the Soviet zone with a hard body check. But it was the big hits by Dupont and Barber that further energized the hostile crowd.
The Soviets seemed startled by the ill will they were receiving in the City of Brotherly Love. Tretiak said the Flyers made it perfectly clear at the banquet before the game they had no intention of associating with the Russians. “The Stanley Cup winners,” he wrote in his book Tretiak: The Legend, “demonstrated their highly unfriendly, if not hostile attitude.”
Clarke saw it a different way. The Soviets, he said at the time, had shown up a half hour late to the luncheon, thereby making the Bullies late for their afternoon practice. “They told us the gifts we had for them they didn’t want them,” he told a CBC reporter. “They said they had one stick for each player, they need sticks, we offer them some sticks and they said our sticks are no good and they don’t want them. They’re always doing crazy little things like that and that’s the stuff I hate about them.”
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers
The game was still scoreless midway through the opening period when Van Impe, who had just served a penalty for hooking, left the box and drew a bead on an onrushing Kharlamov. The broadcast tape shows Van Impe dropping the Russian wizard with a shoulder to the jaw. Kharlamov fell to the ice and lay unmoving for a minute.
“He had his head down,” Van Impe told reporters. “When he looked up to see where the puck was, I hit him. I hit him on the side of the head with my shoulder. It was perfectly legal. There was no reason why he should have stayed down. It was an act.”
Said Dupont at the time, “Kharlamov is a good actor. You notice he didn’t miss a second of play.”
“It may have been a hard check,” Hart recalled in his book Score! “It wasn’t that hard!”
Loktev and the Soviet bench went after Gilmour and lineman Matt Pavlich, a Ukranian who understood Russian. Spectrum “Sign Man” Dave Leonardi held up a placard that read TELL IT TO THE CZAR!
Loktev wanted a penalty on Van Impe but Gilmour waved it off. The Soviet coach was enraged and gestured toward Gilmour. “We never play against such animal hockey!”
“I had no complaints about the referee,” Loktev later told reporters. “My complaints were about the players. It was their intention to damage our players.”
When Gilmour gave the Soviets a two-minute penalty for delay of game, Loktev called his team off the ice and the Russians retreated to their locker room in protest.
Shero, meanwhile, stood stoically behind the Bullies’ bench. “I’ve seen them do that before,” he said in the postgame. “It’s a tactic they use sometimes when the game isn’t going their way. They always come back.”
Joe Watson wasn’t so sure. “I honestly didn’t know if they’d come back,” he remembered. “I think at that point they were looking for a way out. We got aggressive with them and they wanted out.”
On the CBC broadcast, announcer Bob Cole couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Issuing a call ranked by the website Bleacher Report as the fourth-best in NHL history, Cole exclaimed, “The Soviets are leaving! They’re going home!”
On the U.S. broadcast, play-by-play announcer Gene Hart discussed the international incident with color analyst Marv Albert:
“Marv, I don’t want to get political but that doesn’t show me a great deal.”
Albert: “This is incredible. The Soviet Army team is going back to the locker room. They are leaving. They are walking out!”
“That was very bad for Soviet hockey,” Clarke told writer Slava Malamud years later. “That game wasn’t all that dirty. Philadelphia played tough but it’s allowed in the game of hockey.”
Schultz thought the controversy par for the course for the Flyers. Through the years, Shero’s bully boys had been hauled into public courts, brought before the NHL’s brass and stormed into enemy stands after hostile fans.
“What’s a little international incident,” The Hammer asked in Hockey Digest, “compared to our years of hell-raising?”
Tretiak said the Soviets were fully behind Loktev’s decision to leave the ice. “No Red Army player wanted to play against the Flyers,” he wrote. “Each of us could have been hit from behind, cross-checked, kicked – what kind of sport was this? It had nothing at all in common with the sport of hockey.”
Compounding the problem for the Red Army was that in less than a month they would begin training for the Olympics. Tretiak said Soviet coaches had forbidden them to fight. “We had to go home completely healthy,” he wrote, “not injured.”
Clarence Campbell rushed to the Russian locker room, where Soviet bosses told him via interpreters they wanted to take their players back to the Soviet Union in one piece. “Not on stretchers!” they heatedly exclaimed.
Scotty Morrison believed the Soviets were trying to intimidate Gilmour into calling a one-sided game. Morrison was aware that two years before in a game in New Haven between the Soviet Wings and the New Haven Tomahawks of the AHL, Soviet boss Boris Kulagin pulled his team from the ice and forced the reversal of a penalty call.
In Philadelphia, however, the NHL held firm. The Flyers’ Ed Snider told the Russians through an interpreter that unless they returned to the ice, the NHL would not pay them for the Series. Negotiations between Campbell, NHL Players Association President Alan Eagleson, Morrison, Loktev and chief of the Russian delegation, Vlacheslav Kolosov, led to a 16-minute delay. The Soviets demanded guarantees that the Bullies would cut down on their roughhouse hockey.
“No way!” Morrison snapped.
Faced with forfeiting their half of the gate for the game, the Russians finally relented. “We play,” Loktev announced, and led his team back onto the ice to a chorus of boos.
“It was the money which did it,” Snider said in a 1976 issue of Hockey Pictorial. “The NHL hadn’t paid them about $400,000 of the monies coming to them and when they were told they would have to forfeit the $200,000 for this gate, they softened.”
Sixteen seconds after the game resumed, the Flyers capitalized on their power play. Reggie Leach, aka “The Rifle,” rerouted a Barber shot past Tretiak into the right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
The Spectrum exploded as Gene Hart made the call:
“No score, Flyers on the power play. Into the left wing corner, they all chase. Back to the point, Barber dumps it in on the net…Score! Reggie Leach, a tip-in score…”
Later in the period, MacLeish, arguably the swiftest skater on the ice, broke away from Red Army defenders. Taking a feed from Lonsberry, MacLeish also took a page from the Russian playbook and, riding a startling burst of speed, blew a wrist shot over Tretiak’s left shoulder for a 2-0 lead.
Amid a raucous din, Hart’s call on national TV could barely be heard:
“Up the ice we have a breakaway for MacLeish…He’ll go right in for the shot…Score! Rick MacLeish on a great play! He’s got a deadly shot and he skates like the wind.”
“MacLeish,” Joe Watson recalled, “was one of the greatest skaters in the history of the league.”
By the close of the first period, it was clear the Bullies had succeeded in intimidating the Red Army. The Russians had caught the infamous disease, the Philly Flu. Tretiak seemed to admit as much.
“Everything was turned inside-out,” he wrote. “We did not play, we merely skated.”
The Flyers felt empowered.
“We got the succinct feeling that this team was scared of us,” Schultz said in Hockey Digest, “scared of what we could do to them.”
The Flyers upped their advantage early in the second period. With the Bullies shorthanded due to a Dupont penalty, Don “Big Bird” Saleski ripped a shot from the right wing. Tretiak blocked it but left the rebound in front of the net. A hard-charging Joe Watson, who had been trailing the play, took Sign Man’s advice to INSERT HERE! Watson backhanded the puck past Tretiak.
Marv Albert, taking over the play-by-play duties from Gene Hart for the second period, issued the call:
“This is Saleski on the right wing…Saleski the drive, save made, rebound…Score!”
Said Hart, who was doing the color analysis:
“Joe Watson, the thunder mouth who gets maybe one or two or three (goals) a year … was there to backhand it through for the score.”
“I would get across centre ice maybe a couple of times each season,” Watson recalled. “After the game, Freddy (Shero) told me I had set the Russian hockey program back 20 years with that goal.”
He issued a thunderous laugh. “They still haven’t recovered.”
What was taking place on Spectrum ice was perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the Shero System. The Flyers were physical, but the Bullies weren’t mindless brutes. They were carving up the Soviets with a surgeon’s skill.
“We were the Broad Street Bullies and we had characters on and off the ice,” Joe Watson remembered. “But we were never given credit for the talent we had. We had guys who worked hard and had skill and were never given credit.”
The Flyers offense as orchestrated by Shero called for a faster, rougher game in which offense was built on a defensive skill — forechecking. In order for Clarke, Barber, Leach, MacLeish, et al. to do their jobs, they had to have freedom to skate, pass and shoot without being overrun by the opposition. This is where Schultz, Dupont, Kelly and Saleski came in. As enforcers, they protected their skill players and made certain their opponents knew the risks of trying to intimidate Clarke and Co.
“(We) gave the more celebrated players – Clarke, Barber, Leach and MacLeish – a lot of room to operate,” said Schultz in Hockey Digest.
Because they did, the Bullies created space in front of the opposing net for their scorers, as evidenced by Leach and Watson against Tretiak.
That the Soviets were giving the Bullies a wide berth did not go unnoticed by the Flyers.
“(Mikhailov) was very nice to me,” Moose Dupont grinned after the game. “He never came near me.” Aleksei Volchenkov did likewise when confronted by Mad Dog Kelly.
Shero, whose exclusion from the hockey hall of fame remains a mystery, was one of the shrewdest minds the game has produced. He knew his team was collectively tougher than any in the NHL or international competition. He knew, too, that in a brawl his Bullies
would be the last men standing. Confident of that fact, The Fog could send Schultz or Kelly onto the ice to stir things up and swing momentum in the Flyers’ favor.
“It was a designed tactic to change the tempo of the game and it absolutely worked,” Glen Sonmor said in The Code. “(Shero’s) Broad Street Bullies were all about intimidation and nobody did it better. Man, those guys were tough.”
Tough enough to impress enforcers of all eras.
“The Broad Street Bullies were equal opportunity punishers,” Marty McSorley, one of Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguards on the Edmonton Oilers dynasty of the 1980s, said in The Code. “They would collectively beat the hell out of you. That was their strategy. They didn’t care who you were. …They were really good at playing that way and a lot of teams were simply afraid of them. And once your opponents are afraid in this business, the game is over.”
Physically intimidated and unwilling to challenge the Bullies at the blue line, the Soviets skated in circles.
“They tried to make the perfect play at the blue line,” Flyers center Terry Crisp told reporters. “The best thing about this game is that we’ve showed some who think that their system is the be all and end all is that it’s not.”
The Soviet system needed open ice for its intricate patterns. Allowed to skate freely through the Rangers and Bruins defense, the Red Army’s high-tempo game proved devastating in its ability to create 4-on-3 and 3-on-2 advantages. To some, the Soviets’ signature plays – the crisscrossing patterns, the breakaway pass through center, the goalmouth pass to an unseen defenseman – were dazzling and bewildering.
Yet Shero recognized a fatal flaw in the Russians’ patterned game. When a team knows what it will do, in time so does its opponent. Since the Soviet style was patterned it was also predictable. The Russians were quick skaters and slick puck-handlers, so they should have excelled at one-on-one hockey. They didn’t.
“We cut off the Soviet pass up the middle and made all that slick passing seem foolish,” Shero said later. “There was one time where it seemed the Army had the puck for almost a full minute with all that backskating but none of our men left his spot. Our discipline beat them.”
Finding the open man was essential to the Red Army’s plan, but with the Flyers stacked along the blue line, there was no open man. The puck-carrier had to create a scoring opportunity, had to use his skills to create an advantage. But the Russians never made that commitment. They waited for the open man and too often opportunity was lost. The Red Army’s rink-long, textbook-perfect passing schemes broke down at the Bullies’ blue line when confronted by bigger, stronger, tougher players who cluttered and congested the defensive zone. The Soviets were outmuscled and outhustled; slick, speedy European
hockey was found wanting when matched against the violent crashing and bumping of the North American game as played by the Flyers.
“They wait and try to make the perfect play in front,” Shero told reporters. “And they go back to reform while waiting for openings. If you give them an opening, they capitalize on it.”
Finally, at the midway mark of the period, the Red Army did capitalize on an opening, Viktor Kutyergin slipping a slap shot past goalie Wayne Stephenson.
Still, the Flyers continued to dominate, and they iced the game four minutes into the third when Larry Goodenough, off assists from Clarke and Dornhoefer, beat Tretiak for the final score in an eventual 4-1 victory. In the delirium of the moment, Leonardi held up a sign: NEXT GOALIE!
Unable to adjust to Shero’s disciplined defensive scheme, the Soviets were outshot by a staggering 49-13. Loktev never adjusted his game plan, and since the Red Army was unable to storm the Bullies’ blue line and didn’t know hot to dump-and-chase like NHL teams, they continued to backskate, to circle and weave.
“They just kept looking for the perfect opportunity,” MacLeish told reporters. “Even in the last five minutes they just kept circling. Either they have a lot of patience or they just can’t adjust.”
The Flyers were exultant in victory. So, too, were their fans. With the issue of the world championship settled and the Broad Street Bullies having staked their claim to being the best team on Earth, Leonardi flashed one more sign: BRING ON MARS!
“We are the world champions,” Shero proclaimed when he met the media. “If they had won, they would have been the champs. I said back in June that winning the Stanley Cup didn’t make us the world champions until we met and beat the Russians. We beat them head-to-head.
“We beat the hell,” Shero emphasized, “out of a machine.”
“This doesn’t prove Canadian hockey is better than theirs,” Clarke told the media. “It just means the Flyers are better than their best.”
Years later, Clarke told Malamud, “We just played our game, the way we usually played. The other teams tried to follow the CSKA (Soviet) style and got their asses kicked. We weren’t about to do that.”
In the Red Army locker room, Loktev dismissed the outcome. “One game against the Flyers doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “If we played them a seven-game series, anything could happen. The Flyers are a good team, but they were playing animal hockey.”
Tretiak, too, was bitter. “We didn’t know that a pack of barbarians could put on skates and get away with hunting hockey players in front of thousands of spectators,” he wrote. “Philadelphia beat us but could anyone consider it a fair victory? What they had demonstrated was considered to be their usual style. Even among the professionals the Flyers were considered to be monstrously brutal.”
The Russians’ protests brought a mixed response from players and the media.
Islanders defenseman Dennis Potvin, who provided color analysis on the CBC broadcast, thought the Flyers had played a hard-hitting but clean game. The legendary Bobby Hull, however, was indignant at the Bullies’ play.
So, too, was Dave Anderson of the New York Times:
“The triumph of terror over style could not have been more one-sided if Al Capone’s mob had ambushed the Bolshoi Ballet dancers. Naturally, it warmed the hearts of the Flyers followers, who would cheer for Frankenstein if he could skate.”
Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star disagreed:
“Loktev knew the conditions before he came. Nobody loves playing in Philadelphia. Once he accepted a game with the Flyers, under NHL rules, with an NHL referee, he was in the same boat as the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks when they come to town. Loktev wanted his team to know what it’s like to play the Flyers in Philly under NHL conditions. Well…that’s what it’s like.”
Their cold war over, relations between the Flyers and Russians thawed in the postgame.
“We went over to their dressing room and they were drinking straight vodka and beer,” Joe Watson recalled. “So we were drank vodka and beer with them. They were good guys. I was wearing a $5 Flyers cap and one of their guys was wearing a $150 Russian hat and he offered to trade hats with me. So I left with his $150 hat and he left with my $5 cap.”
Watson laughed. “I still have that hat,” he said.
The Red Army and the Broad Street Bullies left the scarred Spectrum ice that day and went their separate ways. The Russians went on to the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, claiming another gold medal when Kharlamov netted the winning goal in the final game to beat Czechoslovakia, 4-3.
The Flyers were feted by freedom lovers around the globe – “We got letters from people all over the world congratulating us on our victory,” Joe Watson recalled – and then put the finishing touches on a record-setting season. They advanced to their third straight Stanley Cup final, but minus Van Impe, who had been traded to Pittsburgh less than two
months after the Red Army game, and without the injured Bernie Parent and Rick MacLeish, the Flyers fell to the Montreal Canadiens in four straight.
The sudden and unexpected break-up of Philly’s beloved Broad Street Bullies continued in earnest at season’s end when Schultz was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in a stunning deal. The Bullies’ era was over, but their influence on the sport continued. The NHL’s next two dynasties – Scotty Bowman’s Montreal Canadiens and Al Arbour’s New York Islanders – used elements of Shero’s system to dominate the NHL and win four consecutive Cups apiece from 1976-83.
Edmonton Oilers coach Glen Sather followed Bowman and Arbour by borrowing from Shero’s playbook and building one of the toughest teams in the league. Just as Shero had used Schultz, Dupont, Kelly and Saleski to run interference for Clarke, Barber, Leach, et al., Sather acquired enforcers Marty McSorley, Dave Semenko, Kevin McClelland and Co. to open up ice space for Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey.
Like Shero, Sather used toughness as a tactic. His Oilers created scrums and pushing matches in order to put a player from both teams in the penalty box. No team in the 1980s could skate four-on-four with the Edmonton Oilers, and behind their Bullies-like system of controlled violence, they went on to win five Cups in seven years.
Shero’s influence was not lost on the Soviets. Despite their postgame protests about the Bullies’ brand of “animal hockey,” the Russians in subsequent years became more physical, more willing to take the body. Frustrated by the Flyers’ blue line defense, the Soviets cut down on their backward skating and excessive passing and played more of a transition game. Their style became one of instant creativity, an all-ice commitment in which there were no patterns to disrupt, no opportunity for the defense to get set.
North American players learned from their Soviet counterparts as well, improving their passing skills and shot selection and enhancing their training and conditioning.
As Super Series ’76 drew to a close, both the Russians and the NHL claimed victory. The Soviets won the Series 5-2-1, but failed to beat the NHL’s elite, losing to the 1975 Cup finalists — Flyers and Sabres — and tying with eventual ’76 Cup champion Montreal.
January 11, 1976 had marked the historic first meeting of hockey’s Eastern and Western champions. Two worlds collided in a classic confrontation — the Red Machine versus the Broad Street Bullies – and waged hockey’s coldest war.
The Flyers and Russians produced a singular game for the ages, and in the melding of their skills, styles and strategies and in the bringing together of European and North American players on the same sheet of ice, they provided a glimpse into the NHL’s future.
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers