It has been 50 years since the formation of the Philadelphia Flyers. In the series, we look back at the proud history of a team that has become synonymous with Philadelphia.
It was the biggest expansion in the history of sports at the time. The NHL would double in size, going from six to twelve teams. Added to the original six of the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadians, and Toronto Maple Leafs would be teams in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Minnesota, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Saint Louis. It was the start of one of the most unlikely success stories in the history of sports and the birth of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Before Philadelphia had been awarded an expansion franchise that was to begin play at the start of the 1967-68 season, its history of supporting hockey was checkered at best. They had several minor league teams that had limited success. Philly’s one foray in to professional hockey only lasted one season when the Philadelphia Quakers played one NHL season in 1930 and then promptly folded. So the odds that the city of Philadelphia would even be awarded a team when the NHL decided to expand, let alone the franchise turning in to the success it is today seemed to be long indeed.
It all started when Ed Snider, who was working for the Philadelphia Eagles at the time, was in New York and was asked by a business associate if he would want to go to Madison Square Garden to watch the New York Rangers play the Montreal Canadians. Snider didn’t haven anything else to do that night so he went. He said hockey was, “the greatest spectator sport I had ever seen and I was hooked”. That was what planted the seeds for the idea of bringing an expansion team to the city of Philadelphia. So when the NHL decided it was going to expand, Snider was quick to submit a bid for Philadelphia.
First, the Flyers needed to build a modern arena and they built one in a little over a year. Then they needed to come up with a name for the building. The name the Spectrum was chosen. It was the perfect name for a building that would host many types of events. Not just sporting events, but concerts, circuses and ice shows.
The Early Years
During the inaugural season of expansion, all six of the expansion teams would play in one division and the original six would play in the other. The Flyers won the “West” division, finishing a game below .500 and qualified for the playoffs. They played the Saint Louis Blues in the first round and lost in seven games. It was in the Flyers second season that their destiny would be forever altered. The Flyers qualified for the playoffs again, and again were defeated by the Blues. Unlike the previous year, the Blues physically manhandled the Flyers and swept them in four games. It was after this series that Ed Snider said these famous words, “Never again will the Flyers get physically manhandled like we did in that series”. It was the start of a new era.
People outside the city of Philadelphia who have a disdain for the Flyers teams of the mid-seventies and say that they ruined the game of hockey, simply put, don’t know the whole story. Before the two series against the Blues, the Flyers were a smaller, quick skating type of team. The reason the Flyers became what they were was in response to how they were bullied all over the ice by the Blues. It was because of this that the Flyers changed their philosophy and drafted guys like Andre Dupont, Don Saleski, Bob Kelly and Dave Schultz.
While drafting guys like Schultz and Kelly gave the Flyers toughness, it was drafting a kid from Flin Flon, Manitoba that gave the Flyers their heart and soul. As a result of being a diabetic, teams were afraid to draft Bobby Clarke, so he fell to the second-round where the Flyers drafted him with the 17th pick. The Flyers were laying the groundwork for what would become at the time, the fastest expansion team ever to win a championship.
The Flyers failed to qualify for the playoffs in 1969-70. Made the playoffs in 1970-71 and failed to make the playoffs again in 1971-72. It was in the 1972-73 season that the Flyers made their first significant step forward. In all the previous years the Flyers had made the playoffs, they had always been bounced in the first round. But finally, in the 1972-73 season the Flyers finally won a playoff series against the Minnesota North Stars. Gary Dornhoefer scored the pivotal goal of that series when he streaked down the left wing and scored as he was falling to the ice. That goal was forever immortalized outside of the Spectrum with a statue depicting it. Even though the Flyers went on to lose in the next round to the Montreal Canadians in five games, the Flyers were building towards something great. As Dave Schultz said in a interview about the 1972-73 season, “Even though we lost to Montreal, we couldn’t wait for the next season to start.” It was also during that season that the nickname “the Broad Street Bullies” was born. During a particularly physical stretch of the season writer Jack Chevalier of the Daily News and headline writer Pete Caphone coined the phrase and it stuck.
Just before the start of the 1973-74 season, the Flyers made the acquisition that would be the final piece to the puzzle. They had drafted goaltender Bernie Parent in the original expansion draft but had since traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Just before the start of the season, the Flyers traded goaltender Doug Favell to Toronto and reacquired Parent. He would be the lynch pin for the Flyers two cup wins in 1974 and 1975.
Next: The Cup Years