The Flyers lost another member of the famous Broad Street Bullies as Rick MacLeish passed away last week at the age of 66.
Even back in the day when hardly anyone wore a helmet and as a result guys were more recognizable, Rick MacLeish stood out from the rest of the pack. From the long flowing hair, the big stache, the very distinctive, smooth, slightly hunched over skating style and the wicked wrist shot, MacLeish was someone who immediately stood out as soon as he stepped on the ice. Even when I had first started watching hockey at the age of 8 and didn’t know much about the game, MacLeish was someone who stood out to me right away.
His signature move was a thing of beauty. MacLeish would take the puck across the blue line, cut hard to his left in order to get the goalie moving with him, and then would unleash his wicked wrist shot hard to the right leaving the goaltender twisted up in knots. Bob Clarke was recently quoted as saying that Rick MacLeish was the most talented player on the Cup winning teams of the mid-seventies and it’s hard to argue any differently.
Rick MacLeish was selected fourth overall in the 1970 amateur draft by the Boston Bruins. He came to the Flyers as part of a three-way deal involving the Flyers, Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. He scored two goals and four assists for 6 points in 26 games for the Flyers in the 1970-71 season. MacLeish only scored one goal in the 1971-72 season and thus was sent down to the Flyers AHL affiliate at the time, the Richmond Robins. MacLeish finally broke out during the 1972-73 season when he scored 50 goals and added 50 assists for 100 points. He was the first Flyer ever to reach the 50 goal mark. He finished fourth in the league in scoring that year and had only one less point than the great Bobby Orr.
The Flyers won their first playoff series in team history that year against the Minnesota North Stars and went on to face the powerhouse Montreal Canadians in the semifinals. The Flyers stunned the Canadians in Game 1 of that series when MacLeish pounced on Frank Mahovlich give away, (legend has it that the puck got stuck in a puddle of water on the ice causing Mahovlich to cough it up) and scored in overtime to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in the series. The Flyers took the Canadians into overtime in Game 2 as well but eventually lost that game 4-3 and went on to lose the next three games of the series also.
MacLeish’s numbers dipped a bit in the 1973-74 season, but he was still productive, scoring 32 goals and adding 45 assists. It was in the playoffs that MacLeish really shone. He had 13 goals and added nine assists to lead all players in playoff scoring. And of course, no one will forget his goal in Game 6 against the Bruins where he deflected a point shot from Andre Dupont past Bruins goalie Gilles Gilbert. It was the only goal of the game and thus was the Stanley Cup winner. MacLeish was barely nudged out by teammate Bernie Parent in the voting for the Conn Smythe Trophy given to the most valuable player of the playoffs.
MacLeish had another productive campaign in 1974-75, scoring 38 goals and adding 41 assists. He once again shined in the playoffs, leading all playoff scorers for the second consecutive year as the Flyers went on to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup. That 74-75 Cup team was the last NHL team to win a Cup comprised of all Canadian born players.
The 1975-76 season was one that was marred by injuries for MacLeish. He only played in 51 games, garnering 22 goals and 23 assists, but he missed the whole entire 1975-76 playoff season. “Hat Trick in 76” was the Flyers slogan that season as they tried for their third consecutive Stanley Cup. The injury to MacLeish along with injuries to Parent, Orest Kindrachuk and all star defensman Jimmy Watson would prove costly. The Flyers did make it back to the Finals but were swept by the Montreal Canadians. Even though the Flyers were swept, the first three games of the series were decided by only one goal and Game 4 was decided by two. When you look at the fact that the Flyers were missing their two-time Conn Smythe winning goalie, the man who had led their team in playoff scoring the past two seasons, a key forward and an All-Star defensman, it makes one wonder what could have been if the Flyers had gone in to that series against the Canadians with a healthy squad. Some of those one goal losses could have easily been one goal wins and at the very least the Flyers could have extended the series further than just four games. It’s still a very bitter pill to swallow for this particular Flyers fan.
After the injury plagued 75-76 season, MacLeish bounced back to have one of the best seasons of his career, netting 49 goals and adding 48 assists. It was the first time in his career he had led the Flyers in scoring and it was also the year where he made his first All-Star game appearance. It was also the year that MacLeish had a near death experience. In a game against the Kings, MacLeish took a skate blade to the neck that required 80 stitches to close. MacLeish returned a few games later and joked that he smoked a cigarette after it happened and smoke came out of his throat.
The Flyers made another run to the Finals in 1979-80 but once again fell short, losing to the Islanders in six games. After the 1980-81 season, following another playoff disappointment where the Flyers lost to the Calgary Flames in seven games in the second round, the Flyers traded MacLeish, Blake Wesley and Don Gillen to the Hartford Whalers for Fred Arthur and Ray Allison. MacLeish was then traded by the Whalers to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 1981-82 season and was released in the midst of the 1982-83 season. MacLeish played briefly in Switzerland and then returned to the Flyers as a free agent in 1983-84. The Flyers then traded him to the Red Wings that season for future considerations. MacLeish decided to finally call it a career following the 1983-84 season.
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As is almost always the case with Flyers players after they retire, MacLeish stayed in the area and part of the Flyers family. He suffered a heart attack while playing in a Flyers Alumn game in the early 2000s and had open heart surgery the following day. He also had a passion for race horses after his retirement from hockey. On May 11, 2016, MacLeish’s daughter announced that he was being treated in a Philadelphia hospital for multiple medical problems for the past six weeks. He died on May 30 at the age of 66 while being treated for meningitis as well as kidney and liver failure. MacLeish is now the fourth member of the Broad Street Bullies who has passed away joining Barry Ashbee, Bill Flett and Ross Lonsberry. It seems way too soon for guys from that team to be passing away. It makes the heart break.
RIP Rick MacLeish. I will remember you always.