Posts Tagged ‘hbo

01
Jun
10

“Broad Street Bullies”: A Review

HBO hit the timing bulls-eye when it debuted it’s latest documentary film, “Broad Street Bullies,” a film about the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers teams in the 1970s, on May 4. The current version of the Flyers are now playing in the Stanley Cup Finals (against the Chicago Blackhawks) and would certainly make the guys from that era proud. I grew up watching those teams as a little boy growing up in Southern Minnesota. This was before ESPN and countless sports programming was available. When you saw your team on TV, it was truly an event. And the Flyers were an event you didn’t forget. When I was in college one of my biggest mentors, Ron Woodey, was a scout for the Flyers and he taught me a lot about their philosophy. Seeing this documentary brought back a lot of memories.

Before I saw the film, I read the New York Times review of the film which basically described it as a love story between a city and their team. The Flyers won two back-to-back titles in the mid-70s when Philadelphia was going through tough times. (It was about that time a film about an average boxer named Rocky Balboa debuted at the box office and captured the heart of a nation.) True to the review, the film chronicled the times in which the franchise was born, in 1967 when the NHL’s original six were joined by another six teams (one of which was the ill-fated Minnesota North Stars). After its first six seasons — mediocre ones to be sure — the team started winning and never looked back. The film credits the arrival of Dave “the Hammer” Schultz in 1973 with transforming the team into what Philadelphia writer Jack Chevallier called the “Broad Street Bullies.” Schultz was a tough customer, known for fighting. In his first year he run up 259 penalty minutes. (That’s a little more than four games sitting in the box.) He “infected the team” said Bob Kelly, who along with Moose Dupont, Don Saleski, and Schultz changed the nature of the NHL brand of hockey. It certainly expanded the NHL rule book. But keep in mind one thing: While they had more than 600 more penalty minutes in 1973-74 than the next team, the NHL never disciplined the Flyers for their style of play. Not once!

Bobby Clarke

The Flyers are credited with using fighting as a tactic, winning through intimidation. I think that’s a fair argument. However, the documentary spent more time chronicling that than emphasizing some of the great achievements the Flyers organization has accomplished. Yes, I think the physical style of play changed the team; it opened up things for the world class players the Flyers had at the time. Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, Bernie Parent — these were some great players in their day. Their coach, Fred Shero, was a genius. He knew he had a team that liked to fight so he let them do so. Shero was also a student of Eastern bloc training methods and Soviet hockey. Aside from coaching the Flyers to two Stanley Cups (1974, 1975), Shero orchestrated one of the most memorable games in NHL history when his team defeated the Soviet union’s superpower Red Army hockey team, 4-1, on Jan. 11, 1976.

There’s an old saying that goes “It starts at the top.” For the Flyers it started with their founder and owner, Ed Snider. He pooled an investor group together and paid $2(m) for the expansion franchise in ’67. Mr. Woodey always told me about the personal touches Snider did for the people in his organization. Start with the fact he knew every employee’s name and go from there: The Flyers were the first to offer career counseling and voluntarily renegotiated contracts. They were the first to hire a full-time assistant coach, a full-time goaltending coach and a full-time strength and conditioning coach (Pat Croce). They helped their players find housing when they came to Philadelphia and any special needs a player might have away from the rink. People didn’t show up to watch just one of the Flyers like people would pay to see one guy play like Wayne Gretzky; people showed up to see the whole team. Talk about brand name recognition! Ed Snider provided the leadership to make it happen.

They have always had a consistent philosophy: They want players with good work habits! “We look for overachievers,” Mr. Woodey would tell me. Even if you were a talented player, Flyers scouts were instructed to find out how you went about your work. If you were lazy, forget it. And they have always wanted big (no one under six feet tall), aggressive players. The size thing has cost them some players in the past who would’ve made great Flyers (Theo Fluery, Gary Suter), but you always knew what a prototypical Philadelphia Flyer was. Anybody remember what a prototypical Minnesota North Star was? Neither do I — because there wasn’t any!

It would have been great to see how the Broad Street Bullies legacy carries onto today’s Flyers, but the doc didn’t go there. Nevertheless, the “Broad Street Bullies” is a fun tale cast into a 60 minute piece. It’s definitely worth the time.