Did you ever participate in something so special that it will remain in your memory forever?
Was there ever a time in your life when you felt on top of the world and wish it would never end?
There are several accomplishments and memories that make me feel that way but none as memorable as the Philadelphia Flyers 35 game unbeaten streak during the 1979-80 season. This record will most likely never be broken because of the overtime period that was instituted in the NHL just a few years later for the 1983-84 season
That season would have been the ultimate achievement had we won the Stanley Cup. We finished first overall, had the streak but we lost to the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals. (Does anybody remember the famous off-side goal in the final game?)
The successful season wasn’t without ups and downs and battles along the way. I was traded to the Flyers from St-Louis Blues that summer for Rick Lapointe and Blake Dunlop. Prior to the trade, my wife and I suffered a family tragedy when we lost a baby girl (Elisabeth) to Respiratory Distress Syndrome three days after birth. This was the most difficult time of my life and still is very emotional for both of us. Moving to Philadelphia was a chance for a new start. But I had a terrible training camp. I had difficulty focusing and my performance was erratic. Regardless, I started the first game and won at home. The second game was “ugly” and typical of my play at training camp that year. I suffered a 9-2 loss in Atlanta, my former team. Little did I know that we wouldn’t lose another game until January 7th.
Following that forgettable game, we started to win and my focus and competitiveness improved as we progressed. Pete Peeters was my partner in goal as a rookie. We had a good team, but more importantly, we competed hard and had great leadership.. The core group of defensemen was Jimmy Watson, Bob Dailey, Andre Dupont and Behn Wilson. We also had rookies on defense; the 3 B’s: Norm Barnes, Mike Busniuk and Frank Bathes who were special people and had career seasons. Brian Propp was a rookie forward and had a terrific year. Our scoring leader was Ken Linseman and Reggie Leach scored 50 goals. What a “sniper” Rick MacLeish was. He scored a lot of big goals for us.
Our leadership definitely came from Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Paul Holmgren. All three of those players were model citizens, they practiced as hard as they played the game and would never let anybody “slack off” at any time. Clarkie was the player I hated to play against the most but the best teammate I ever had.
Our “role players” were so important to our success. Mel Bridgman, our captain, defines the term “role player”. He was so efficient in all areas. He did it all. He was not a good skater but he won faceoffs, played special teams, he played hard, he was a smart player and always stuck up for his teammates. He also contributed offensively with 47 points. Any team who achieves some level of success must have support players who play for the team and are willing to play hard for short minutes. Our role players included Bob (hound) Kelly, Al Hill, Tom Gorence, John Paddock, Jack McIIlhargey. They were great guys who deserve a lot of credit for the success of that season.
The buzz about a “Streak” started in Philadelphia and around the league at around 18 undefeated games. The Flyers record was 23 and it also was the second longest unbeaten record in the league. The league record was 28 held by the Montreal Canadiens. Pete Peeters and I almost split the games through the streak and it was fitting that Pete played both games that tied the records and I played both that beat the records. We also beat the Pro Sports record held by the L.A. Lakers at 33.
Can you believe that we had only lost one game when we had our New Year’s Eve party? A celebration I will always remember.
There was very little conversation about beating any record in the dressing room. But it was there. It was a quiet confidence and a subtle determination that we would do it. The euphoria, the media coverage and the fan interest grew as we kept winning. We broke attendance records in some buildings. Many hockey fans and opponents who “love to hate the Flyers” made the games very intense as we got closer. Boston Gardens was the dreaded building where the Flyers had not won a game in almost 5 years. We stepped onto the ice with the conviction that we would become part of something very special. From start to finish, we controlled the play and won the game 5-2.
I am very privileged and honored to have been a member of the Philadelphia Flyers and to have been a part of this outstanding accomplishment that will be ingrained in my memory forever.
PART TWO OF THIS BLOG SHORTLY
HAVE A GREAT HOCKEY DAY!