I was a very young kid when the Flyers were winning their Stanley Cups as the Broad Street Bullies. I do remember the team, but was not as versed in the sport. They were still my Flyers, but, as much as I love those teams, when I think back on my youth, I recall more fondly the mid 1980's Flyers teams.
By 1980, the last finals run of the original Bullies teams was on. Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber were still deadly, but other key components were showing their age. Reg Leach, Rick MacLeish, Bob Kelly-all had lesser roles by then. Gone were Bernie Parent, Gary Dornhoeffer, Joe Watson, Orest Kindrachuk....Long gone were Dave Schultz and Cowboy Bill Flett.
New guns like Brian Propp and Tim Kerr were arriving on the scene. Transitional names like Mel Bridgman, Ken Linseman, Bob Daily, Behn Wilson and Pete Peeters were filling key roles. That team made it to the finals, and fell to the Islanders in six games.
The next two years saw a shake up. Pat Quinn and Bob McCammon were in and out as coach. McCammon replaced the legendary Keith Allen as GM. The team Brought in more kids like Lindsay Carson, Dave Brown, Pelle Lindbergh, Bob Froese, Ron Sutter, Ilkka Sinisalo. Bridgman was traded for Brad Marsh. Wilson got dealt for Doug Crossman. Peeters went to Boston for former 1st rounder Brad McCrimmon. The Flyers also acquired veterans like Darryl Sittler and Mark Howe.
Still playoff success eluded them. McCammon was fired after the 1983-84 season. Bobby Clarke retired as a player and was named GM. He hired Mike Keenan as head coach. Sittler was traded the day he was supposed to assume Clarke's role as team captain for young wingers Murray Craven and Joe Paterson.
Three rookies joined the team for the 1984-85 season, too. Peter Zezel, Rick Tocchet and Derrick Smith. The Flyers were the NHL youngest team, and had a horrid pre-season. However, Lindbergh, long expected to be a star, reached those heights. The little Swede was impenetrable under the tutelage of his boyhood idol Parent. The top four defensemen (Howe, McCrimmon, Marsh and Crossman) were oustanding and supplanted by European veteran Miroslav Dvorak and Ed Hospodar.
Up front Kerr and Propp were the big scorers, Dave Poulin was named captain and provided stellar two way play, earning the Selke trophy and serving as team captain. Craven was a good scoring winger and fit perfectly as an alternative with Sinisalo, Sutter, Ray Allison, Tocchet, Carson and Smith. Zezel was a blossoming second line center who was also an excellent face off man.
The Flyers had skill, toughness, resiliency and the goaltending to skate with anyone. They went to the finals, where they ran into the Edmonton Oilers machine. After a game one win, the Oilers won four straight, but the future was very bright for the Flyers-a young team that outworked everyone and had the best young goalie in the world.
The Next season started extremely well. The team was running as smoothly as a freshly tuned Ferrari. Lindbergh was among the NHL leaders in every goaltending category and the Flyers were red hot, winning ten games in a row. Lindbergh gets a rare night off as back-up Froese beats the Penguins.
As a reward, the players have an off day, so many go to blow off steam. Lindbergh is driving his souped up Porsche, with two passengers, at 5:40 AM on November 10th, 1986, when he fails to negotiate a turn and crashes the vehicle into a stone wall in front of an elementary school at Somerdale Rd and Ogg St in Somerdale NJ.
Both passengers are badly hurt, and Lindbergh has suffered a severely broken leg, massive head trauma and stops breathing. Several hours later, he is pronounced brain dead at John F Kennedy Memorial Hospital, not far from the crash.
Ironically, his mother is visiting from Sweden, and within a couple of days, his family, including his fiance Kerstin, make the unspeakably painful decision to remove the fallen hero from the respirator and allow his organs to go to others.
In a tear filled tribute later that week, the Flyers, playing in front of call-up Darren Jensen, beat the Oilers 3-1. No Flyers will ever wear 31 again. Froese and Jensen handle the goaltending chores the rest of the way, and the Flyers overcome the tragedy of losing Lindbergh, partly by adding another Pelle, Pelle Eklund, a smooth playmaker from Sweden.
Froese and Jensen share the Jennings Trophy for lowest GAA, but stumble in the playoffs as the Flyers fall in the first round to the Rangers. Ultimately, the pain of losing the happy go lucky goalie the Flyers knew as "Gump" combined with Froese's penchant for weak playoff performance caused an early end to a season that saw tragedy and triumphs.
Clarke and Keenan knew full well that they needed a new goalie, because neither man felt comfortable with Froese. The Flyers had a few prospects besides Jensen, who proved inconsistent in limited NHL play. The top one had good bloodlines. He was a feisty, tall, gangly goalie, who liked to play the puck, which was an oddity at the time.
His name was Ron Hextall.