For a lot of us, hockey was not in a good place in the mid-1970s.
When expansion doubled the size of the league from six to twelve teams in 1967, it not only initially thinned out the talent pool, it also saw the dawn of a vigilante-style approach to the game first embodied by the “Big Bad Bruins”.
Now that was a talented bunch—with Orr, Esposito, Stanfield, Bucyk and some others, but beginning in the late ‘60s and into the early ‘70s they played a very physical, combative style.
They intimidated teams, with tough guys like Wayne Cashman, Johnny McKenzie (not big but tough as nails) and Derek Sanderson and were hard to play against, especially in the tiny Boston Garden.
They won two Stanley Cups but, tellingly, could never beat Montreal in the playoffs, which would have made their championships that much sweeter. Amazingly, they lost to the Habs in 1968, 1969, 1971, 1977, 1978 and 1979.
In those later years, with Don Cherry as coach, they took particular pride in being tough, with players like Stan Jonathan , John Wensink, Terry O’Reilly and others. (Though I “hated” O’Reilly, I did admire how he played. The Leafs could have used him, badly.)
The game went through a violent phase, with bench-clearing brawls becoming all too commonplace in the ‘70s. I will never forget one Sunday afternoon game in Boston, on U.S. national television, when Wayne Cashman jumped up and swung his stick over his head at Minnesota’s Dennis Hextall during a skirmish behind one of the goals. It was a stunningly dangerous action, yet the NHL barely batted an eye in terms of discipline.
The Philadelphia Flyers went even further. They became the celebrated “Broad Street Bullies” and were, simply, a dirty team. They verbally threatened the opposition, they slashed and hacked constantly and with rugged guys like Don Saleski, Dave Schultz, Moose Dupont, Ed Van Impe (pictured in action against the Leafs) and others, they created a culture of fear everywhere they went. The term “Philadelphia flu” was created to describe players who suddenly fell “ill” before they had to play at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
They looked to be on their way to a third consecutive Cup in the spring of 1976. Along the way, their impact on junior hockey in Canada was awful (not to mention the impressions made on youth hockey players). Junior A teams were out of control at times, fighting and brawling trying to impress NHL scouts, as this was the “new” way to get noticed and make it to the NHL.
I’m sure players who were with the Flyers at that time would deny this negative impact, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that somebody needed to stop the Flyers.