The next person who tells Bobby Clarke (see cover) that the Philadelphia Flyers are a band of bullies, karate choppers, backstabbers and pugs who play hockey with spiked helmets, shivs and brass knuckles, will receive a mouthful of elbow for his comments. Dave Schultz' elbow. That, Clarke insists, is a promise. "I've listened to that jazz all year," he says, "and I've had it. You don't have to be a genius to figure out what we do on the ice. We take the shortest route to the puck and arrive in ill humor. But, tell me, if we're so bad, why haven't they locked us up?"
Fans of the New York Rangers would have provided the cuffs happily last week as the Flyers and the Rangers resumed their scheduled seven-round Stanley Cup bout. On paper this main event was a mismatch—George Foreman fighting a flyweight from Thailand. In one corner Philadelphia had heavyweight king Dave (Hammer) Schultz, top contenders Bob (Hound) Kelly and Andre (Moose) Dupont and the 17 other toughs who helped the Flyers lead the NHL in knockdowns, knockouts and—not coincidentally—penalty minutes over the regular season. In the other corner New York had two fair heavyweights in Ron Harris and Ted Irvine, an overblown middleweight in Brad Park and 17 assorted paperweights.
Philadelphia had won the first round on all cards by whipping the Rangers 4-0 as Dupont and Clarke combined to score a quick TKO against New York's Walt Tkaczuk. The three players were turning up ice, when suddenly Tkaczuk, who had suffered a broken jaw only six weeks before, was down on all fours and had a far-off look in his eyes. "Moose pushed me, and my shoulder accidentally hit Walter in the head," Clarke said by way of explanation. Tkaczuk sat out the rest of the game.
Wearing a football-style helmet with two bars across his mouth, he lined up against Clarke early in Round Two and called him a backstabber. In return Clarke threw a few unprintables at Tkaczuk. Moments later the two had ringside seats for a fight between Kelly and Ranger rookie Bugsy Butler.
A quality hatchetman, Kelly understands perfectly what his job entails. "They sure don't pay me to score goals," he says. He got only four in 65 games this season, but lost just one of some 15 fights. Philadelphia Coach Fred Shero started Kelly at left wing in the game because he expected New York's Emile Francis to start Harris at right wing. "I knew Harris got hurt in the first game," Shero said, "and I figured that if Kelly gave him just one good shot, he'd probably get him out of the game early." Francis, however, played Butler, not Harris. "So Kelly jumped the other guy instead," Shero said. Kelly used his 20-pound weight advantage and greater leverage to win a unanimous decision over Butler.
"Kelly always gets in three or four punches before the other guy even realizes he's in a fight," Clarke said admiringly, "and he throws his punches faster than anybody in the league." As a rule Clarke prefers to leave the fisticuffs to Kelly, Schultz and the other Flyer heavyweights. "I'm like a rat," he says. "I only fight when I'm forced into a corner." Out in mid-ice Clarke operates with a quick stick, a pair of quicker elbows and the fastest mouth in the game. "I'm afraid that I've acquired a bad image," he says, "but show me one player who doesn't throw the odd elbow." Hear what the volatile Clarke chirped at Pete Stemkowski after the Ranger center was cut on the forehead in a first-period fight with the Flyers' Jim Watson in the second game: "I didn't think Ukrainians bled when they got hit."
"If there were still only six teams in this league, you wouldn't be around," retorted Stemkowski, somehow failing to remind Clarke that he is, after all, the Polish Prince of the Rangers.
While Clarke did not get into any fights, he did take three trips to the penalty box with Tkaczuk. Once Clarke slashed him, and the Ranger retaliated with an elbow; another time the combatants waved their sticks in each other's faces; and later Clarke speared Tkaczuk as the latter was slashing him.
It should be remembered that Clarke is not merely a stick and a mouth; the NHL's Most Valuable Player for 1972-73, he is the captain of a team that can play a little hockey as well as crack bones. He started the Flyers off with a power-play goal in the first period, and thereafter the Flyers hammered the Rangers in all the corners, forcing them into blunders with a body-bending style of fore-checking. On Philadelphia's next goal the Flyers so harassed Ranger Defenseman Gilles Marotte that he took a wild golf swing at the puck in an attempt to clear it away from Goaltender Eddie Giacomin. Marotte, a high handicapper, shanked the puck, and the persistent Flyers picked it off and scored. At the end of Round Two the Flyers had a solid 5-2 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series.
Strangely, the quietest Flyer that game—played in Philadelphia—was Schultz, who by now has become a North American byword for hockey roughhousing. He had set an NHL record by spending 348 minutes in penalty boxes during the season. But in the 5-2 win he made only a single visit to the box. Instead he concentrated on his checking duties, much to the disgust of the members of his "army," who wear World War I German helmets with SCHULTZ lettered in red. "Schultz does most of his fighting on the road," Shero explained. "I'm sure he'll be active in the games in New York."
Like Kelly, Schultz genuinely understands his role with the Flyers. "There are three things that make a hockey player," Shero says, "speed, skill and strength. Schultz realizes he doesn't have speed or skill, so what's he here for? To beat up the other guy." Schultz himself says, "If someone wants to give Clarkie any trouble, they know they have to deal with me, too."
Although Shero tends to regard Schultz' 20 fighting penalties this season as the only true measure of the Hammer's worth, the inescapable fact is that Schultz also scored 20 goals, while becoming the most accomplished enforcer since the days when John Ferguson was bruising bodies for the Montreal Canadiens. "Hockey is a contact sport for men," Schultz says. "It's not an ice ballet or the Ice Follies. I'd be lost on a finesse team like New York."
Schultz grew up in a Mennonite Brethren community in Saskatchewan and used to spend part of his summers at Bible camp. "The Bible says not to be afraid of anything mortal," he says, "because you can be here today and gone tomorrow. I'm not afraid of anything. I'm not even afraid of losing a fight. I never want to hurt anybody in a fight. Oh, I like to beat them up and leave them with some bruises and some bumps, but I don't want to hurt them. One night I cut Bryan Hextall during a fight in Atlanta, and when I saw the blood I told him I hadn't intended to cut him. I meant it."
Somehow Schultz' good intentions have not made many friends among fans of Flyer opponents. "In a way I feel sorry for him," says Clarke. "He really gets abused on the road. He can't stand in a hotel lobby for more than a minute or two without having someone call him an animal or something worse."
As the Flyers warmed up for the third game, on enemy ice this time, the Madison Square Garden crowd chanted, "We want Schultz, we want Schultz." They booed him fervently when he charged onto the ice at the two-minute point of the first period and barreled full speed into the corner after Brad Park. Then, as the play swung up ice Schultz charged into Park again and knocked him down, straddling the semidefenseless Ranger and pouring punches at his face. The linesmen finally pulled Schultz off Park, but while Park was still supine—held down, in fact, by one of the officials—Schultz hit him with four successive punches to the stomach. For his efforts Schultz was given a two-minute roughing penalty, a two-minute charging penalty and a five-minute fighting penalty. When Park received only a five-minute fighting penalty, Schultz gave a choke signal to the referee, who, in turn, gave Schultz a 10-minute misconduct. This was more like vintage Schultz.
For most of the first period the Flyers bullied the Rangers all over the ice. Joe Watson slammed Bruce MacGregor into the goalpost, then held him there while Don Saleski rubbed his gloves in MacGregor's face. Dominating play and controlling the corners, the Flyers took a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Rick MacLeish and Dupont, with Clarke assisting on both. Then, in a stunning reversal, the Rangers dropped their pacifist posture and began to bend bodies themselves. Kelly chased a puck into the corner, but just as he touched it, Ranger Defenseman Jim Neilson slammed into him so hard that Kelly lost his gloves as well as the puck. Seconds later New York's Bill Fairbairn scored from a face-off, cutting Philadelphia's lead to 2-1.
Philadelphia gained a 3-1 advantage on a power-play goal midway through the second period, but then the Flyers stopped hitting, stopped checking and stopped skating. "We just died," Clarke said. "Hitting someone all the time can be very tiring; in fact, oftentimes it's tougher than to be hit." Park agreed. "You can't be a hitting team 60 minutes a game," he said. "It's exhausting."
As the Flyers died the Rangers rallied and retaliated, winning the game 5-3 as well as all the remaining battles. Harris ran Kelly into the boards, and Steve Vickers pasted Gary Dornhoefer. Park decked the Flyers' MacLeish with a short overhand punch to the head. "They were trying to stir things up for the next game," Park said. Near the end five Flyers were in the penalty box, Schultz and Ross Lonsberry were in the dressing room after earning game misconducts, and Kelly was en route to a cast.
The ubiquitous Harris, whose clean hip check sent Boston's Phil Esposito to the operating table in last season's playoffs, had caught Kelly with another clean hip check and put him into the boards, injuring his knee. "Ligaments," the doctor told him in the dressing room.
Kelly watched Round Four on a television set Sunday afternoon, and no doubt he felt like putting his cast through the screen when Rod Gilbert's goal at 4:20 of sudden-death overtime beat the Flyers 2-1. In regulation time Gilbert had been Schultz' particular target, but he always managed to fend off the Hammer's heavy fists with his stick. Gilbert parked at the corner of the crease to Flyer Goalie Bernie Parent's left, took a pass from Vickers and slid the puck past Parent just before Joe Watson pitchforked him to the ice. "It's two out of three now," Clarke said glumly.
While the Philadelphia-New York bout was locked at two rounds apiece, Boston beat Chicago Sunday night and took a 3-2 lead in their semifinal. Except for one brief flare-up between Phil Esposito and Hawk Defenseman Phil Russell and a private war between Boston's Terry O'Reilly and Chicago's Keith Magnuson, the games were played in fairly good humor. No spiked helmets or brass knuckles there.