Philadelphia was certainly not a hockey town in those days. It had never had a successful minor league team, and the entire metropolitan area had only a handful of rinks. Van Impe, who was drafted from the Chicago Black Hawks, remembers being disappointed when he left them, but he soon recognized a difference in the way the two organizations treated their players. "With the Wirtz family, the hockey club was one of many, many businesses," says Van Impe, now an insurance agent and part-time television analyst in Philadelphia. "I remember the Black Hawks had a big party at the Bismarck Hotel. At the reception line, the owners knew only a half dozen players on our team. The rest had to be introduced by the p.r. guy. In Philadelphia, if you had seven new kids, Ed Snider knew all seven by name. If you had a problem, the man was behind you. I haven't played for him for 11 years, but if I needed him for advice or whatever right now, he'd make himself available."
Snider knew that professional sports is a people business. He hired good people, and treated them with respect. "What he tried to create here was a family atmosphere," says Allen. "It wasn't just a gimmick."
It went way beyond salary. The Flyers have never had one of the fattest payrolls in the league. Rather, the team did a lot of little things for its players to make them feel they were part of something special. Philadelphia voluntarily renegotiated contracts. It was one of the first teams to offer career counseling. In 1982, when the Flyers traded for Mark Howe, they took over the mortgage payments on his newly built house outside Hartford and handled its subsequent sale. When former Flyer Kindrachuk was in the hospital, the team stepped in and paid for his move to a private room. "The Flyers have always looked after their people," says Bill Barber, the team's alltime goal-scoring leader and now an assistant coach—one of nearly a dozen former Flyers on the payroll. "In my third year I didn't have the money to buy a house. I was 22 years old and married. Ed Snider somehow got wind of it and gave me the money interest-free. It was something I never forgot. Now I'm thinking, How can I let the guy down? I've got a friend here I don't want to disappoint. I think it helped me to be a better player."
The family approach seemed to affect a lot of players that way. The Flyers won the West Division their very first year, despite playing the last seven weeks of the season on the road after the Spectrum roof had blown off in a storm. But they were eliminated from the playoffs in the opening rounds in 1968 and 1969 by the brawny St. Louis Blues, an outcome that helped shape the Flyers for the future. " St. Louis had a big, tough club," recalls Van Impe, "and we had a small finesse club. They beat us two ways: on the ice, and physically. It was embarrassing."
"They brutalized us," says Allen.
"Look, we didn't invent fighting in hockey, we inherited it," says Snider. "The Big Bad Bruins used to beat up on us regularly. And I remember going into Montreal those first couple of years and watching John Ferguson kick the crap out of all our little Frenchmen. We had a line of Andre Lacroix, Simon Nolet and Jean-Guy Gendron. I asked Keith Allen, 'What's this?' I was told, ' Ferguson's their policeman.' I asked, 'Why don't we have a policeman?' He said, 'We do, but he's not as tough as their policeman.' So I decided, as long as I own this team, we will never be intimidated again. We're an expansion team, and we may not have any superstars, but I'm sure as hell not going to sit by and let my guys get beat up, too."
Reassessment of philosophy. Snider, after all, was just learning the game, and if that's the way the Canadian boys played it, that's the way it would be. In the 1969 draft, after taking a chance on a diabetic center called Bobby Clarke in the second round, the Flyers picked up Dave Schultz and Don Saleski in rounds five and six. Snider fired Poile in the middle of the next season and promoted Allen to G.M. "From that day forward," says Snider, "whatever move we made, whether it was a trade or in the draft, I asked the question: "Will this move help us win the Stanley Cup?" I'd seen too many teams in hockey consider it a successful year if they made the playoffs."
In the next three years Allen drafted Bill Clement, Bob (the Hound) Kelly, Tom Bladon, Jimmy Watson and Barber. He swung deals for Rick MacLeish and Andre (Moose) Dupont and hired Fred Shero to coach. Shero was mired in the Rangers organization at the time, a 13-year veteran minor league coach who had won his division six of the last seven years. The final piece of the puzzle fell into place in 1973. when Allen gave a first-round, draft choice and goalie Doug Favell to reacquire Parent, whom he had traded to Toronto in the MacLeish deal. Thus were the Broad Street Bullies born.
"Jack Chevalier, a local writer, gave us that name," remembers Allen. "It was like starting a brushfire. Everything we did after that was magnified. I'm not saying we weren't a rough, tough group who raised a lot of hell. But we were talented, too. As a result, I don't think that team ever got all the accolades it deserved."
That's probably true. The 1973-74 Flyers were a remarkable collection of individuals. They were motivated, starting with Allen and Shero, sifting right on down through the lineup, from the classy veterans who had struggled for years in the minor leagues—players like Van Impe, Barry Ashbee, Wayne Hill-man and Gary Dornhoefer—to the youngsters like Barber and Clarke. "Guys like Ashbee and Dornhoefer set a standard of performance that the young players had to match," says Pat Quinn, a former adversary of those early Flyer teams who is now the G.M. of the Vancouver Canucks. Quinn also coached the Flyers from 1978 to '82, and in 1979-80 led them in an incredible 35 straight games without a loss, an NHL record. "They developed great peer pressure there."