The standards are higher in Philadelphia than anywhere in hockey this side of the Montreal Forum. "I talk to Davey Poulin all the time," says Clarke. "I've told him by rights you shouldn't even have a bad practice, never mind a bad game. The one demand we can make of our players is that they work hard. If you don't try in practice, there's no way you'll try hard in a game. And when the young players see the veterans working, they'll work hard, too."
That work ethic allows the Flyers to get more from their marginal players than any other team in the league. Some develop into outright stars. Poulin, Kerr and Ilkka Sinisalo, a 200-pound right wing, were all undrafted free agents before joining the Flyers. "It's assimilation," says Poulin. "When a kid comes to camp and sees what's expected of him—and remember most of these guys were the stars of their junior teams and probably weren't used to being pushed—he thinks: 'I've got no choice." It's a lot easier to assimilate someone into that than to start it from scratch."
Work hard, don't back down and win. That attitude has been assimilated from Ashbee's Flyers to Clarke's to Poulin's. It's part of the reason they have never lost the old Broad Street Bullies nickname. And though they have cleaned up their act somewhat, there has never been an extended period when the Flyers didn't play like the Flyers.
Even when Clarke retired as a player—an eventuality Ed Snider had dreaded for years—the Flyers kept on humming. They hardly missed him. Nor did they miss Snider, who handed over the day-to-day operation of the club to his son, Jay, in 1983. Playing under rookie coach Mike Keenan, that young team made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals before bowing in five games to Edmonton. Says Jay, now 29, " Clarke retired. Barber retired and center Darryl Sittler was traded. We were thinking five years down the road. It's amazing, sometimes, how fast the future gets here."
Gets here and stays here. The Flyers proved that last May, when they made their second appearance in the finals in three years and nearly upset the Oilers behind the goaltending of rookie Ron Hextall. Hextall, a throwback to the Bullies of old in the way he wields his stick, would probably still have been playing in the minors had it not been for the loss of Flyers All-Star goalie Pelle Lindbergh, who was killed during the 1985 season in an automobile accident. It's amazing, sometimes, how fast the future gets here.
In all three of their victories over the Oilers last spring, the Flyers came from at least two goals down. You wonder whether it was coincidence that in last month's Canada Cup series, with the Soviets leading Team Canada 3-0 in the deciding game, it was a pair of Flyers who ignited the comeback. First it was right wing Rick Tocchet crashing the slot for a rebound. Then it was left wing Brian Propp from the doorstep, assisted by Tocchet. Suddenly it was 3-2, and Team Canada, which was coached by Keenan, was back in the game. They weren't pretty goals, like Mario Lemieux's series-winner, but then, few of the big goals in Flyer history have been.
It provided a couple of nice moments for the 4,500 Flyer fans who were watching the Canada Cup finale in the Spectrum. Jay Snider had opened the doors and put the game on the Arena Vision scoreboard to accommodate anyone who didn't have cable TV at home. It was a nice gesture, typical of the kind of things the Flyers organization has been doing for years to promote hockey in Philadelphia.
Most of the original Flyers were watching the game in their homes. Van Impe was still excited about the game while discussing it the next day. He'll be coming out some time this winter, at Keenan's invitation, to work with the modern-day Flyers defensemen. Maybe teach them a trick or two that could help win a game. "That Tocchet's a real hard-nosed kid," Van Impe was saying. "He doesn't like to lose. He'd have fit into our team just great."
So he has.