The Philadelphia Flyers were only scrimmaging among themselves to kill the last few minutes of a practice hour, but when Jimmy Johnson broke in alone off the right wing and beat Goalie Bernie Parent with a low, hard drive to the far corner from about 10 feet—the type of shot that always beats a goaltender—Parent behaved as if the Flyers had just lost the seventh game of the Stanley Cup. He swung his goalie's stick like a two-iron against the left post of his cage, then turned and viciously cracked it against the right post. One Flyer, who knows that goalies are an odd breed, stared at Parent and yelled, "They oughta lock you in that cage." Still furious at himself, Parent skated out of the goal, stopped suddenly, wheeled and—like a man throwing a hammer—flung the stick against the Herculite glass backboards.
All this was very funny to Doug Favell, the Flyers' other goaltender, who by now had skated to center ice for a closer view of Parent in action. Favell removed his face mask and shook his head. "Barnyard," he shouted to Parent, "you're nothing but a damn sorehead."
Parent is a sorehead, and so is Favell, for that matter. When a shooter scores a goal against either of them they react like destructive children—but that hatred of goals scored is one of the big reasons why Philadelphia's expansion team is leading the National Hockey League's West Division.
On the first weekend of February the Flyers gave a vivid demonstration of why they should hold the lead all season long, with Parent beating Bobby Hull's Chicago Black Hawks 5-3 in Philadelphia on Saturday and Favell stopping the Stanley Cup champions, the Maple Leafs, 4-1 on Sunday. "We're undefeated in Canada," crowed Publicist Joe Kadlec. And indeed they were, having beaten Montreal in their only other Canadian game. That streak ended last week—also in Montreal.
The Flyers' success has brought crowds in surprising numbers to Philadelphia's Spectrum, the $12 million arena Jerry Wolman opened last fall in south Philly, adjacent to Kennedy Stadium, site of the Army-Navy football game. It is proving to be one of the beleaguered Wolman's better moves. Hard pressed financially in his operation of the pro football Eagles, he is enjoying a lively Spectrum gate for basketball's 76ers and for the Flyers.
The triumvirate that owns the club—Board Chairman Ed Snider, President Bill Putnam and Vice-President Joe Scott—savor not only the sweet rustle of money in the box office but the thrill of victory. And so do the fans. On the Saturday of that emotional weekend of wins over established NHL teams, the 14,646 red-plush seats of the Spectrum were sold out, and in the last half minute of the game the crowd rose spontaneously and applauded.
The Flyers, with their 7-11-1 record against East teams, lead the West Division in embarrassing the established clubs. Forwards like Bill Sutherland and Leon Rochefort, with 15 goals apiece, are no longer anonymous characters in orange shirts but personalities who have earned fan attention and support. Defensemen Ed Van Impe and Joe Watson have shown that the East stars can be roughed up and frustrated by the expansionists. Amid all the excitement, Flyer Coach Keith Allen has maintained the cool, on-top-of-things manner that got him the job in the first place.
But without its sharp-eyed, sorehead goalies Philadelphia might be just another team. At midseason Parent and Favell, as an entry, were leading in the race for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league's stingiest goaltending team, and between them Bernie and Doug represent expansion's only hope for a postseason award or All-Star recognition. Parent, who played for the Boston Bruins during parts of the last two seasons, was voted No. 3 among the goalies in balloting for the first-half All-Star team. Favell is probably the closest challenger to Boston's Derek Sanderson in the competition for Rookie of the Year.
Playing goal for an expansion team has some significant fringe benefits, as both Parent and Favell admit. The new clubs encounter each of the six established teams only four times apiece, while they play the other new teams 10 times each during the year. This means that Parent and Favell face the Hulls and Mikitas and Howes and Orrs only 24 times, and they have 50 games against the Cowboy Fletts and Mike Laughtons and Bobby Dillaboughs. "I certainly wouldn't mind a deal like that," says Goalie Gump Worsley of the Canadiens, who, of course, faces the reverse predicament—50 games against the East sharpshooters and only 24 against the Fletts.
Still, Parent and Favell are the best one-two goaltending punch in the entire NHL, and since each is only 22 years old (Bernie is two days older than Doug and never lets him forget it), it appears that Philadelphia is well fortified in goal for at least the next 10 years. Both Bernie and Doug were developed by the Boston Bruins, who previously had not produced a competent goaltender in more than 25 years. But three years ago the Bruins had four good young goalies in their system: Parent and Favell, who were playing for the junior team in Niagara Falls, Ont.; Ian Young, Bobby Orr's amateur teammate at Oshawa, Ont.; and Claude Dufour, who was playing professionally for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. Parent and Favell were lost in the expansion draft, and Young and Dufour both suffered disabling eye injuries—and so the Bruins again have no outstanding young goaltenders. Nobody in Philadelphia cares.