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."