?"Success requires no explanation. Failure presents no alibis."—Coach Fred Shero.
Although Shero would never admit it, the Hammarskj�ld quotation was clearly aimed at Rick MacLeish, a talented center who performs either sensationally or dismally. As the Flyers and Islanders faced off for Game Seven, MacLeish's dismal efforts led his sensational ones 4-2; in fact, Clarke had even called MacLeish to his motel room for a private bawling-out earlier in the day. MacLeish obviously got both messages. Skating furiously, he swooped around, over and through the Islanders for three goals as the Flyers scored an easy 4-1 victory to advance into the finals.
While the Flyers went off in search of a back-up Rexy's, Shero retreated into his cubbyhole with Assistant Coaches Mike Nykoluk and Barry Ashbee, a dozen reels of what he calls "fil-lum" and, of course, his trusty yellow pad. The problem was not so simple: the Philadelphia brain trust had to devise a way to stop Buffalo's French Connection line of Center Gilbert Perreault and Wingers Richard Martin and Rene Robert. Last year Shero and Nykoluk devised a stop- Bobby Orr maneuver that befuddled the Bruins in the final series. Rather than try to isolate Orr from the puck, which at the time was a standard stratagem against the Bruin defenseman, the Flyers repeatedly forced Orr to handle the puck by shooting it down his side of the ice, then harassing him with three checkers. "We knew Orr always played about 45 minutes a game," Shero said. "What we wanted to do—and what we did—was tire him."
For the French Connection, Shero outlined a two-part plan on his magic pad. First of all, he ordered his centers to harass Perreault unmercifully. "How do you check the fastest and shiftiest center in the game?" Shero asked. "Well, you force him out of his funnel, get him out and away from the center of the ice. You maneuver him against the boards, into the traffic—and then you seal up his escape routes. You try, anyway." The key part of Shero's plan, though, was much like his anti-Orr strategy: wear out the Connection by quick line changes.
Shero's plan became operative the moment Perreault, Martin and Robert skated out Thursday night for their first shift in Game One. The Connection was on the ice for exactly 97 seconds, and during that time Shero threw three different lines at them. On their next shift of 106 seconds, the Connection faced another three lines. And those line changes were done s-l-o-w-l-y, also according to Shero's design. "We wanted to disrupt any momentum they might have been building up," Clarke said. Following orders, the Philadelphia centers, particularly Clarke, played Perreault navel to navel, tattooing his midsection with their sticks—semi-legally, of course—and preventing him from playing his flashy game.
Shero was naturally elated with the success of his plan, even though Martin scored the only Buffalo goal in Philadelphia's 4-1 victory. "Buffalo outshot us 8-2 and 14-8 the first two periods," he said, "but we did what we wanted to do: we stopped their big guys. If they think they outplayed us those first two periods, they're stupid."
Apprised of Shero's last remark, Clarke broke out with a grin. "Freddie, you know, is one of the great put-people-on artists in the world."
"I like to have a different answer for everyone," Shero later confirmed.
Unfortunately, Shero's gruff facade and his frequent displays of verbal dexterity—along with Philadelphia's belligerent playing style—have obscured the fact that he is the best tactician in hockey. Now 49, Shero coached in the minor leagues for 13 years, mostly in the New York Rangers organization, and finished below second place only twice. However, the Rangers never offered him an NHL coaching job, obviously realizing that Shero does not tolerate interference from the front office. Ironically, the same Rangers have now hired Ron Stewart in the hope that he can coach with Shero's ability.
"My first job as a coach was in Shawinigan Falls, Quebec," Shero says. "I knew why they gave the job to a rookie the minute I met my players. They were the castoffs, the hopeless cases, the very worst players owned by the Montreal Canadiens. But we all joined forces. We lived, fought, played and drank together—and we won together."