That he is. "What makes Reggie so effective," says linemate Bill Barber, who scored 50 goals himself this season, "is that he never takes a big windup, tees the puck up and slaps at it. He has a great wrist shot, with real hardness to it. It's the best in hockey." Says Parent, "He's murder on goaltenders because he gets his shot off so quickly, with such little body movement, that you can't get set for it." Adds Shero, " Leach is the first winger I've seen since the Rocket whose backhand shot is as tough for the goal-tender as his forehand."
Leach, a Cree Indian, grew up in Riverton, Manitoba (pop. 797), about 65 miles north of Winnipeg. "It's the kind of town," he says, "where you walk into the tavern at nine in the morning and all the guys are sitting around, and when you come back at 11 at night they're still there in the same chairs. I'd probably be one of them if it wasn't for hockey. We were a poor family. I didn't get my first pair of real hockey skates until I was 13 years old. Some guy in town bought them for me. We had a shed out back of our house, and I shot pucks at a bucket for hours each day."
By the time he was 16, Leach had dropped out of school and joined the Flin Flon Bombers, a junior team whose star was a baby-faced local boy named Bobby Clarke. Leach enjoyed the occasional party, as he freely admits, and at least once Clarke had to bail out his young friend. On the ice, Clarke and Leach played on the same line and, thanks mainly to Clarke's playmaking, Leach scored 87 goals for the Bombers one season. Drafted by the Bruins, Leach spent part of a season with their Oklahoma City farm club, then occupied a "padded seat on the bench" in Boston for a year before he was traded to Oakland. "With the Seals," Leach says, "one guy was the coach, the general manager and the publicity director, so you did pretty much what you wanted to do both on and off the ice."
Leach loafed through two seasons with the Seals, scoring 23 and 22 goals. Meanwhile, back in Philadelphia, Clarke was trying to convince Flyers General Manager Keith Allen that his Flin Flon friend would be a certain 40-goal scorer. At Clarke's insistence, Allen finally acquired Leach shortly after Philadelphia won its first Stanley Cup in 1974.
Shero placed Leach at right wing on a line with Clarke and Barber, but Leach started slowly, scoring only three goals in his first 20 games, and irritated Shero with his individualism. " Leach was like most hockey players," Shero says. "He did what he wanted to do. He had no idea of discipline, team play or zone play." Clarke always defended Leach. "We don't have players who can score from anywhere on the ice, like Reggie can," he says. "So what's better for us—me going into the boards and digging the puck out for Reggie, or Reggie going into the boards and digging it out for me?"
Leach remembers those days. "I was struggling," he says, "and Fred would leave books on positive thinking and books of quotations in my locker. Heck, I didn't know what half of them meant." Maybe not, but once Leach became acclimated to Shero's system he finished the schedule with 45 goals and added eight more as the Flyers won their second Stanley Cup. Even last week, though, Shero was still complaining that " Leach checks too much with his stick and doesn't use his body enough in the corners." But as Clarke said, "Yeah, but how many guys have scored 76 goals already this year?"
And after Sunday night Leach was at 77—and counting.