- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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"When I was assistant to Fred [Shero], he always said players could question him," says Quinn. "But he also had two rules: one, the coach is always right; and two, when in doubt, refer to number one. I wanted the players to know me and work with me. I may not always use their suggestions, but I want to know what they're thinking."
Gradually Quinn's approach began to pay dividends. "We have a different job as a team now," says Clarke. "When Fred was here, his ways worked for those players. But the guys now are stronger physically, and they are far better skaters. There is no point in having a Kenny Linseman, who is definitely a scorer, out there just as a checker, which he would have been in the old days. We should create situations for Linseman to move out and score, and we do. I don't think a team could play the way we did in 1974 and 1975 and win a championship today."
Quinn admits that he wondered about the practicality of his theories when the Flyers were routed by Atlanta 9-2 in the second game of the season. "You know, we could easily have gone downhill," he says. Instead, Philadelphia has not lost since, beating such teams as Montreal (for the first time in nearly four years, and at The Forum, no less), Toronto, Buffalo, the Rangers, the Flames and the Islanders.
In some quarters, though, the Flyers still bear the label of Bullies. "Last year, our sweaters got more penalties than our guys did," says Quinn. "Referees and fans find it hard to forget that stuff." Left Wing Bill Barber, now in his eighth year with the Flyers, says, "Even though the violence was blown way out of proportion, we'll always be paying the price for it." Barber says some Flyers are also paying the price for spending so much time killing penalties during those years. "We took a lot of penalties, and we had maybe two guys who always killed them. Clarkie was one, and I see it's taking a toll on him. How much can he have left to give, after spending his life killing penalties?"
Clarke, a diabetic, has always played hard, and at 30 he may well be slowing down. His shifts are shorter, and he doesn't dominate play as he used to. "I don't feel any strain," Clarke says. "People say if you play too hard, you burn out. I think it's the opposite. I'll be playing a long time." Clarke yielded his captain's "C" to Mel Bridgman when he became a playing assistant coach. "I debated about offering him the job," says Quinn. "I wasn't sure how the guys would react. Would they think he was spying on them? But it's worked perfectly."
No fewer than eight former Maine Mariners now wear Philadelphia uniforms. Goaltender Peter Peeters, 22, led Maine to its two Calder Cups; at present his 2.00 goals-against average and 6-0-1 record are the best in the NHL. Defensemen Frank Bathe, 24, and Norm Barnes, 26, both blond and bearded, have played regularly in place of injured Andre Dupont, Behn Wilson and Bob Dailey and haven't looked lost. Says Barnes, "Once you've played up here, you don't want to go back to the farm."
And the new Clarke is Linseman, a 21-year-old center who arrived from Birmingham of the WHA last season and then was hastily dispatched to Maine. "He came here thinking he was it" says one Flyer official. "A couple of months riding buses in the minors took care of his ego problems." Of all the new Flyers, Linseman is the only real throwback to the Bullies days; he carries his stick high, too high, and has an active mouth.
"You know, the Bully Flyers team was a tremendous public-relations concept," says Quinn. "It sold tickets. In other cities, people came to see their own guys get beat up. Well, we've gotten away from that. Today, people want to watch a hockey game, not a brawl. Fortunately, our organization saw the change coming and did some planning for it, because I don't know how many tickets the Bullies would sell today."
For now at least, the Goon Show has left Philadelphia, and a vacancy sign is up in the Flyers' penalty box.