Flyers Alumni Remember Bill Sutherland (1934-2017)
The Flyers Alumni mourn the passing of another one of our own: Bill Sutherland, an original Flyers forward who holds the dual distinctions of having scored both the first goal in franchise history and, later, the first home goal, passed away on Sunday, April 9, 2017 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He was 82.
“Bill was an original member of this organization who helped set the standard of success and what it meant to be a Flyer,” said Flyers President Paul Holmgren. “He came to the Flyers as a veteran and played a crucial part in leading the team to a first place finish in the West Division in the very first season. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”
Born Nov. 10, 1934 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Sutherland spent much of his teenage and adult life living in Winnipeg. A solid two-way hockey player who starred for the Cincinnati Mohawks of the International Hockey League, “Sudsy” spent most of his pro career playing effectively in various minor leagues. He had a brief, two-game stint in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens during the 1963 Stanley Cup playoffs but otherwise was unable to crack the National Hockey League until he was 33 years old.
The Flyers acquired Sutherland's rights from the Quebec Aces when the Philadelphia Hockey Inc. purchased the Aces, a former Montreal Canadiens farm team, to become the new NHL expansion team’s first American Hockey League affiliate. He earned a spot with the parent team out of their first training camp, impressing coach Keith Allen with his work ethic and hockey sense.
“Expansion benefitted some of the players like Bill, who had been playing in the AHL. He was a good hockey player who just needed an opportunity,” recalls Flyers Hall of Fame defenseman Joe Watson, a teammate of Sutherland’s on the inaugural team.
On Oct. 11, 1967, Sutherland scored the lone Flyers’ goal in the first regular season game in team history; a 5-1 road loss to the Oakland Seals. Eight days later, the Flyers hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Spectrum in the first home game in team history. Sutherland again scored the only goal of the game, tallying off a rebound as the Flyers prevailed, 1-0.
Incredibly, Sutherland’s historic moment almost didn’t happen. He had trouble gaining entry into the Spectrum to join his teammates.
“The security guard wouldn’t let Bill in the building,” Watson recounts with a chuckle. “Bill was in his 30s but he looked older, and the guard thought this guy had to be too old to be a professional hockey player. Bill couldn’t convince him.”
Eventually, the matter got straightened out and Sutherland claimed a piece of immortality. He went on to score 20 goals and 39 points as the Flyers won the Western Division championship in their first season. The Flyers lost Sutherland to the Minnesota North Stars via the 1968 interleague draft but then reacquired him in a March 2, 1969 trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He remained with the Flyers until early in the 1970-71 season.
After a 250-game NHL career and 60 games with the Winnipeg Jets in the fledgling World Hockey Association, Bill Sutherland retired as an active player. He later went on to a lengthy coaching career, serving both as the head coach and an assistant with the Jets in the NHL and as an assistant with the American Hockey League’s Maine Mariners.
Sutherland, who always took great pride in having been part of the inaugural Flyers’ success, spent the remainder of his life living in Winnipeg. He was in ill health late in life.