Flyer Ties to Class of 1923 Arena Run Deep

 

From the earliest days of Philadelphia Flyers hockey organization until the team’s 1983 relocation of its training headquarters to Voorhees, NJ, the Class of 1923 Arena played a central role in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers. 

 

By 1969, after two seasons of splitting practices between different facilities, the Flyers settled into the Class of 1923 facilities as their primary site for daily on-ice practice and off-ice training. It was the training home base of Fred Shero’s “Broad Street Bullies” era teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships and reached the Finals three straight years.

 

“My favorite memory of the Class of 1923 Arena is that the entire team congregated there before the 1975 Stanley Cup parade. It was our starting point. What a day that was,” recalls longtime Flyers public relations director Joe Kadlec.

 

Later, the facility was the headquarters of Pat Quinn’s 1979-80 Flyers team that set a modern professional sports record with a 35-game unbeaten streak and reached the Stanley Cup Final again. Late in its history, it was the place where electrifying rookie goaltender Pelle Lindbergh honed his craft at the NHL level, under the watchful eye of Flyers goaltending coach Bernie Parent.

 

“The Class of 1923 Arena was part of my daily life when I first arrived with the Flyers, so coming back there for the Alumni Showdown and announcement of the renovation plan with Snider Hockey is going to take me back to some old memories while we’re celebrating the facility’s future, “ recalled Flyers Alumni Association president Brad Marsh, who played with the team from 1981-82 to 1987-88.

 

During the team’s heyday of the 1970s, Flyers players and the media who covered the team never quite knew what coach Shero had in mind for that day. He ran the team through both traditional and unconventional drills (some of which he picked up from offseason coaching symposiums behind the Iron Curtain in the former USSR).

 

“We worked hard but we also had fun. Freddie kept everyone on their toes at practice. Sometimes he’d even put in something totally ridiculous, like a passing drill with no sticks, just to see if Clarkie [team captain Bobby Clarke] or anyone would ask why the heck we were doing it,” recalls Flyers Hall of Fame defenseman Joe Watson.

 

Forever thinking of ways to motivate players and gain a strategic advantage, Shero took advantage of the fact that visiting NHL teams also sometimes made use of the Class of 1923 Arena when they were in town to play the Flyers, recalls U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Stewart.

 

In the mid-1970s, while a student-athlete at the University of Pennsylvania (the only Penn hockey player to later play in the NHL), Stewart was a rink attendant at the Flyers’ practices. According to Stewart, he was very well-treated by the Flyers players (especially Barry Ashbee, Bob “the Hound” Kelly, the Watson brothers and Terry Crisp) as well as by Shero. He also picked up some tricks of the trade.

 

“I remember one time, I was carrying a bunch of broken sticks out of the visiting team’s locker room to discard them. Freddie saw me. He said, ‘Paul, where do those go?’ I said, “In the trash. They’re broken.’ He said, “No, bring them to my office.’ He measured each one to see which opposing players may have been using illegal blade curves. He jotted down the info on a notepad in case he ever had occasion to challenge a stick during a game.”

 

A familiar site during the Shero years: Flyers players doing on-ice calisthenics at practice. Meanwhile, when players would mess up a drill, they would sometimes be sent off to do pushups on the other side of the ice. That ritual led to some comedic moments that broke up the grind of daily practice.

 

“One time in 1978, ‘Moose’ Dupont was sent off to do 20 pushups. The drill continued, and Freddie had his back to Dupont. A few moments later, Shero blew his whistle. He announced the next drill and then said, ‘Oh, and Dupont, when you’re done playing around, do 30 more, the right way.’ Shero knew that Moose was only pretending to do them because he saw players grinning,” recalls longtime Flyers beat writer Wayne Fish.

 

In the mid-1970s, in addition to a small workout room with weights, the Flyers introduced then-trendy Apollo isometric exercise equipment at Class of 1923 Arena. In an era before most hockey players took physical conditioning seriously – Clarke was a rare exception – many Flyers players found other shortcuts during their off-ice workouts.

 

 

“The Apollo gear worked with weight resistance: pullies and ropes that were heavily bolted, so the harder you pulled, the more resistance you would get,” recalls longtime Flyers broadcaster Steve Coates, who was part of multiple training camps with the team during his years as a minor league player in the Flyers farm system.

 

“The thing was, we quickly figured out that, if you didn’t pull very hard, you didn’t get that resistance. So, when the trainers weren’t watching, guys would pretend like they were going all out, grunting from the exertion, but they really weren’t getting much of any resistance.”

 

Shero and trainers Frank Lewis and Jim McKenzie were not fooled by the ruse. However, as long as players did not take shortcuts on the ice, Shero himself was relatively unconcerned about whether they took their other forms of training seriously.

 

Now the Flyers team president, Paul Holmgren was a player on the team during the eras in which Shero, Bob McCammon and Pat Quinn served as the head coach. Last year, when the Flyers publicly introduced the media to their comprehensive training center behind the scenes at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, Holmgren chuckled at the comparison of state-of-the-art NHL workout facilities today vs. those of the 1970s.

 

“Like night and day. The room we had was very small, and the choices were limited. For the time, though, it served its purpose. We knew when to have fun and when to get serious. Clarkie was our hardest-working player on the ice as well as off the ice, so we all figured we’d better follow his lead,” Holmgren recalled.

 

By the standards of his playing era, Clarke was one of the first NHL players who took pride in physical fitness and gym training. After the Flyers won their first Stanley Cup in 1974, team captain Clarke instructed his teammates to report to camp in the best shape of their lives. Most of the guys complied; which in those days meant showing up at camp either at their playing weight or at least no more than a few pounds over it.

 

More than just a training rink, there was also a family feel to the Class of 1923 Arena during the Flyers years there. Many a player’s children skated on the ice and/or got opportunities to play loosely organized games. That included Shero’s sons, Ray (now a long-time NHL general manager) and Jean-Paul, as well as team co-founder and longtime chairman Ed Snider’s older children.

 

“I remember, one time, Fred Shero organized a full scrimmage. He let me play goaltender, which was a huge thrill,” recalls Jay Snider.

 

During what was supposed to be a transitional season in 1979-80, the Flyers rattled off their record 35-game unbeaten steak and came within a controversial Game 6 overtime loss in the Stanley Cup Final of forcing a seventh and deciding game back in Philadelphia. That year, rookie left wing Brian Propp was part of a highly effective trio called the “Rat Patrol”. His linemates were Holmgren and Ken “the Rat” Linseman.

 

“What I remember about that year was how we came together as a team under Pat Quinn. There was a winning atmosphere, and we had a good group of veterans who could still really play, and some younger players like myself and Kenny. Coming to the rink every day was a lot of fun,” Propp recalls.

 

By the time the Flyers moved to Voorhees – first to the Coliseum and, more recently, to the Skate Zone – they had carved out an indelible legacy and a treasure trove of memories at the Class of 1923 Arena. It is this tradition of being part of a successful team, working and playing hard alongside one another on the ice that will be passed along to the Snider Hockey student-athletes when the Class of 1923 Arena renovation is completed.