Coaches use an array of techniques to motivate their players. Some make fire and brimstone speeches, others use a reserved corporate executive style of communication. Fred Shero took the road less traveled. He scribbled messages on the locker room blackboard to inspire his troops. Before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Finals, he wrote his most famous saying, "Win together today and we walk together forever." Three hours later, the Flyers won the first of two consecutive Stanley Cups.
The son of immigrants who fled Russia to escape religious persecution, Shero was born on October 23, 1925, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He attended the University of Manitoba for two years and served in the Canadian navy where he made a name for himself in the field of athletics not as a hockey player but as a boxer. Shero was the lightweight and middleweight champion but rejected a $10,000 offer to turn professional, opting to play hockey instead.
Shero played three seasons for the New York Rangers from 1947-1950. Those three years were sandwiched between a playing career that began in 1942 for the St. James Monarchs and ended in 1958 for the Shawinigan Cataracts. In 1957, Shero began his professional coaching career with Shawinigan. By 1971, he had held additional minor league coaching tenures for St. Paul, Omaha, and Buffalo, winning six first place titles during those years.
With his minor league success, the Flyers came calling for the man with the tinted glasses in 1971. Using an eccentric, entertaining style, he began to mold the Flyers into the "Broad Street Bullies," writing on his famed blackboard, "Take the shortest route to the puck carrier, and arrive in ill humor." He stressed the importance of commitment by saying, "When you have bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken makes a contribution, but the pig makes a commitment."
Practices under Shero could make an outsider shake his head in disbelief. To improve stick handling, tennis balls would replace hockey pucks. To increase leg strength, skaters would push a goalie seated in a folded chair around the ice. Forwards would practice breakaways while being slashed from behind. "Nobody ever lets you score an easy goal in a game," Shero said. "Why practice that way."
When the Flyers beat the Minnesota North Stars four games to two and gave the Montreal Canadiens a tough battle in the 1973 playoffs, Shero knew his team was ready to compete for the Stanley Cup, which the orange and black won in 1974 and 1975. They remain the only NHL championships in Flyers history. In 1974, he won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL Coach of the Year.
"The Fog," as Shero was called for tendency to drift off in thought, didn’t rest on his laurels. Three days after winning his first Cup, he spent three weeks in the Soviet Union to study Russian techniques. Even with all his success, this brilliant hockey mind never took himself too seriously. "Coaches are a dime a dozen," Shero said. "I found out a long time ago that only one thing wins for you--the players."
Shero resigned from the Flyers on May 22, 1978. Less than two weeks later, he re-joined the New York Rangers organization as head coach and general manager. Because Shero still had a year left on his contract with the Flyers, Philadelphia received a No. 1 pick from Rangers as compensation. After two years and change in New York, the Fog made his final coaching stop in Tilburg, Holland, for the 1987-88 season. For the previous five years, he had been the New Jersey Devils' radio analyst. In 1990, he returned to the Flyers as a community relations adviser.
In 1983, Shero underwent surgery for stomach cancer. It was the beginning of long battle with the disease that eventually claimed his life on November 24, 1990. Many of Shero’s innovations--hiring an assistant coach, installing playing systems, studying films, conducting morning skates--are common in hockey today. In 1980, he was a co-recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy awarded for outstanding service to hockey in the United States.
Shero was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame in March 1990. In a 1999 Philadelphia Daily News poll, he was selected as the city’s greatest professional coach/manager, beating out legends such as Connie Mack, Dick Vermeil, Greasy Neale, Billy Cunningham, Dallas Green, and Alex Hannum. It was a fitting tribute to one of the most innovative coaches in NHL history.