The Eleventh Day of Claudemas: 11 over-the-top moments

Thanks to McKean, Guest, Shearer

Here we are in December with little to do in this tough lockout time. What’s a blog to do? Well, it looks like a 12 Days of Christmas-themed series of posts is the way to go.

But, we realize that all of you hockey fans aren’t into Christmas, so we’ve named it after the man nicknamed Orange Jesus and called it Claudemas.

So, forward we go with the count-up! On the eleventh day of Claudemas, Flyers Faithful gave to me…11 things in franchise history that were just a little bit louder and stranger than the maximum, because there’s a fine line between clever and stupid.

#1 The roof, the roof, the roof is…blown offThere are a thousand little things which can doom an experiment like an expansion franchise in an established sports league. Surely, one of them was not portions of the home arena’s roof blowing off so that the team was forced to play the most important part of their schedule on a permanent road trip.

Ed Snider said repairs to the damage caused as a result of late-Winter high winds in March of 1968 could have been finished in 24 hours, but the issue became “a political football” with mayor James Tate and City Hall. The result was that the Flyers, battling to maintain first place in the West Division as the season drew to a close, had to take up residence in Madison Square Garden and Maple Leaf Gardens before completing their home slate at Le Colisee in Quebec City — home to their AHL affiliate. They completed the circuit with a 3-2-2 record and won the division title.

#2 Spectrum fans meet the Blues, but not in the way you think – January 6, 1972 started out as just another game between St. Louis and Philadelphia at the Spectrum. But it didn’t end that way.

With the hosts leading 2-0 after two periods, Blues head coach Al Arbour argued with referee John Ashley. The conversation lasted from center ice into the tunnel to the dressing rooms, at which point a spectator threw a beer which hit Arbour. Immediately, his players rushed into the tunnel and into the stands to find the culprit, leading to altercations with the partisan paying customers. In the ensuing chaos, Arbour’s shirt was torn and he suffered a 10-stitch gash on his head. Bob Plager rushed the seats while Garry Unger used his stick as a helicopter blade lest any other fans try to rush he or his teammates.

Police in charge of security had to subdue Blues players more than Flyers fans, but the visiting players were fired up, scoring three times in the final 20 minutes to secure victory. Following the game, Arbour, his brother John, and two other Blues were booked in South Philly for disorderly conduct and assault on policemen.

#3 The Crown vs. The Bullies – Nobody in this city, or this continent, or anyone outside of Toronto in the mid 1970s should know the name of William McMurtry, but he holds an obscure yet important place in Flyers history.

During Game 3 of the 1976 quarterfinals at Maple Leaf Gardens, a Leafs fan tossed a chunk of ice at Don Saleski, who was sitting in the penalty box. Saleski turned around to try and find the unfortunate individual, but a nearby policeman interpreted it as a potential attack and grabbed Saleski’s stick. Joe Watson, in turn, thought Saleski was about to be ambushed, so he came over to the penalty box area and swung his stick in an attempt to ward off trouble. Instead, he got trouble: the stick struck the shoulder of Constable Art Malloy. Later in the game, Mel Bridgman engaged Borje Salming, and punched out the towering Swedish defenseman.

Enter McMurtry, on a crusade to clean up what he felt was a violent sport. He got his brother, the Attorney General for the Province of Ontario, to lay charges against Saleski, Watson and Bridgman. All three were booked and released on their own recognizance following a Flyers loss. But that wasn’t enough. The spat went all the way to NHL President Clarence Campbell, who…get this…ruled that the Flyers were the victims of an orchestrated, but misguided campaign.

#4 Tales from ‘The Gonk” – Other than defensive responsibility or the need to pass to either of his wingers, the only other thing that stopped Ron “Flocky Hockey” Flockhart during his NHL career was a mysterious malady which came to be known as “The Gonk.”

It started early in Flockhart’s Philadelphia tenure, as a skin condition which was a result of the relatively primitive methods used in drying and cleaning hockey equipment between periods and between games. It was not unknown throughout the hockey world, but for Flockhart, who hailed from the same home town as the Watson brothers, it was a whole epidemic unto itself. The rash would appear on certain parts of his body, cause discomfort or pain, and be an overall embarrassing situation that caused him to be the butt of teammates’ jokes.

It developed into a full-blown medical issue which confounded doctors well after he departed Philly in October of 1983. “There are factors that make it worse,” said Flockhart in a 1983 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. “Taking too many showers, weather changes, nervousness…” It wasn’t unusual for the British Columbia native to be isolated from the club in case the rash was contagious.

Perhaps the juking and jiving Flockhart did, to some extent, was a response to the skin-tingling going on underneath his uniform. Medication, salves, Saran Wrap all failed to provide relief from the creeping dread.

#5 Unhappy Christmas – First-year NHL head coach Mike Keenan had his young team in contention with the Washington Capitals for first place in the Patrick Division as Christmas of 1984 neared. It wasn’t quite enough for the taskmaster that the Flyers recorded a 7-4 home win against their main competition one night before thanks to a Tim Kerr hat trick, he had to send a message that the rest of the NHL would be gunning for them after the holidays.

“I had pre-identified it as a conditioning day,” Keenan flatly recounted in Full Spectrum. “But we were starting to get noticed and I also wanted to reinforce the idea that expectations had been raised.” Thus, what the players expected would be a light practice followed by the exchange of gag gifts turned into “full-scale torture” for two hours.

The result of the bewildering whip-cracking was the exact opposite of what was intended: an equally bewildering 6-0 loss in the back end of the home-and-home set at Capital Centre against a keyed-up Capitals suqad on December 26, a game which began a key five-game road trip on a sour note.

#6 Devils won the game, Flyers win the war – For once, Keenan wasn’t trying to play any psychological games to get his team fired up for a late January, 1987 game against New Jersey at the Meadowlands. You see, Keenan was serving a one-game suspension on this Saturday night up the Turnpike for his “role” in precipitating a mild bench-clearing tussle six days earlier at the Spectrum in a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders.

Philly ended up on the wrong end of a 4-3 score, their second game of the year in East Rutherford which didn’t result in a win against their last-place foes, and the whole thing boiled over after the buzzer sounded:

#7 Don’t Poke the Bear — In the lockout-shortened 1995 schedule, the Flyers didn’t get off to the greatest start after being saddled with seven games in the first 11 days. But with some key acquisitions, the best of which was John LeClair and Eric Desjardins from Montreal for Mark Recchi in early February, the Orange and Black began to formulate an identity that had been missing for almost a decade.

One week after the shocking trade, the Washington Capitals came to town and were immediately blitzed with four goals in the first period. Down 5-1 as the second period drew to a close, Caps “enforcer” Rob Pearson decided to test his mettle by taunting Ron Hextall after cross-checking Flyers defenseman Rob Zettler, and his salvo was answered in the most unexpected, yet brutal, of ways:

#8 The People vs. Tie Domi –Talk of the line that separates spectators in the seats and athletes on their respective areas of play always makes light of those paying customers who wish to make a spectacle of themselves, or to engage those athletes in their particular arena.

Philadelphia is certainly no exception. Fans have tussled with players, as in the incident mentioned above, but had never actively engaged hockey players while the game was going on. The line that separated vicious taunting and a disaster waiting to happen was finally blurred in an NHL venue on March 29, 2001. Toronto Maple Leafs forward Tie Domi, whose theatrics and perceived cowardice, despite his standing as the game’s heavyweights in that era, did nothing to force Flyers fans to grant him even begrudging respect. However, one fan took that to an illogical extreme and paid the ultimate price:

#9 Bottle Service – On April 22, 2008, Joffrey Lupul scored the most critical goal of his career — an overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to give the Flyers a 3-2 win over Washington at Verizon Center and a berth in the conference semifinals.

Shortly after the game was over, cameras caught one naughty Capitals fan trying to brain Jeff Carter with a beer bottle while he was distracted by an interview with the inestimable Steve Coates. Blink and you miss it at the nine-second mark:

#10 Pronger the puck thief – The Flyers had just lost both games on the road, in Chicago, to start off the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals — both by one-goal margins at 6-5 and 2-1. What’s a team leader to do? Revert to juvenile subterfuge, apparently.

Captain Chris Pronger decided to steal a bit of Blackhawks’ mojo after each Philly loss by swiping the game puck so that the young hosts wouldn’t have any physical souvenir reminding them of their commanding lead in this best-of-seven set.

“Why not? What’s wrong? It’s sitting there,” Pronger said when asked if he felt any remorse for swiping the frozen rubber disc. “What else is gonna happen to it? It’s sitting there. Sure, why not. You got a problem with that?”

Those with less than creative minds jumped on the “scandal,” with international scorn and praise following, as did two wins back at home which squared the series. It wasn’t the first time Pronger attempted to do so, having been successful on at least two unpublicized occasions in the regular season, but it was on the game’s biggest stage and done with so little remorse or guilt. We’re going to miss that.

# 11 Dry Island – Other than the traditional and understood head coach-player dynamic, good luck to anyone who tries to get millionaire 25-year-olds living in one of the largest cities in North America to do your bidding anywhere beyond the confines of the hockey rink.

When it was reported two Summers ago that Peter Laviolette instituted a novel concept called “Dry Island” in the middle of his first season at the helm, most of his players at some point during the five reported pledges, attempted not to imbibe for one month. The notable exceptions were Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Though others declined, the fact that the Flyers’ two dynamic new “leaders” didn’t take the plunge supposedly widened a rift they themselves apparently created in the locker room. What put this over the top was the shocking dual trades on June 23, 2011 which shipped Carter to Columbus and Richards to Los Angeles, with strong hints that their failure to adhere to Lavy’s version of “Sober in October” played a part.