Especially with Stanley Cup on line, Parent was one inflexible Flyer in goal


At the NHL All-Star Game, staged a month ago, Chicago Blackhawks goalie Ed Belfour gave up what many veteran hockey observers described as one of the softest goals in the history of the sport.

The puck was dribbling toward him slowly as he moved about 20 feet up ice to meet it. Somehow, the disc, which would have been handled with aplomb by any midget or atom, trickled through Belfour's legs, and Mike Gartner of the New York Rangers gathered it in and nudged it into the net to send the Wales Conference off to a 16-6 victory over the Campbell Conference.

The score is not a misprint. The game is a defenseless shootout, which any self-respecting goalie should boycott.

Anyway, the conversation got around to soft goals because Bernie Parent, one of the truly outstanding goalies to don the pads and pull on the mask, was in town during the weekend talking up his game and the fact that there's a milestone playoff dead ahead for the league.

For a hunk of hardware that started out costing just $48.67, the Stanley Cup has had what might be called a fabled history. In another month, competition for Lord Stanley's contribution to western sports culture, the oldest trophy up for grabs by pro athletes in North America, will begin for the 100th time.

"Did you ever give up a goal as soft as that one?" Bernie was asked.

First, a word about what sort of goaltender Parent was. The thunder used to start somewhere down around Philadelphia's Independence Hall, to be joined quickly by equally mighty roars from the suburbs to the west, South Jersey and Delaware (above the canal). "Bernie, Bernie, Bernie," used to bust in through the doors and rumble the Spectrum, once helping shake the roof off, as those masters of intensity, the Flyers, took the ice.

Parent was perhaps the key ingredient in making the Flyers champions in 1974 and 1975 before finishing as beaten finalists in 1976, because history does not record a Cup winner that did not have excellent goaltending.

"It was the end of the 1970 season," Bernie recalled. "You could say we almost had it made. We were home for the last two games of the regular season, and a win or a tie in either would have put us in the playoffs."

In the penultimate game, the Flyers lost, 1-0. It was now down to an all-or-nothing final game. Early in the third period of a scoreless game, Minnesota was coming down ice with both teams about ready to make line changes.

Parent continued: "You know how you can tell when a guy is just going to toss it in the corner and head off. Well, Barry Gibbs gave it that look and, when he hit the puck from about the red line, I looked down and started cleaning up the ice shavings that had built up in the crease. Suddenly, off to my right, the puck went by me and into the net."

It turned out to be the only goal of the game, and Philly missed the playoffs because of those 1-0 losses at home. "Next season," Parent added, "I'm playing with Toronto."

It's fortunate the Flyers got Bernie back because, a couple of years later, he turned out to be the guy they needed to backstop the glory days of the "Broad Street Bullies." A guy who recorded 270 victories during 13 seasons with Boston, Toronto and two tours in Philadelphia, Parent's goals-against average was a fine 2.55. Came the postseason and that number dropped to 2.43. He finished off both victorious Cup finals with shutouts, 1-0 over the Bruins and 2-0 over Buffalo.

"The way it worked, our Cup victories were about even in my mind," he continued. "The first one is great, but you're tense all the time, not sure what's going to happen, and it's actually a relief when it's over. The next year, we were all more relaxed and we got to enjoy it much more as it was all happening.

"No matter, though, when you win it's kind of hard to celebrate because you're so exhausted. When we beat the Bruins, it was an afternoon game and I'd say I was home by 7 and in bed by 9 o'clock. In the morning, I wasn't really sure it had happened. I knew for sure when I went out and picked up the [Sunday] paper out front."

And that's when Bernie Parent saw something else: In big, garish, spray-painted letters across the front of his home was the message: "C-O-N-G-R-A-D-U-L-A-T-I-O-N-S."

"Yeah, not bad enough the guy messes up my house, he spells it wrong," Bernie said. "And I had to get the house completely repainted."

The Stanley Cup started out as a challenge trophy for amateur teams in Canada and was dominated by club teams from Montreal in the early going. The NHL moved in on the action in 1918. Ironically, Lord Stanley, later to become the Earl of Derby, never witnessed a Cup game, as he returned to England shortly after putting his goblet in competition.

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