Ever try to tend goal in a tornado? Bernie Parent did so for 486 games in a Philadelphia Flyers uniform. Stopping the puck was difficult enough in an era that pitted legends such as Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and Guy Lafleur against the expansion Flyers. But doing it on the Broad Street Bullies, the toughest, meanest team in NHL history, was a whole different challenge, one no goaltender had faced or has faced since. Parent had to find the biscuit with a non-stop parade of carnage in front of him. It was common for him to endure long stoppages of play while the officials sorted out discarded, bloodied equipment after line brawls involving such maniacs as Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz.
So how do you build a Hall of Fame netminding career around all that distraction? How do you stay loose and focused before and during the games? Three words: Larry, Curly and Moe.
Ask a player today what he does for pre-game prep and you get the clichéd answer: “Play Call of Duty. Eat chicken and pasta.” Parent? He put his feet up and watched The Three Stooges at 4:00 p.m. before every single start. “How about that?” said Parent, now 73, with a hearty laugh. “Beautiful guys. They’re funny. Even once in a while now, I’ll watch them. They’ve been around a long time, and it never gets old.”
A fitting choice, in hindsight. It was escapist slapstick to prime him for the real thing hours later. And it worked. Parent backstopped the Flyers to Stanley Cups in 1974 and ’75, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP both years. Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby are the only other players to win consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies. Only Patrick Roy has won it three times.
Parent may have felt nerves before big games, but his calming techniques worked. Jacques Plante, his childhood idol, had mentored him when they formed a tandem with the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1970 to ’72. Plante taught him how to, as Parent put it, “reprogram” his brain after all the brawls and commotion involving his teammates. “Bernie was a very calm guy,” said Joe Watson, a Flyers defenseman during the Cup years and a close friend of Parent’s. “He never got really excited. He never got too excited, and because he was French and couldn’t speak very good English, when he did get excited, we couldn’t understand him anyways, so what the hell was the difference?”
The language barrier shrouded Parent, a Montreal native, in mystery in an all-American city like Philadelphia. He added to his mystique by almost never taking his mask off during a game. “It was part of the whole ‘picture’ of me,” Parent said. “I sometimes asked myself why I kept the mask on, and the answer was it was part of what I looked like as a goaltender.”
It was crisp and white, almost eerily so – Jason Voorhees half a decade before Friday the 13th arrived in theaters. “One time he lifted it up,” Watson said. “We were in the playoffs in New York. We’re in overtime against the Rangers, this is 1974, and he came over and said, ‘Joe, some fun, huh?’ ”
The ability to smile under maximum pressure made Parent one of the greatest clutch goaltenders of all-time, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner and an eventual Hall of Famer. An eye injury cut his career short at 33, but he has no regrets. He appreciates all his success as someone who didn’t have a lot of it early in his NHL career with Boston and Philadelphia, and enjoyed a remarkable rebirth in his second go-round with the Flyers after stops in Toronto and the WHA.
Parent also moved on to other challenges – and victories – in life after hockey. The biggest was battling alcoholism. Parent is almost 40 years sober and still takes his fight as seriously as ever. When he gave this interview, he’d returned from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting minutes earlier. “It’s a disease that’ll stick with you for the rest of your life,” he said. “If you try to solve it by yourself, eventually you could break down. In the old days, I used to do this with guys who were drinking. Good people, don’t misunderstand, but if you stop drinking and you don’t replace those guys with sober people, guess what? You become lonely, you become depressed and eventually you go back to the same crowd again, and then you break down. Just like in hockey, you have to do it as a team, and when you have that approach, you have a good chance to succeed.”
In retirement, Parent has found serenity on the seas. He owns a 45-foot boat, named ‘The French Connection,’ and he’s extremely passionate about it. He loves life on the water, and he seems just as proud of his deep-sea fishing exploits as he is about his accomplishments during his playing days. Some people are afraid to pursue their passions, he said, and just need to push through that. The boating life is his other Stanley Cup, a symbol of his sobriety. He stared through the storm on the ice to become one of the best goalies ever, and he did the same to take control of an even more turbulent life off the ice.
Born: April 3, 1945, Montreal, Que.
NHL Career: 1965-79
Teams:Bos, Tor, Phi
Stats: 271-198-119, 2.55 GAA, .915 SP, 54 SO
All-Star: 2 (First-2)
Trophies: 4 (Vezina-2, Conn Smythe-2)
Stanley Cups: 2
DID YOU KNOW?
Parent idolized Jacques Plante and eventually became his big-league teammate, but the two actually forged a friendship long before Parent was an NHLer. Plante’s sister was Parent’s next-door neighbor, so Parent would have the thrill of seeing his hero visit every summer. “I would know that he was coming over, and I’d be sitting at the kitchen table, and I’d see him get out of the car with the hat on and smoking a cigar,” Parent said. “Everything about him was incredible. What a great individual.” When Parent reached his teens and became a legit prospect, Plante would stealthily watch him practice next door, spying through bushes. “He knew a bit about me and what I wanted to accomplish because his sister had talked to him,” Parent said. “He just wanted to see for himself whether I fit in the picture and how he could help me develop to get to the NHL.”