MONTREAL – The Philadelphia Flyers aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry when they are called the Broad Street Bullies II.
The nickname first given to the brawling Flyers of the 1970s personified by Dave (The Hammer) Shultz has resurfaced in the media this season after three of their players were suspended for brutal hits on opponents.
The latest was defenceman Randy Jones, who was to begin serving a two-game suspension Thursday night against Montreal for a hit from behind last weekend that left Boston star Patrice Bergeron with a concussion and a broken nose.
In the pre-season, Steve Downie was slapped with 20-game suspension for a flying hit to the head of Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond, while Jesse Bouelrice got 25 games for a cross-check to the face of Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler on Oct. 10.
“They’re isolated events,” said Flyers forward Mike Knuble.
Still, they woke up Thursday morning to find a story with the headline “Goon Culture Lingers in Philly” in a local newspaper, which reflects a growing suspicion that intimidation is once again part of the Philadelphia game plan.
“I think it’s comical,” added Knuble. “We saw the article and we all got a chuckle out of it.
“It’s like the team is promoting a mentality to brainwash players into doing things on the ice. Those are incidents where they all happened to be wearing the same uniform. It’s unfortunate they happened, especially the last one. No one feels worse about it than Randy.
“But there’s no underlying thing going on here.”
The Flyers won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 with a big, tough team that fed on fighting, but which also had first-rate goaltending from Bernie Parent and some skilful scorers like Bill Barber, Reggie Leach and their fiery, nasty captain Bobby Clarke.
Their reign was ended by a Canadiens team that was just as tough, but which overwhelmed the Flyers with speed and skill and went on to win the Cup the next four years. Some say that Montreal side with the stylish Guy Lafleur saved hockey from a slide into barbarism.
Although fighting looks to be making a comeback in the NHL, old-style goon hockey ended with the instigator penalty that slapped two extra minutes on the player who starts a fight.
“If you’re comparing this team to the Broad Street Bullies of the ’70s, the rules are so different, that’s a far-fetched argument,” said Flyers coach John Stevens.
But Stevens makes no apologies for the physical style his team has embraced this season. The Flyers finished last overall with only 56 points last season and needed a makeover.
A string off-season moves like the signing of free-agent centre Daniel Briere and a commitment to a more physical game had them off to a 7-3-0 start going into Thursday night’s game.
They also added hard-hitting defenceman Jason Smith, playmaking blue-liner Kimmo Timonen and goaltender Martin Biron, who is thriving in his first real shot at being a starter.
Their efforts have been overshadowed somewhat by the irrational acts of Downie, who was not expected to make the team, Boulerice, who was said to have under control a wild side that saw him banned for a year from the OHL in 1998 for a stick-swinging incident, and Jones.
That doesn’t sit well with Stevens.
“It aggravates me because it totally fogs the good things we’ve done as a team this year,” he said. “Last year, we weren’t a very good team.
“We were a lot of times too easy to play against and now we’re trying to right that ship by being a much more competitive team. We’ve been so much more competitive in so many areas, whether it’s blocked shots, faceoff percentages, special teams, defending 5-on-5.
“We want to be aggressive. We want to defend by getting on top of people and we want physical contact – quite frankly because it’s the best way to get the puck back – but within the rules of the game.”
A possible drawback to having three players suspended is that referees may watch his team more closely and the league may be quicker to levy discipline against a team that is a repeat offender.
But Stevens said the Jones suspension shows the NHL is not at war with the Flyers.
While the Philadelphia defenceman should have held up when Bergeron turned his back to play the puck against the end boards, they deemed it not an attempt to injure.
There was no defence for the Downie and Boulerice hits.
“We’re not denying that those two incidents shouldn’t have happened,” added Stevens. “There’s no excuse for them in the game. We’re not hiding from that.
“And now we’re paying the price by having to juggle players in and out of our lineup to get enough players who can help us.”
Notes: The Flyers have lost another defenceman. Derian Hatcher was to undergo arthroscopic surgery Thursday for a fluid build-up and a possible torn meniscus in his troublesome right knee. He’s expected to be out about a month. . . Forward Scottie Upshall was to return to action Thursday, but with a soft cast on his injured left wrist.