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Clarke loves the rough style of hockey displayed by the Flyers

TORONTO - Bob Clarke never issued an apology for his win-at-all-costs style of play so it's not surprising that he's a big fan of the way the Philadelphia Flyers battle on the ice today.

Suspensions have followed some contentious Flyers hits this season but Clarke, now senior vice-president of the NHL team, wouldn't have them play any other way.

"Absolutely," he replies when asked if his stamp of approval is on the Philadelphia product.

In the city for the annual Rogers Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction, Clarke offers an explanation.

"I think it's what hockey is and also what the fans in Philadelphia want to see," he says. "In Montreal, they like a fast, passing team - like the team they have.

"That's a great, great team for Montreal. I'm not so sure it would be that popular in Philadelphia."

The teams that won NHL titles in 1974 and 1975, with Clarke in the lineups, were nicknamed the Broad Street Bullies. The franchise hasn't won the Stanley Cup since, so going back to the old ways is an appealing prospect to diehard fans.

"Flyers fans like that, and always have," Clarke says of the rough-and-tumble approach.

One of the most entertaining games at Air Canada Centre this season was played Jan. 5, when Philadelphia beat the Leafs.

As for the Leafs, Clarke says he expects interim general manager Cliff Fletcher will make the right personnel moves.

"Don't worry," says Clarke. "Cliff Fletcher is as good a general manager as there is in the business.

"Whatever needs to be done, he'll know pretty soon and he'll get it done."

At the same time, he expressed empathy for fired GM John Ferguson.

"A ton," he said. "Everybody seems to get fired in this job sometime or another.

"When it happens, and it happened to me, you're all of a sudden on your own. You've spent your whole life being part of a team. The team is your life. Then all of a sudden you're on your own. It's a tough thing. You've got to start over. You really feel bad when a guy loses his job.

"I would assume that John is tough enough to get back on his feet and go work somewhere else."

Clarke, 58 now, has little power in the Flyers' executive suites. He talks to players and coaches and describes his role as "a professional fan."

The top of the Eastern Conference standings are extremely tight, and Philadelphia could emerge as a contender for the regular-season title - he hopes.

"Of the teams I've seen, I don't think you can say anybody has a great team," he says. "I think Ottawa is good, Montreal is scary good, the Rangers are going to be good, the Devils are really good and we always have trouble with the Devils, but the Flyers are in that pack so I don't see why they wouldn't be able to contend for the East anyway, and then see what comes out of the West."

While the Detroit Red Wings are runaway leaders in the overall standings, they won't necessarily represent the West in the championship series, says Clarke.

"Obviously, (GM Ken) Holland has the right people to get players for them, and (Mike) Babcock does a great job coaching," says Clarke. "They've got a highly-skilled team and they have some physical players.

"They're a tough team, Detroit, but a lot of the games they're winning are by one goal. They're good, but it doesn't mean they're like the old Oilers used to be. They could beat you by six or seven. Detroit's really good but I don't think anybody would concede they're going to win the Cup."



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