About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Start of an "Incredible Journey"
For a lot of years, selling securities to banks has been my real job.
But my most rewarding job has been the one that, for a half century, has taken me inside a noisy, percolating South Philadelphia hockey arena during the fall, winter, and spring months.
I have been fortunate enough to have been with the Flyers since their inception in 1967 — first as a public relations assistant to Joe Kadlec, and then, since 1972, as their public address announcer.
It's a career that has been fulfilling, exhilarating, and unpredictable. Witness my first game as public address announcer. There I was, minding my own business and sitting between two players who went to the Spectrum penalty box during a preseason game. They were yapping at each other as they sat down when, suddenly, the visiting player picked up a bucket of ice and heaved it at our guy, Bob Kelly, who was one of our feisty wingers.
The ice never reached the player they called Hound. Instead, it bounced off the side of my head and drenched my sport coat as the fans sitting behind us let out a collective roar.
In a way, it was my baptism into the NHL. Instead of holy water, I got christened with ice water. Hey, just part of the job. Part of what has been an incredible journey.
The Flyers finished with their first winning record in franchise history during my first year as the PA announcer, and that started an amazing stretch during which Philadelphia fell in love with the Orange and Black.
I have witnessed some great moments along the way: eight trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, consecutive championships in 1974 and 1975, an epic win over the Soviet Red Army team, and key games in the remarkable 35-game unbeaten streak in 1979–80. And who could ever forget our Cinderella run to get to the 2010 Finals?
But it hasn't been all glitz and glamour.
When the Flyers franchise was awarded, Ed Snider and Jerry Wolman were taking a huge risk. You see, I was in the minority — a die-hard hockey fan who had followed the old Philadelphia Ramblers, who played at the Philadelphia Arena in the Eastern Hockey League. At that time, however, most Philadelphians knew little about hockey.
Across the bridge at the Cherry Hill Arena, the Jersey Devils were playing in the Eastern Hockey League. They were the lone survivors of seven failed Philadelphia-area, minor-league teams over a 38-year period.
But in 1966 (a year before we started playing), Philly landed a franchise at a cost of $2 million, in part because of plans to build a new rink, the Spectrum. That helped offset the fact that Philadelphia was the only one of six new NHL franchises not to have a high minor-league affiliation.
The team was named "Flyers" by Ed Snider's sister, Phyllis. That was the easy part. The tough part: attracting fans in a city with deep baseball, football, and basketball roots. In addition, several months of hockey's shedule overlapped with the immensely popular Big Five basketball scene.
In 1967, a parade to welcome the team was held down Broad Street. About 25 people showed up. As defenseman Joe Watson is fond of saying, there were more Flyers personnel in the parade than there were people watching it.
Today, virtually all home games are sellouts and the Flyers have become a huge part of Philadelphia's sports landscape. But in 1967–68, there were growing pains. Lots and lots of growing pains. We lost our first exhibition game 6–1 — to a minor-league team. Well, at least it was our minor-league team, the Quebec Aces.
The regular-season home opener drew 7,812 fans, and we eked out a less-than-artistic 1–0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins as Bill Sutherland scored the goal, Doug Favell recorded the shutout, and public-address announcer Gene Hart kept the spectators informed as he explained the icing and offside calls. I announced the goal scorers and penalties to those who sat in our scarcely filled press box. Today, in the Information Age, there may be 50 to 75 media types at our games. Back then, you could count the reporters on one hand.
I also kept handwritten stats during the season — remember, this was way before computers — and handed them out to reporters after the game. My Catholic school penmanship, drilled into me by the nuns, was actually paying off.
I got the job, which was part-time, partly because of my friendship with Joe Kadlec. Joe had been working for the Daily News sports department and was hired as the Flyers' first public-relations director. I had met Joe the previous year down in Margate, New Jersey. We were young, single, and carefree, and we partied and chased women together.
To be honest, I found out about the Flyers because of a big billboard on Route 42 in South Jersey that read, The Flyers Are Coming! I looked into it because I had a little bit of a background in hockey. The goal judge for the Ramblers — a team that was here from 1955 to 1964 — was a guy named George Lennon. George was the uncle of a classmate of mine in grade school, also named George Lennon. We used to go to the games with his uncle on Friday nights at the arena on 45th and Market. We'd watch the games and run around the rink. We'd get the broken sticks, take them home, and tape them up and play street hockey behind the school. We did that for years. We'd put on our shoe-skates — you put the skates on your shoes — and we'd play all the time.
As I mentioned, I was a rarity at that time. I was hooked on hockey even though we didn't have our own NHL team. I lived in a Southwest Philadelphia row home at the time, and I'd take the 36 Trolley downtown to buy hockey books. I'd watch the Original Six teams — Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, and the New York Rangers — on TV and I just loved the sport. I got to know the league and read all the hockey books, which they only sold at 13th and Market. And then one day when I was talking to Joe, he told me he just got the job with the Flyers as the PR director. I said, "Hey, if you need any help, I'd be glad to help you. I know a little bit about the sport." Joe told me to come to this cocktail party where they were celebrating the team's arrival. Joe was a North Catholic guy and I was a West Catholic guy, but we became buddies down Margate through some mutual friends.
It's strange how your life can take a turn by fate. I'm sure everybody can look back to an unscripted event that changed their lives in some way. For me, if it wasn't for some friends bringing Joe and me together, I probably would never have been a part of the Flyers.
As it turned out, we had two press boxes at the Spectrum, and Joe used me to handle one of them. I handed out stats and did a lot of the early work that Ted Gendron, Don Schwartz, Gene Prince, and a few others did in later years. I would announce the goals over the press box PA, but I missed lots and lots of goals as they were being scored while I was busy writing down things on a sheet of paper. I'd be printing something out and there would be a big roar and I'd find out what happened and then make the announcement.
I did that for a few years. Gene Hart — who, of course, would become a legendary announcer and would be named to Hockey's Hall of Fame — was one of a series of guys who did the early public address announcing in the arena, and he would then do the third period on the radio. Marv Bachrad, Eddie Ferenz, and Kevin Johnson also did some PA work.
The first season started positively enough. We finished that 1967–68 campaign atop the newly formed West Division, which was also composed of teams in Pittsburgh, St. Louis (our most bitter rival back then), Minnesota, Los Angeles, and Oakland.
Looking back, it wasn't that we were very good. We just weren't as bad as the other teams. We won the West but had just a 31–32–11 record, a .493 points percentage.
The competition level was in two totally different levels in our first season. You had the Original Six in one division — and you had very little chance to beat them unless something happened and they took you lightly — and the expansion teams in the other division.
We had just two 20-goal scorers that first year: Leon Rochefort (21) and Sutherland (20). Lou Angotti, who was the first captain in club history, was another veteran, and he led the team with 49 points.
Overall, I think our scouting guys did a great job with the expansion draft and picked a nice mix of experienced players and those who were up and coming. Interestingly, we had four regulars on that first team who, seven years later, played a vital part in winning the Stanley Cup: Gary Dornhoefer, Joe Watson, Eddie Van Impe, and Bernie Parent. Joe and Dorny were just 24 in our first season, and Eddie was 27. Bernie was just 22, and his best years were ahead of him. Hall of Fame years, I might add.
Eddie was the classic stay-at-home defenseman. Rock-solid on the ice and a prankster off it — a guy who would put sneezing powder on your shoulder if you weren't looking and cut your ties in half. He and Garry Peters, another guy we selected in the expansion draft, kept the guys loose.
So when you look at it, the Flyers got one-third of their 1974 championship defense (Watson and Van Impe) from the expansion draft, along with a sensational goalie (Parent, who was traded and then brought back) and very good scorer (Dornhoefer). That's pretty good scouting! Give props to general manager Bud Poile and coach Keith Allen — each of whom were hired from Western Hockey League teams — and super scout Marcel Pelletier.
In the expansion draft, each team got to select 18 skaters and two goalies. The Original Six teams were permitted to protect 11 players and one goalie. For the first two picks, they were allowed to protect an additional player after one was selected. Anyone who had not completed two full pro seasons was exempt from the draft.
In the goalie portion of the draft, the Flyers selected the 22-yearold Parent from the Boston Bruins, which surprised many because there were several notable veterans available, including Glenn Hall and Ed Johnston.
The Flyers later picked Favell, also from the Bruins, as Parent's backup. Smart picks, it turned out. Bernie was 16–17–5 with a 2.48 goals-against average in our first year, and Favy went 15–15–6 with a 2.27 goals-against average. Like Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth in 2015–16, Parent and Favell provided solid goaltending for the majority of our first season. And the nice part was that both were 22 when we drafted them, so both appeared to have bright futures.
Little did we know that one of them would become one of the most popular athletes in Philadelphia sports history and would eventually cause a bumper sticker to be plastered on seemingly every other car in the Delaware Valley: only the lord saves more than bernie parent.
Hearing from the Boss
I would see our owner, Ed Snider, in locker rooms after games in our first year. That was a tradition that started in 1967 and continued until he passed away in 2016. He always loved being around the players, loved getting to know them and finding out about their families and their lives. Ed wasn't just some corporate guy whom the players never saw. The franchise was his baby and he was totally immersed in it, and it showed in his deep respect and admiration for the players. Back in our first year, I would see the guys from the group who ran the team — Ed, Joe Scott, and Bill Putnam. They were all excited about making the Flyers become a big part of Philadelphia.
I always called Ed by his first name, but to some — like Bob Clarke — he was always Mr. Snider. And when I got the PA job, Ed would call me on my phone in the box if things got really strange down on the ice. He never called me if he agreed with a call, but he'd call me if he wanted a clarification on something that happened. A lot. He might ask me why one of his players was getting a penalty or what it looked like from my level on the ice. I would say, "I don't quite understand it, Ed. I know what you mean." But I would never say that to the referee. I had to stay professional with the ref.
I remember one game when there was a huge brawl, and Bob Myers was the ref. He came over to me and started telling me all the penalties he was handing out so I could announce them. This went on for a while because there were a lot of penalties. Just then, the phone rang and it was Ed. I said, "Just a minute, Ed," and I put the phone down because Myers wanted to finish up. When Myers finished, I got back on the phone with Ed. He said, "Lou, there's something you and I have to get straight between us." I said, "Sure, Ed, what's that?" And he said, "When I call you, I want the referee put on hold." That was Ed. He just wanted to blow off some steam. Everybody used to kid me that I was on his speed dial from his suite.
There wasn't much Ed missed. A couple years ago, I was introducing the Mites-on-Ice before they took the ice between periods of our game. Somebody handed me a piece of paper with the kids' names and I announced them as they skate out. Well, I announced a couple of kids and said they were from a certain playground in the area — but it turned out they were from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. That immediately sparked a phone call from Ed. He said, "Where did you get that information?" He just wanted to know whose responsibility it was and we quickly settled it. Ed wanted the foundation to be credited — and they deserved it because they are a fantastic organization. But that was Ed. He was involved in every aspect and he was so excited about the foundation and took so much pride in it.
Back in our first year, it was fun to see the young and old guys try to blend together. During training camp, Keith Allen, our coach, issued what he called his 10 commandments. Among them: players weren't permitted to go to local taverns, and they were told to curb their use of profanity on the ice and not to break sticks in fits of anger. I'm not sure how many "commandments" were broken.
I remember being on a couple of charter flights and going to some road games in that first season, including our first match-up in Montreal. I sat in the press box, did stats, and accommodated our beat writers if they had any questions.
Now, remember; Montreal was the Mecca of the hockey world — like the Yankees were to baseball back then.
In just our ninth game of our first season, we went into Montreal on November 4. This was only our second game against an established team, and we were obviously heavy underdogs. None of the established teams wanted to lose to one of the new guys because, quite frankly, it would be a big embarrassment. Especially at home.
But there we are, in the hallowed Forum, taking the lead against the mighty Habs. Bernie Parent and Leon Rochefort were playing out of their minds. Bernie was from Montreal, and Rochefort had been drafted from the Canadiens, so both had extra incentive, and we took a 2–1 lead going into the third period. Rochefort scored two goals in the third period to complete his hat trick and give us a 4–1 lead against Rogie Vachon, the Canadiens goalie who would later go into the Hall of Fame.
As Al Michaels would later ask, "Do you believe in miracles?"
In the press box, John Brogan, the Flyers beat writer for the Bulletin, gave me an assignment. There were about five minutes left in the game and I guess he was on deadline and didn't have time to go downstairs for postgame interviews and file his story on time, so he asked me to grab him a couple of quotes from Allen, our coach.
I must preface what happened next. I was not a newspaper reporter and, at that time, I had had no idea about the protocol for interviewing the coach or the players. So I went down the steps, ran through a corridor, and worked my way to the Flyers' bench and walked right up to Keith Allen with about two minutes to go. Keith is in the middle of trying to coach his team to a monumental victory, and I say, "Keith, can I talk to you for a minute?"
Keith replied with a simple question. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"John Brogan sent me down to get a couple quotes from you."
Keith was flabbergasted. He shooed me away in a polite way. Sort of. "Tell him I'm really happy that things are going well for us. Now get the hell out of here!" And as he's talking to me, he's yelling to his players and making a line change. It was pure naiveté on my part.
Later, Brogan tells me he was up in the press box watching me talk to Keith and he's shaking his head in disbelief. But I didn't know any different. I didn't know I was supposed to wait until the game was finished and talk to him in the locker room. Afterward, Keith saw me in the locker room and said, "Lou, if we would have lost that game, you were walking back to Philadelphia."
But Keith was a classy guy. He was smiling after the game, but I'm just glad we didn't blow the lead.
Excerpted from "If These Walls Could Talk: Philadelphia Flyers"
Copyright © 2017 Lou Nolan and Sam Carchidi.
Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Bernie Parent,
1. The Start of an "Incredible Journey",
2. The Franchise Turns the Corner,
3. Always Searching for the Next Bernie,
4. Leaders of the Pack,
5. Lemieux's Return: Flyers Fans at Their Best,
6. Lasting Impressions: Patriotism over Pucks,
7. In My Humble Opinion...,
8. Bizarre Moments,
9. Remembering Ed Snider,
10. The Real Broad Street Bullies,
11. One Last Reunion,
12. Outdoor Hockey,
Appendix. The Flyers through the Years,