Christmas is a special time of the year that you spend with family and friends, but when you are a professional hockey player you can add your teammates to that list.
My memories of Christmas throughout my NHL career are very special with the team’s family Christmas party right at the top of the list. Every year there was a great mixture of food, drink, a visit by Santa and a skate on the ice.
For many families, the Christmas Party skate was a chance for the young children to try skating for the first time, as it was for my two boys, Erik and Patrick.
My first NHL team Christmas party in Atlanta was very simple and very heartwarming. We had an early practice, which was followed by a quick shower and a few beers in the dressing room, then the wives would bring in the food; food which they made, no caterer involved. A few snacks, and a few laughs, and then we would take to the ice with kids and also many of the wives. And then it was time for Santa…ME! Since I was a rookie and I also didn’t have any kids of my own, I borrowed Santa’s St. Nick’s suit and had a blast skating with the kids.
In Philadelphia the Christmas party was for the team and all of the hockey front office staff, which was real neat because it brought the entire hockey operations together. It was held in Ovations, the Spectrum’s dining restaurant. I was no longer Santa, they hired a professional, and it was always a great time.
In Toronto, I just remember skating at Maple Leaf Gardens with Erik and taking Patrick for his first ever skate and Johnny Bower playing Santa Claus. Al Iafrate or Dan Daoust must’ve given Pat a few pointers when I wasn’t looking; he’s getting ready for the Canadian Olympic Trials in Speed Skating next week.
Detroit had the biggest Christmas as it was for everyone in the organization, as well as Little Caesar employees. We still had the sanctity of our dressing room to relax and put our skates on get for the skate with the families. The party was on the arena concourse, there was food everywhere and they had two Santas, one each on opposite sides of the concourse.
The following clip was made with the 1984/85 Flyers, I remember making it with my teammates. While teams making Christmas video messages are very commonplace now, it was virtually unheard back in the 80’s. As you could imagine, there was a lot of false starts and re-takes!
A Hall of Famer that had just retired. I’m not sure if he retired a bit too early but he had worn out his knees. We sure could have used some of his scoring touch during the season and especially against Edmonton.
A great guy, a great teammate, and one of the toughest guys in the league. He fought for the team – the so called tough guys in today’s game wouldn’t hold a candle to Glen. I never met someone who loved his job as an enforcer much as Cocher did!
A very unassuming superstar, I mean he came from hockey royalty but you would never know it. A Hall of Fame player just hitting his prime at this time, and a quiet leader. On a side note, I was thrilled to hear the recent news that Mark’s father, the legendary Gordie Howe, is doing much better. It is almost miraculous.
The same traits that made Dave a great captain would also make him a great NHL Executive for a sharp organizatio – GM or President either position would suit him fine. Toronto made a big mistake letting him go. Incredible leader and one of the smartest and most articulate people in hockey. Book smart and hockey smart.
Ray was a very talented two way player but like many of the veterans forwards, got caught up in the youth movement (even though he was only 25 years old). I mean who would have thought that a team with a rookie GM, a rookie coach and 6 players under the age of 21 would have the success that we did. Ray never did make it back as a full time player in the NHL but his strong play and leadership skills lead to a long AHL career for the Flyers farm team – these types of players were very important to the organization.
Eddie was a team guy, and a tough guy. He understood his value and understood his role – hence the pre-game brawl in the Montreal playoff series. Off the ice, he’s friendly and fun to be around.
Trainers are a big part of every team; Kurt took pride in his work. Under his watch, no player could ever the training or equipment staff as an excuse for a poor game.
There are so many Lindsays Carsons in pro sports; guys who don’t get the headline or the gaudy stats but your team cannot win without them. Lindsay just came to work everyday and really enjoyed what he did.
He was a power forward before there was a term for it. Tim was absolutely the best at what he did – score goals from the front of the net. I haven’t seen anyone come close to him since he retired. He was injured a lot but had an incredible pain threshold and was as unflappable as they come under pressure.
My defence partner that year and beyond. Together we made up a very successful tandem. Individually there were others that were better, but we clicked and we fed off of each other. Doug pushed things offensively, while I was the stay-at-home guy.
One of the kids on the team that year, Rick worked for everything and became the type of player back then and to this day that every team craves: A forward that could score and play tough. Very intense competitor who worked hard to make himself into a 40-goal scorer in the NHL as well as a tough guy.
One of the first Finns to have success in the NHL. He was always over-shadowed by Jari Kurri, but Ilkka was every bit as good in my opinion. No offense to his linemates, but they were no Wayne Gretzkys! Illka had great speed, two-way awareness, soft hands and a quiet but competitive drive about him.
A young kid (22 yrs old), the emergence of Peter Zezel hurt him. Lenny played in 40 games that year and chipped in some big moments in several games. Pete was the more complete player, and had more trust from Keenan.
I became very close with Cookie over the years. I visited him many times in the Czech Republic. He was arguably the first player trained from behind the Iron Curtain to have real success in the NHL, we all chuckled at him as he was sort of a real-life version the Wild and Crazy guys from Saturday Night Live. He was not your typical “Commie” athlete of that era; robotic and unemotional. He dressed in clothes that were 10 years or more out of style. He enjoyed his Budweiser and chain-smoked unfiltered cigarettes, probably just because he could, so he took advantage of it.
Miro played very well for the Flyers for 3 years. He was my roommate for all 3 of those years.
I will tell you something else about Miro. He had a joy for life, a joy for hockey and was a warm-hearted and caring person with a great sense of humour. He died a few years ago — sadly, the heavy smoking caught up with him — and I miss him.
Probably the best assistant coach ever I ever had, E.J. was always positive, never looked at your mistakes, always the good plays. He was also a very intelligent man with a Ph.D. but never talked down to anyone. Another warm-hearted and caring person, whom I miss.
How could you not love the way the Sutters play hockey? We had 2 of them, they were always eager and always ready to play whether it was a practice or a game.
How ’bout them glasses! I even had hair back in the day. For the video, I did my top button up as a tribute to my buddy Cookie. I was imitating him as he quite often had his top button done up.
I talked about the head coaches that I had in a previous blog, I should have included Flyers assistant coach Ted Sator in that blog. Without Ted, I would not have played 15 years in the league.
I remember a meeting I had with him like it was yesterday. It was in LA and I said to him that I was tired of being stereotyped into this slow methodical defenseman. Four-on-four play had just been introduced and I was not playing in these situations, the thinking that I couldn’t keep up. Ted’s answer was quite simply “Okay we’ll start to work on it tomorrow” and we did.
I began to build up my leg strength, my lateral movement, my agility, my quickness and my reaction time. He pointed out that I’ll never become a beautiful Mark Howe type of skater but I can build on the foundation that I have. Basically, the thought was to get from A to B as quick as I could, it did not matter how it looked. I used to love beating guys to the puck when there was an icing!
Another one of those dressing room guys that the players loved having around. Kev was like a kid brother to many of us,but especially to Pelle Lindbergh. Pelle and Kevin were very close. After working as a Flyers equipment guy for many years, Kevin went on to have a long and successful career in law enforcement and detective work up in Maine.
The Beast was a big part of Mark Howe’s success; the two of them may have made the best pairing in all of hockey. He was a left hand shot playing the right side and he was one of the best defenseman to be able to play his offside with effectiveness. A quiet, stoic leader. He would have made a good head coach but the tragic plane crash in Russia a couple years ago took his life along with the rest of the Lokomotiv team.
A lot has been said about Mike, but he really did like and care about his players. He just had a funny way of showing it at times.
I always laughed at Richie and Ronnie. When we went on the road they would just pack one suit case for the two of them. One the ice, they were as tough and competitive as they come. Off the ice, they loved to joke around and were always there for their teammates when they were needed.
Dave “Sudsy” Settlemyre
The trainers were a different breed back then. Sudsy and his staff were more than just “trainers” they were best friends, confidants and always had the best interests of the players in mind. Sudsy was definitely one of those guys.
Every dressing room needs a Bill. he was a retired gentleman that was always there, always smiling, always positive, didn’t have a bad word to say about anything or anyone. Just happy to be a part of the Flyers, Bill was about 5 feet tall and he always called me “Shorty”!
A backup goalie that was played sparingly at the time. His importance to the team would fully be recognize the following year when Pelle died. Bob Froese, injured at the time this video was made, was our main backup. After his career, Bob went on to become a minister.
Guffaw! Not sure where that came from, but when you score goals like he did, you can do what you want. Brian was one of the NHL’s best pure goal scorers. If you needed a goal, get him the puck. He had a lot of moves and a good head for the game. Off the ice, he’s a good family guy and an avid golfer.
Not a lot needs to be said except that all of us who knew him miss him to this day. I laugh every time I watch this video. His Swedish accent — which he could play up or play down depending on the situation — cracks me up. Pelle is in full Swedish chef mode here!
A very big and talented Swede defenseman, who relied mostly on his mobility and smarts. At the time, he was not your typical Flyer player. Unfortunately for Thomas, coach Mike Keenan liked playing with four defenseman most of the time and he didn’t have much faith in Eriksson. In a different time I really think that Thomas would have been a star player. Off the ice, he was quiet but smart and dignified.
He came to the Flyers in a trade for Darryl Sittler; a great trade for us! Murray and I lived together for a time and we had a riot. Murray would be a superstar in today’s game because he was a very smart hockey and could do it all. He lives up in Montana nowadays.
When you think of big Dave, you think of fighting but what people do not realize is that Dave worked his butt off and made himself a complete player. No, he wouldn’t be on your first line, but you could play him at any time of the game and he wouldn’t hurt you. Brownie was tough as nails on the ice but has always been a gentle and caring guy off the ice.
A workhorse. I think it is safe to say that Derrick was not on the radar to make the team that year. Smitty played in seven exhibition games in seven nights that year, not sure how it happened but it did. Technically, it’s against the rules but when you are a rookie trying to make the team you don’t say anything. I think the brass was waiting for him to screw up but he never did, he just kept getting stronger and stronger, so they had to keep him.
Strong, strong player, I do not mean from a muscle standpoint. He centred the youngest line in hockey that year (Tocchett, Smith, Zezel) and they were one of the best lines in hockey and he made it work. Many current teams would love to have Peter as their 2nd or 3rd line centremen.
Back then, Pete — along with Tocchet — was sort of our resident team heartthrob among the female fans, but we all knew what a competitor he was. He didn’t play a soft game. Off the ice, he was a caring type of person. It was a tragedy that he died so young, but we all remember him fondly and his memory lives on.
He looks like an angel in this video clip, far from the fierce competitor that he was. Great Christmas sweater there, Clarkie!
MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone and have a very safe and prosperous NEW YEAR!