With his charges needing one more victory to clinch the Stanley Cup, Flyers’ coach Fred Shero made use of his penchant for posting pithy chalkboard messages May 19, 1974 by writing “Win today, and we walk together forever.”
Courtesy of their 1-0 Game 6 home triumph over the Boston Bruins, the Broad Street Bullies and their leader indeed achieved immortality and would further their legacy by cutting down the Buffalo Sabres to repeat as champions. For those feats and other contributions, Shero earned enshrinement in the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Builders category July 9, nearly 23 years after succumbing to stomach cancer.
“I love the news and just wish he were here to enjoy the honor,” Girard Estate resident Don Rancinelli, who attended the decisive duel against the Bruins as a 12-year-old, said. “With so many other people from those glory days already in, I have to wonder what delayed his date with destiny.”
“There’s no sense looking back as to why it didn’t happen sooner because today’s a happy day to celebrate the fact that a guy that deserves it immensely has finally been elected to the Hall of Fame,” Comcast-Spectacor Chairman and ’88 inductee Ed Snider, who founded the franchise 47 years ago and installed Shero as its third coach in ’71, said. “It’s a great day for the Philadelphia Flyers.”
Shero becomes the organization’s eighth member to merit distinction in the Toronto-based facility, with all but 2011 selection Mark Howe having assisted the Cup runs. One of five feted figures in this year’s class, the Winnipeg, Manitoba product garnered 308 regular-season wins in his seven-season stint guiding the Orange and Black and added 48 playoff victories — both of which rank as franchise bests. His 1973-’74 squad scored the first championship for an expansion club, and its success helped him to claim the inaugural Jack Adams Award as the top head coach.
Being affiliated with firsts seemed to come naturally to Shero, who pioneered the hiring of assistant coaches, the promotion of in-season strength training, the analysis of film and the execution of opponent-specific strategies, or systems, while also being among the initial advocates for game-day morning skates. Those innovations allowed the Flyers, who had lost all three of their playoff series before his arrival, to transform into the NHL’s behemoth performers, with players feared for their skillful scoring and ferocious fighting.
“I loved their style because it was a blend of talent and grit,” Rancinelli said of his ice icons. “I was a boy when I started following them, but I knew I wouldn’t have to wait long for a winner.”
Shero’s second campaign included a five-game semifinal loss to the eventual champion Montreal Canadiens, but Rancinelli sensed the experience would bolster the following year’s bunch. The Flyers made him seem a seer by winning 50 contests and downing the Bobby Orr-led Bruins for the title and inspired another parade the next season with their Buffalo beatdown. The ’75-76 athletes would set a still-standing team record by registering 118 points, but the Canadiens denied them a third Cup in a Finals sweep, with the year also including a 4-1 Spectrum-situated triumph over the Soviet Red Army team, whose style Shero had studied through a ’74 trip to its homeland. After taking the local skaters to two more Campbell Conference semifinals, he opted to resign and became the coach and general manager of the New York Rangers.
“You know the Red Sox had the Curse of the Bambino after selling Babe Ruth, but they’ve broken it, but we have what I call The Curse of the Fog,” Rancinelli, using Shero’s nickname, said of the Flyers’ 38-year Cup drought. “We need someone like Fred if we want more fun on Broad Street.”
In heading off to helm the Rangers, Shero returned to the team for whom he played in 145 regular season and 13 playoff games. Though not a Madison Square Garden attraction as a Blue Shirt, he enjoyed considerable minor league success, capturing consecutive Calder Cups with the Cleveland Barons in ’53 and ’54, the latter year including his selection as an American Hockey League All-Star. Two years later, he captained the Winnipeg Warriors to the Western Hockey League title, with his introduction to coaching coming in ’57 when he also laced up his skates for the Quebec Hockey League’s Shawinigan Falls Cataracts, who subsequently won the title.
Over the next 13 years, Shero furthered his bench presence with numerous minor league outfits, notably the AHL’s Buffalo Bisons, whose ’70 Calder Cup run brought him the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the league’s top coach. His winning reputation compelled then-Flyers’ general manager Keith Allen to suggest him for the local vacancy.
The profitable stay in South Philly had fans, including Bella Vista’s Linda Cartageno, dreaming of multiple sips from the sought-after chalice, but his exodus to New York ended that.
“I liked him so much, I even rooted for the damn Rangers to win it all,” she said of the Empire State unit’s ’79 Finals loss to the Canadiens. “I’m happy, however, that he got to go out with us.”
Shero, the ’80 winner of the Lester Patrick Trophy for growing his game’s reach within the United States, served as the New Jersey Devils’ radio color analyst before completing his coaching duties in the Netherlands. He returned to the Flyers in ’89 as a special assistant and accepted placement in the franchise’s Hall of Fame March 22, ’90. Having received his cancer diagnosis in ’82, Shero died Nov. 24, ’90 at 65, with the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame tabbing him for induction in 2008. Since the 1976 team’s postseason setback, five other Flyers’ seasons have ended with the heroes falling in the Finals.
“That means he was something special for us to have gone so long without that third title,” 40-year fan Cartageno said. “It’s time to make him smile in heaven.”
Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 124.