by Steve Currier
The California Seals and Philadelphia Flyers both entered the NHL at the same time, during the league’s ambitious 1967 expansion. For a few years, very little distinguished the two teams. The Seals and Flyers both made the playoffs twice in their first three seasons, and in the one season both teams qualified, 1968-69, the teams’ respective performances would dictate the direction they would head in for the next decade. The Seals were heavy favourites against Los Angeles, but the Kings grinded it out for seven games, and defeated the Seals, 5-3, in the final contest. The Seals had a good team, and they seemed on the verge of challenging for the West Division title, but a funny thing happened on the way to the penthouse. Their players got real old over the summer, and most of the veterans who had enjoyed breakthrough campaigns stumbled badly in 1969-70. The Seals sat on their laurels, and by the time they figured out that it was best to give youngsters more ice time, the team had hit rock bottom.
The Flyers learned their lesson much more quickly. Their 1969 playoff opponents, the St. Louis Blues, were an ornery bunch, to say the least. They manhandled and massacred the Flyers in a brutal four-game, first-round sweep. Owner Ed Snider vowed to never let another team push the Flyers around, so he set about drafting the meanest, nastiest team professional hockey had ever seen. It was a wise, if not unpopular strategy. In 1974, the Flyers would become the first of the 1967 expansion teams to win the Stanley Cup, and they would repeat the following year, but the NHL, and fans in every other city, hated the Flyers for their goonish behaviour.
One would think the Seals and Flyers would have little reason to despise each other, but starting around 1973, it seemed as though every time the two teams met, more blood was spilled than an average episode of The Walking Dead. The Flyers’ roster was chock full of goons with wrestling monikers like Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Don “The Bird” Saleski, Bob “Hound Dog” Kelly, and Andre “Moose” Dupont. The team’s nickname, The Broad Street Bullies, could have been the brainchild of Vince McMahon. On game days with the Flyers, especially contests at the dreaded Philadelphia Spectrum, normally spry players would mysteriously contract the infamous “Philadelphia Flu”, which usually went away just as mysteriously when the coach scratched the player from the line-up.
Sometime during the 1973–74 season, the Seals and Flyers collided violently, and an intense rivalry was born, even though, from that moment on, the two clubs would always sit at polar opposites of the standings. Less likely enemies you could not find; the Flyers averaged over 20 penalty minutes per game, while the Seals averaged about 8 or 9 minutes. According to the Drop Your Gloves website, the Flyers were involved in 108 fights that season, while the Seals participated in just 25 tilts, but every now and then someone in the California dressing room would strike up the nerve to stand up to the league’s resident goons. One Seal who was never intimidated by the Flyers Hilliard Graves. Graves was a tough customer, and a very sneaky hitter. Some would even say he was a tad dirty, but unlike some sneaky players, he didn’t shy away from the league’s toughest customers. For instance, he and the Flyers’ Dave Schultz developed a heated feud, but it was “Boot Hill” Graves who would smack Schultz around. “He had a hip check that would just send people flying,” remembered fan Dick Pantages, “and he was feisty. . . . I think he gave [Schultz] the good old hip check once, and [he] never forgot about it.” Graves was never one to rack up tons of penalties, but according to Stan Weir, “he fought Dave Schultz every time we played Philadelphia. He always held his own.” (1) Fred Glover believed Graves “could beat up Dave Schultz any day of the week. . . . They started Schultz so I started Graves and Graves would go out and beat the shit out of [Schultz]. There were fights galore and we needed a police escort to get to our hotel. I told the linesman and the referee, ‘Thank God you were here.’” (2)
On January 24, a day before the Seals’ final game with Philadelphia that season, Graves told the Flyers to expect a war when the two teams met. “I’m not afraid of him,” Graves said, referring to Schultz, “I beat him twice before and I’m ready to do it again if I have to. Philadelphia likes to run around against us, but they don’t play that way against Boston,” he claimed. “We’ve beaten the Bruins more than they have in the last four years.” (3) Graves was right too! From October 1969 to January 1974, the Flyers played the Bruins 25 times, yet all they could muster against Boston was four ties, and zero wins, while the Seals were actually slightly better at 3-21-2 over that span.
Whether the Seals were more successful against Boston or not was a moot point. Everyone knows that you should never give your opponent ammunition by talking smack about them to the media. Some Seals players were upset by Graves’ comments. “Hell, they were the tough guys, we were just the punching bags,” remembered Walt McKechnie. “At practice one of the boys said let’s just play the game, don’t start any shit, and get it over with. Next day Hilliard Graves was quoted in the paper saying something like, “If they wanna get tough, they know where they can find me.
“That night, before the game, in comes Laframboise . . . big afro hair cut, big moustache, big trenchcoat, he really looked like a tough guy should, you know, 6’2”, rangy, walked like a goddamn farmer. At the time he was on a line with Graves and Stan Weir. You could see he was pissed off, never even took off his coat, just sat down, took out the paper, already turned to the offending article, smacked it with a backhand, and said, “Can you fuckin’ believe this shit? They got the Hound, the Bird, and the Hammer.” . . . Glancing up he pointed at himself and his linemates. “And whatta we got? We got Big Mouth and the Two Chickens.” (4)
Graves had done what many wrestlers, boxers, and mixed martial arts fighters have done to great success: he hyped up the game like it was nobody’s business. And it worked too, because a season-high 10,776 fans showed up to the Coliseum that night. Former WHL Seal Gary Dornhoeffer scored the game’s first goal at 9:15 of the first period, and Rick MacLeish and Terry Crisp both scored in the second period to put the Flyers up 3-0. The Seals were pretty much done at that point, and the Flyers ended up winning the game, 5-0. Aside from a second-period scrap between Morris Mott and Bob Kelly, the game was rather subdued and well-played as the Flyers outshot the Seals 40-33.
Graves’ comments were just the culmination of a furious, hard-hitting season series between the Seals and Flyers. The real starting point of the Seals-Flyers rivalry can be traced back to an incident that occurred earlier that season, on December 2. A young defenseman by the name of Barry Cummins, was in the line-up filling in for Terry Murray, who had been injured. Cummins, who was playing in just his fifth NHL game, had no idea this is the game he would be remembered for. The Flyers were leading the West Division basement dwellers 2–1 in the second period when Philadelphia captain Bobby Clarke struck Cummins under the eye with his stick. Cummins immediately stalked Clarke to the Flyers bench, which was a bad idea to begin with, and swung his stick at Clarke’s head, which opened up a nasty eighteen-stitch gash. “I never saw the stick coming,” said Clarke. “When it hit, I could see the blood and felt dizzy, but I didn’t think I was hurt bad.” (5)
Bill Flett immediately went after Cummins. “The law, according to the Flyers,” explained Dave Schultz, “was that anyone who hit Clarkie paid for it—no ifs, ands, or buts.” (6) Bob Kelly soon joined the fracas, as did the entire Seals bench. Cummins was buried somewhere under a pile of orange sweaters, likely wondering why he had made the mistake of provoking the Broad Street Bullies. He emerged from the pile of humanity bloodied, and he was taken to the dressing room to get stitched up. Cummins received a game misconduct, a $300 fine, and a 3-game suspension. Philadelphia’s Kelly and Flett received misconducts for leaving the bench. While the matter seemed settled, as all of the miscreants served their time in the box and in the dressing room, Graves and Schultz continued to needle each other for ten more minutes following the brawl. The referee got sick and tired of the violence, so he tossed Graves and Schultz, as well as the Flyers’ Don Saleski and Ed Van Impe out of the game, and each was fined $100 afterward.
Clarke, who by not properly controlling his stick, had (perhaps inadvertently) triggered the rivalry that would consume both teams for the next four-and-a-half years. Thankfully, Cummins had not injured Clarke badly, and the Flyers captain returned to lead his team to a 5–1 victory. Cummins felt terrible for what he did: “Clarke had cut me under the eye with his stick. I was mad and didn’t have time to think. It was an impulse action that I regretted a second after it happened. I’m sorry—you always are when you hurt somebody.” (7) The next day, Cummins called Clarke from Oakland and apologized. “He was really sick about what happened,” said Clarke. “It takes a little courage to make a call like that.” (8) Clarke accepted Cummins’s apology, but the rest of the Flyers were not about to let bygones be bygones. “I don’t care what happened,” exclaimed Flett, “you don’t hit a guy over the head with a two-hander. . . . It’s too easy to kill somebody.” (9) Kelly also added after the game: “It’s an unwritten rule you don’t hit anybody over the head. . . . If they use him against us again, you can bet there will be a repeat.” (10)
There indeed was a repeat, although Cummins had nothing to do with the second massive Seals-Flyers brawl. By this point, Cummins was no longer with the Seals. In fact, many of the players who had participated in the first brawl were no longer in Oakland. Ivan Boldirev, Walt McKechnie, Pete Laframboise, Gary Croteau, and even “Boot Hill” Graves had all been traded away or let go. In their place was a gaggle of rookies and minor-leaguers brought in to shake up the franchise and save the team a few bucks on account of them carrying rather small tickets to the pay window. The 1974-75 edition of the California Golden Seals was very green and took a few lumps early on. When the Bullies came to Oakland on October 25, 1974, they were greeted by a Seals squad full of rookies and youngsters who had never experienced a team quite like this one. The result was not pretty. “I went to one of the biggest Seals-Flyers fights of all time,” remembers Seals fan Larry Schmidt. “The game started at 7 o’clock or 7:30. It didn’t get over until 11:30 or 12. . . . There was more food on the ice that night being thrown from the fans than I think they sold in the stands that night. It was unbelievable. . . . My scorecard was so filled up because there was so many penalty minutes.”
With the Seals leading the Flyers 4-0 with 11:40 left to play, the outcome of the game was inevitable, and as often happens when the score is out of reach, a couple of players dropped the gloves. Philly’s Orest Kindrachuk and California’s Mike Christie squared off, and referee Bryan Lewis sent both men off to the sin bin for five minutes, but he gave Kindrachuk an extra minor penalty. Don Saleski tried to sucker Christie into taking an extra two minutes by going back out onto the ice, but Christie ignored him, which turned out to be a bad move. Kindrachuk skated past Saleski to the Seals’ penalty box to have a few words with Christie. Bob Kelly joined Kindrachuk and Saleski, and together the trio savagely beat Christie while other Flyers kept the Seals players away.
Then-coach Marshall Johnston said Christie was not “a heavyweight, but he was an honestly tough, physical player.” Talking about the brawl against Philadelphia, Johnston admitted, “We couldn’t match them when it came to physical toughness and stuff. I mean, we just didn’t have the personnel, but the one thing that stands out in my memory was Mike Christie and the way he stood up to them, Schultz, and the whole crew.” Seals goaltender Gary Simmons said Christie “had the heart of a lion,” was “three quarters of our team’s guts,” and “tried so hard every shift. . . . He just worked his butt off. He was the enforcer, he was the guy that always was the third man in when one of our guys was getting beat up. . . . If everybody had Mike Christie’s heart, we would have done a heck of a lot better.”
Christie would need eight stitches to close the wound under his left eye, and he also needed four stitches above his eye, and another two stitches under his right eye. “He was such a handsome young man, and they pummeled him,” lamented Seals fan Cathy White. Bill McCreary, the Seals’ new director of hockey perations, was livid. “Christie’s eyes were shut in the dressing room,” he remembered. “Two guys held Christie and one guy punched him. They should have been banned for life. It was a cowardly act.” (11) Seals president Munson Campbell was no less furious, and he planned on taking care of business the next time the Seals met the Flyers. “We’ll bring up the butchers,” he said. “We’ll meet them in the alley or on the ice. We have the big, tough players in our farm system who can come up here and take care of the Flyers.” (12) The disgusting melee lasted almost forty minutes. “I’ve seen bloodier battles and I’ve seen fights that came nearer to being riots,” said one Seals official, “but this was probably the most prolonged and hardest to break up I ever saw.” (13)
Gary Simmons is still turned off by the entire incident, which remains one of the most notorious in the history of both franchises. “It was just awful. It was embarrassing. It was embarrassing that it happened, but you know we always used to have trouble with Philadelphia. We always used to have skirmishes and fights. Poor Mike, he really got waylaid that night, and I don’t remember him getting much help.” The Flyers’ Tom Bladon, a close friend of Christie’s, agreed. “It wouldn’t have looked so bad if some of the Seals would have come to help him out,” he said. “But none seemed too interested in helping him. It’s pretty sad when Jim Neilson—what is he, 36 years old?–is the first to get there to help.” (14) Even Dave Schultz, the man who will forever hold the single-season NHL record for penalty minutes (472!), said he was turned off by the entire incident. “It so happens I didn’t hit a soul—I just don’t like brawls that are one sided. I never did. I felt sorry for Christie. This was a side that I rarely showed on the ice—until later—and I’m sure few people noticed it.” (15)
Unlike the night of the first brawl, the Seals won this game 4–1, but eight players—the Flyers’ Kindrachuk, Kelly, Saleski, Schultz, and Dupont, as well as the Seals’ Christie, Frig, and Neilson—were ejected. Overall, the Seals and Flyers racked up a single-game NHL record 232 penalty minutes (144 for Philadelphia, 88 for California).
The Seals seemed to gain a bit of confidence after the second brawl. On January 5, for instance, the Flyers drew a huge crowd of 11,157 to the Oakland Coliseum, and the fans would leave happy at the end of sixty minutes. The Seals cold-cocked the Flyers, 5–1. The Oakland Tribune‘s John Porter put it best when he said, “The fuzzy-cheeked kids that the local hockey fans were supposed to suffer with this season have begun to play as if they were scar-faced veterans.” (16) Even the Oakland fans, who like fans in every other rink, passionately hated the Flyers, but came in droves to see them, managed to get under the Flyers’ skin. During the game, one guy dumped some beer onto Schultz, and the “Hammer” attempted to scale the boards and glass to get at the offender, who was told to leave the arena. The Flyers were at beside themselves. “[The Seals] were all over the place. They never stopped forechecking,” said Flyers goalie Bernie Parent. (17) “Those guys skate harder than the Canadiens,” said Joe Watson, who was unable to break up a two-on-one rush by Al MacAdam and Dave Gardner. “Zing, and they’re by you.” (18) Flyers coach and tactical mastermind Fred Shero was humble and gracious, pointing out the difference between the young, motivated Seals who had just beaten his Flyers, and the Seals team that had scraped together all of 13 wins the year before. “Give the Seals and their coach credit,” he said. “We’ve had Stanley Cup experience two years in a row now, but they’re a new team and beat us again. The Seals have made a few changes and they have players happy to be here like George Pesut and Al MacAdam. Some of the players with the Seals last year acted as if they were here for life.” (19)
The following year, 1975-76, the Seals fans continued to rock the Coliseum to its foundation when Philadelphia returned February 20 looking to avenge their two losses against California. The Seals gave another spirited effort, but the Flyers came out on top, 5–4. The Seals gave the Flyers fits all night, and the Seals’ fans were displaying levels of passion that had never been seen at the Coliseum. The capacity crowd of 12,021 had the Flyers crying for mercy. “How can anyone control himself with those bleeping idiot fans,” questioned Shero. “Just go to our bench and listen. No human has to take the bleep. Put a glass between the fans and the bench and it would be all right. If you had people this close in baseball and football, there’d be riots every day. (20)
From that point on, however, the rivalry became more and more one-sided. When the Seals moved to Cleveland in the summer of ’76, the fans animal passion stayed behind in Oakland. From 1967 to 1976, the Seals posted a 17-30-12 against Philadelphia, which was actually one of their better all-time marks against an NHL opponent. The Seals also posted a few big wins against Philadelphia during their Stanley Cup-winning heyday, but the Flyers rang up a 1-7-2 record versus Cleveland during the Barons’ two NHL seasons. The results of some of these games were a testament to the Flyers’ dominance over Cleveland those two years. The ultimate humiliation occurred the night of December 11, 1977. A few weeks earlier, the Barons had lost 7-2 to Philadelphia, but compared to the outcome of December 11, a 7-2 loss looked pretty darn good. The Flyers and Barons played a close game for the first 10:45 of the first period, but once Reggie Leach opened the scoring, it was all downhill from there for Cleveland. Defenseman Tom Bladon scored his first of several goals that night on a 35-foot shot at 17:54. He then picked up assist on Don Saleski’s goal at 18:13. Bladon then picked up another assist on Mel Bridgman’s goal 25 seconds later. That was three goals in 44 seconds, but the direction of the game actually got worse from that point.
Rick MacLeish scored at 7:13 of the second period, then Bladon notched his second and third goals before the two teams retreated to their respective dressing rooms, with Philadelphia up 8-0. The aroused Tom Bladon scored his fourth goal of the evening at 2:47 of the third period, and then he picked up assists on goals by MacLeish and Bill Barber later in the period, bringing the score to 11–0. When all was said and done, Bladon had scored four goals and eight points in the game, a new NHL record for defensemen. Dennis Maruk ruined Bernie Parent’s shutout bid by scoring on a 35-foot shot with just 1:06 left, but it was small potatoes when compared to the onslaught the Flyers had unleashed. The Flyers outshot Cleveland 52–18 en route to an easy 11–1 victory. “No comment,” Barons coach Jack Evans said when pressed by reporters after the debacle. “What can you say about a game like that?” (21)
The rivalry pretty much ended after the 11-1 exclamation point. Parent would get his shutout versus Cleveland ten days later as the Flyers beat Cleveland, 4-0. The last two games were much closer, a 5-4 Flyers victory on January 3, and a 2-2 draw on February 4, but the animosity that had surrounded both teams had died down. The Flyers were no longer the bullies they had once been, and their Stanley Cup days were long behind them. The Barons, on the other hand, were on their way out of the NHL.
(1) Kurtzberg, Brad. Shorthanded: The Untold Story of the Seals, 190.
(3) John Porter, “Seals Square Off against Broad Street Bullies,” Oakland Tribune, January 25, 1974.
(4) Ross Brewitt, Into the Empty Net, 115
(5) Bill Fleischman, “Cummins Regrets Near Tragic High-Sticking of Flyers’ Clarke,” The Hockey News, December 21, 1973, 2.
(6) Schultz, Dave, and Stan Fischler. The Hammer: Confessions of a Hockey Enforcer, 99.
(7) Fleischman, “Cummins Regrets.”
(9) Canadian Press, “6 Players Ejected during Brawling Game in Philly,” Cornwall Standard-Freeholder, December 3, 1973.
(11) Kurtzberg, Shorthanded, 245.
(12) Gary Mueller, “Flyers Back in Form . . . Alley-Fighting Experts,” The Sporting News, November 16, 1974,
(13) “Seals, Flyers Battle in 40-Minute Brawl,” Altoona (pa) Mirror, October 26, 1974.
(14) Mueller, “Flyers Back in Form.”
(15) Schultz and Fischler, Hammer, 100.
(16) John Porter, “Rambunctious Seals Spank the Champs,” Oakland Tribune, January 6, 1975.
(20) Dick Draper, “Seals Still in Playoffs–Stewart,” San Mateo Times, February 21, 1976.
(21) “Barons Suffer 11–1 humiliation,” Elyria Chronicle-Telegram, December 12, 1977.