Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Shero's day finally comes with Hall of Fame enshrinement

Supposedly, good things come to those who wait.

Unfortunately, sometimes good things come to those who were not blessed with the time to wait.

On Monday night, Fred Shero -- still the most successful head coach in Philadelphia Flyers history -- was finally enshrined into the Hockey Hall of Fame along with the rest of the Class of 2013.

A man with so many one-liners, and of course those cryptic messages left on locker room blackboards during the glory days of the Broad Street Bullies, might have had to steal a line from Groucho Marx if he were on this Earthly plane and attended the event in Toronto.

But Shero, who passed away from stomach cancer almost 23 years ago, had some good company throughout the last week to speak on his behalf for the long-overdue honor.

First, his son, GM Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who related last week about the call to the Hall: "I really wasn't expecting it. I was down at the American Hockey League meetings in Hilton Head. I was on the beach, playing football with my kids and the call came. Really exiciting and (he's) going in with a great class. When it finally happens...it's really great to hear."

In front of several former Flyers among the dignitaries in the Great Hall he added: "He was a complex man, yet a very simple one. He was a loner, yet he loved an audience. He was shy, yet he was quoted extensively. He never backed down from a fight; yet he had no enemies. He coached those Flyers teams who took no prisoners, just a pair of Stanley Cup championships in '74 and '75."

His captain Bob Clarke also feted his former coach, whom Shero described memorably in the club's 25th Anniversary video as a "dream dressed in work clothes."

"Freddy was an innovator who brought in a system - at a time when systems weren't even heard of," said Bob Clarke, the captain of those championship teams. "We had players with different sets of ability, but we all played the same way.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/flyers/20131110_Shero_s_Hall_of_Fame_path_one_of_innovation.html#FRDIBFrq7EmwkBmQ.99
"Freddy was an innovator who brought in a system -- at a time when systems weren't even heard of," said franchise icon and two-time GM Bob Clarke to the Inquirer on Sunday. "We had players with all sets of ability, but we all played the same way."

Then, it was one of his stalwart defensemen, who credited the Canadian-born and American-trained Shero with bringing the ways of the so-called Evil Empire to North America.

"He went to Russia and tapped into their great system of hockey and brought it to the NHL," said Joe Watson, a long-time Flyers employee who was one of the original players taken in the 1967 expansion draft. "He implemented among other things, off-ice training. He hired a strength coach who made us stronger and more explosive, and more aware of our diets, which wasn't prominent in the early 1970's."
"Freddy was an innovator who brought in a system - at a time when systems weren't even heard of," said Bob Clarke, the captain of those championship teams. "We had players with different sets of ability, but we all played the same way.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/sports/flyers/20131110_Shero_s_Hall_of_Fame_path_one_of_innovation.html#FRDIBFrq7EmwkBmQ.99

For a moment, let's forget about his storied tenure in Philadelphia.

The native of Winnipeg coached 11 seasons in four different leagues before he even reached the NHL, winning four championships (St. Paul IHL, 1960, '61; Buffalo Bisons AHL, 1970; Omaha Knights, CHL 1971) and losing in three other league finals. In that time, only two of his teams finished with records below .500 (Moose Jaw in 1958-59 and St. Paul in 1962-63). He also won top coaching honors in the AHL and CHL in back-to-back seasons before coming here.

Yet, Shero was underestimated in the world's top league once he arrived in 1971 to take over a struggling franchise trying to emerge from the shadow of expansion.

Shero might have been on the winding path to a Hall of Fame coaching career, but he might not be so pleased with Ray's foray into the hockey world. "He didn't want me to be in hockey. He actually pushed me to become a doctor or lawyer which I never thought was such a great idea. He always pushed me and my brother, Jean-Paul towards education."

The younger Shero admitted to his team's website that he was a Flyers fan when his father coached in Philadelphia, a Rangers fan when he jumped ship to New York, became a Flyers fan once again when the elder Shero was welcomed back to the Flyers as a senior advisor, but now given his role, he's a Penguins fan.

That didn't diminish the impact on Monday's honor, where father Fred took his rightful place along with Clarke, Bill Barber, Bernie Parent, Keith Allen, Ed Snider and Gene Hart -- all integral parts of the first Renaissance in team history.

"I think it's going to be a pretty special, emotional experience," Shero added. "But I think it's more about my dad's relationships with his players … his being inducted validates some of his teams, because it was about the players and this is about people that gave him the opportunity, Ed Snider and Keith, after 13 years in the minors. They were the only people to take a chance on him to coach in the National Hockey League."

Shero remains the winningest coach in Flyers history, and still holds the record for most games coached in franchise lore. From 1971-78, he helped the franchise win an East Division title and three Patrick Division crowns along with as many Campbell Bowls and one victory over the Soviet Central Red Army team. All told, he finished 308-151-95 in the regular season and 48-35 in the postseason.
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