Wednesday

Bernie Parent

Beset by troubling injuries that robbed him of many of his best years of his career, Bernie Parent doesn't always get consideration for the greatest goalie of all time.

Yet anyone who saw him play in the mid-1970s knows few goalies have ever played at a higher level than Bernie Parent.

Much like Dominik Hasek 20 years later with Buffalo, for a period of time Parent was simply incredible. He was "the second coming of Jacques Plante" and the Flyers "undisputed MVP." Neither of the Flyers' much celebrated back to back Stanley Cup championships would have been possible without Parent.

Bernie Parent turned pro in 1965 after backstopping Niagara Falls to the Memorial Cup championship. After stints with the Bruins, Leafs, and the WHA, Parent finally found a permanent home with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Many people forget the Flyers actually gave up on Parent prior to their championship reign. In 1971 the Flyers moved Parent to Toronto. Why? The Flyers, still a struggling expansion team seeking depth at most positions, were equally high on another goalie in their system - Doug Favell, Parent's junior cohort. It was felt that Parent, who was establishing himself as one of hockey's top goalies, would command a higher return than Favell. The Leafs returned veteran goalkeeper Bruce Gamble and the 9th overall draft pick, used to select Pierre Plante, a serviceable NHLer with 599 career games, though only 26 with the Flyers. The Flyers also received the highly skilled Shakey Walton, but immediately parlayed him to Boston in exchange for another Flyers' key, Rick MacLeish.

Though the deal was very controversial in Philadelphia as Parent was already a fan favorite, Parent was more than happy to move to Toronto and play with his idol, Jacques Plante. It turns out Plante was a big fan of Parent's, too.

"He's probably got more natural ability than any goaltender in this league," Plante said at the time.

For the next couple of seasons Plante mentored Parent, who was more than eager to soak up anything and everything his idol would offer. Plante's influence on Parent became obvious. Gump Worsley described Parent as "a carbon copy" of Parent, while Gerry Cheevers called him "a fat Jacques Plante."

Though success was not immediately apparent in Toronto, Parent shockingly became the first Leaf to defect to the WHA. The Miami Screaming Eagles gave Parent a 5 year, $750,000 contract, though the team folded before ever playing a game. In another shocking move, Parent signed a $600,000 deal with the Blazers of Philadelphia, of all cities.

By the end of the first season, Parent ended up quitting the Blazers after a pay dispute. His contract nullified, he returned to the NHL, but told the Leafs he wished to be traded back to the Philadelphia Flyers. After sending a first round pick and Favell to the Leafs, finally Parent had come home.

Parent returned to the City of Brotherly Love to find the Broad Street Bullies at their disgraceful best. Parent gave them the goaltending they lacked to lead them to Stanley Cup.

"When Parent is out there, we know we can win games we have no business winning," said Fred Shero, the calculating coach of the Flyers glory years.

In 1973-74 he established himself as the best goalie in hockey. He played more minutes (4314), had more wins (47), had more shutouts (12) and had a better GAA (1.89) than any other goalie, earning the Vezina trophy. In the playoffs he would impossibly take his game to a higher level, upsetting the heavily favored Boston Bruins, sporting Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito, for the Stanley Cup. Parent was the obvious choice as playoff MVP and earned the Conn Smythe trophy.

The following season Parent proved his success was no fluke. He notched another 44 wins, another 12 shutouts, another Vezina Trophy in the regular season, and another Smythe trophy en route to another Stanley Cup in the playoffs.

The Flyers very well may have won a third consecutive Cup title, and by doing so ensuring a loftier legacy of dynasty, but Parent missed most of the year with a serious neck injury. The Flyers did return to another Cup final thanks to the goaltending of Wayne Stephenson, but they were swept by the new/old power in the league - the Montreal Canadiens.

Parent would recover from the neck injury but three seasons later he suffered a career ending eye injury. Somehow a New York Ranger player's stick ignored the best intentions of Parent's trademark mask and clipped his right eye. He spent the next 10 days in hospital, with both eyes bandaged shut. His retina was badly injured, his depth perception and ability to focus permanently damaged, his career over.

Parent was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984.

4 comments:

Anonymous,  6:46 PM  

The greatest of all time!

davidfrankdaniel 4:05 PM  

my favorite hockey player ever....nobody had the effortless grace and style of bernie...i was at his last complete game a 2-2 tie in toronto on feb 14th 1979... david frank daniel

Melvin2203,  3:59 PM  

Although I am too young(18) to have seen Bernie in his hayday, I went to the 2012 Winter Classic Alumni Game. Wearing the iconic orange and black sweater with #1 stiched onto the back, there is no greater feeling than to watch a true living legend play one last time. (and Win!) When trying to describe how epic 40,000 people chanting "Bernie!" is... you try to do it.

And remember- "Only the Lord saves more than Bernie Parent."

Anonymous,  8:26 PM  

As a young girl, I didn't pay much attention to pro sports, and then came the Flyers and Bernie Parent. I was mesmerized by his talent and thrilled with anticipation each game, knowing what he could do. When the Flyers won the Stanley Cup the second time, I was beside myself. My Mom actually let me play hookie to go to the parade in Center City. It was an awesome day. Thank you Flyers and thank you Bernie for being my first sports hero!

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