Kimmo Timonen was underrated from the start of his career. He was selected in the 10th Round (250th of 286 total picks) by the L.A. Kings in the 1993 Entry Draft. In today’s NHL, there are only 7 rounds in the draft, so it’s pretty easy to see what NHL front offices thought of Timonen. That being said, there’s a reason the Flyers haven’t missed the playoffs since Kimmo joined the team.
After playing several years in Nashville, the Flyers acquired Timonen in what now looks like one of the more lopsided trades in team history. As part of the deal that sent an aging Peter Forsberg to the Predators, the Flyers obtained a 1st round pick which they then traded back to Nashville in 2007 for Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen.
In hockey, it’s easy to underrate good defensemen. The guys you don’t notice are likely the ones who are most effective. Timonen fits that description to a tee. Night in and night out, Timonen is paired against the best offensive lines of the Flyers’ opponents and he puts in his work, quietly. Even when an HBO camera crew was following around the team for weeks prior to the Winter Classic, Timonen didn’t want any part of the spotlight and made himself an extra.
He’s not the type of player who’s going to deliver bone-crunching hits, or picks fights, or dazzle the fans with flashy play, or fire 105 mph slapshots from the point. At 5’10” and 194 lbs, he surely doesn’t stand out because of his size. But he brings his mistake-free play, both mentally and physically, to the rink every game. And I do mean every game. Although he’s built like a finesse winger, he is one of the more durable players in the league. Since joining the Flyers in 2007, he’s never missed more than 6 games in any season.
His decision making, puck movement, and positional skills are probably his greatest assets on the ice. As a Flyer, Timonen has averaged 36 assists and 41 points per year. He’s also a plus 38 over that span. This year, he hit both the 100 goal and 500 point milestones in his career. Timonen shines on the power-play. From ’06-’07 to ’07-08 (Timonen’s first year in Philly), the Flyers power-play success rate shot up from 14% to 22%.
He’s won three Barry Ashbee Awards, given to the Flyers’ most outstanding defensemen as decided by a panel of sportswriters. He’s just the third Flyer to take home that honor three times (Eric Desjardins- 7, Mark Howe- 4). Over the course of his career, he’s been selected to 5 All-Star teams (3 with the Flyers).
Just as important as his durability and play is the leadership that Kimmo brings to the Flyers. In years past, he was a locker room and on-ice leader, but with Chris Pronger’s injury this year, Timonen has had to become team spokesman. With his direct, no-nonsense approach to the Philadelphia media, his teammates know they are going to be held accountable for mistakes or lack of effort. For example: When he was asked what the difference was between the Rangers and Flyers this year after the Rangers 4th straight win against the Orange and Black, Timonen had two words: “The goaltending.” After a February loss to those same Rangers, Kimmo didn’t mince words about the effort: “The emotional level, playing against the top team in the conference…league…to be honest I think we got half the guys going half the guys not.” Hearing those kinds of quotes in the land of “upper body injuries” and “maintenance days” speaks volumes about how much respect Timonen has in the Flyers locker room.
On January 6, 1980, the Flyers and Sabres were knotted at 2 heading into the third period. Just 3 minutes and 45 seconds into the final period, Bill Barber scored on Buffalo goaltender Don Edwards to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead. A lead which the Flyers would not relinquish. While a win in January doesn’t usually amount to much when looking at the NHL regular season as a whole, Barber’s game winning goal on this date 22 years ago elevated the ’79-’80 Flyers to a place no other professional sports team has ever, or will ever reach.
The win over Buffalo marked the 35th game in a row in which the Flyers were unbeaten, the longest such streak in professional sports. After a 1-1 start, “The Streak” started with a win in the 3rd game of the regular season. On October 14th, 1979 the Flyers beat the Leafs at home on a late goal from Bob Kelly. For the next 84 days, the Flyers would not lose.
Over the course of The Streak, the Flyers won 25 games and tied 10. They played every team in the league, except the Washington Capitals, earning at least one point in each contest. On December 9th, the Flyers tied the Blackhawks 4-4 pushing the streak to 24 and surpassing the previous team record of 23. On December 22nd, they went to the Boston Garden, a building in which the Flyers hadn’t won in nearly 5 years. However, the tear continued and the Flyers dominated en route to a 5-2 win and their 29th straight game without a defeat. This win set a new NHL record. The previous record (28 games) was held by the ’77-’78 Montreal Canadiens.
Finally, on January 7, 1980, the Flyers streak came to an end in a 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota North Stars
Credit for the streak lays mainly with the Flyers goaltending. In this case, it was the tandem of Phil Myre and rookie Pete Peeters who carried the team through almost 3 months of unbeaten play. Myre and Peeters shared duties, with a virtual even split in starts during the 35 game streak. Fittingly, both played in the 35th game against the Sabres as Myre started but became ill and needed to be replaced by Peeters. Offensively, Ken Linseman, Reggie Leach, and rookie Brian Propp led the way.
If you watched HBO’s 24/7 series on the Flyers and Rangers Road to the Winter Classic, you got to see the teams celebrate the New Year. For some reason, I imagine watching the ’79-’80 Flyers ring in the New Year 33 games into their streak with with only 1 loss would have been much more entertaining.
More than in any other sport, hockey players refer to their teammates by nickname only. Listen to one post-game interview with a player and you will hear nothing but nicknames when he is talking about his teammates. Other than the obvious ones which just add “ie” or “s” to a shorter version of the players last name (Richie, Carts), nicknames generally come from inside jokes. This phenomenon speaks to the camaraderie of the locker room; the “us” against “them” mentality.
Picking up on Johnny’s list of the Best Nicknames in Eagles History, here is a list of the best nicknames for players who’ve worn the Orange and Black. I’ve also thrown in the best names given to lines in team history. Be sure to let us know if I missed any.
- “Zeus” Dave Schultz (While the media stuck with “Hammer,” his teammates called him “Zeus.”)
- “Big Bird” Don Saleski (His mop top hair made him a dead ringer for the Sesame Street character.)
- Bob “Hound” Kelly
- Andre “Moose” DuPont (He was the size of a moose.)
- “Cowboy” Bill Flett (The guy was literally a cowboy. He grew up wrestling steer and riding broncos. And he dressed like one too, boots and cowboy hat included.)
- “Hawk” Rick MacLeish (After some off-color comments he made to a woman at a bar, she pressed his nose flat with her fingers and said “Hawk Nose! Hawk Nose!.” This happened within earshot of Bill Clement, who coined the name “Hawk.”)
- “Ash Can” Barry Ashbee
- “Frank” Antero Niittymaki (Named after the famous mobster Frank Nitty.)
- “Chico” Robert Esche (Keith Tkachuk saw Eshe’s sticks, which have “R. Esche” on them, and said “When did Chico get here?” referring to goaltending great Glenn “Chico” Resche.)
- “Arnie” Bill Barber (Teammates thought he looked like the pig on Green Acres, Arnold Ziffel.)
- The Legion of Doom (Lindros, LeClair, Renberg)
- The LCB Line (Leach, Clarke, Barber)
- The Fighting Dans (Dan Kordic, Daniel LeCroiux, Scott Daniels)
- The Deuces Wild Line (Gagne, Forsberg, Knuble- all had “2s” in their numbers)
- The Crazy Eights Line (Lindros, Recchi, Fedyk- all had “8s” in their numbers)
- The Blackhawk Down Line (Roenick, Amonte, Zhamnov- all former Blackhawks)
Larry Mendte needs no introduction. I doubt there is a Philadelphian who doesn’t know his name. He has a house swimming in Emmys for his terrific television work (including two earlier this year). And though his career at KYW ended in scandal in 2008, he has since recovered nicely, writing for Philly Mag, doing commentary for WPIX in New York, and becoming an advocate for the 9/11 First Responders. And this isn’t the first time he’s been gracious enough to respond to an inquiry from me. In 2006, he talked to me about ghosts. Well, here he talks about the ghosts of 1972, when Philly sports hit rock bottom, and how surviving during the lean years has made the recent success of Philly sports all the sweeter.
The present is the best of times for Philadelphia sports fans. The Phillies are the best team in baseball. The Eagles will be the Super Bowl favorites in football. The Flyers made moves that put them in the mix for a Stanley Cup run. Even the Philadelphia 76ers are showing signs of something better than mediocre thanks to the return of my favorite Sixers’ player, now my favorite Sixers’ coach, Doug Collins.
And that takes us back to the worst of times. For to truly be able to bask in what is, you need to have suffered through what was. In 1972 I was 15 years old and a sophomore at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. It was an age and a year when you were fully invested in your sports teams for better or worse. But in Philadelphia there was no column A – everything was worse, record setting worse.
The Philadelphia 76ers started out the year losing their first 15 games and the season went downhill from there. In the middle of the year they suffered a then record setting 20 game losing streak. And yet I can remember the names of every player on that team as I used to go to the Spectrum, buy a nose bleed seat and by the 3rd quarter I was courtside. The team was so bad I had the urge to yell “next.” When the team ended the season 9-73, the worst record in NBA history, it was depressing.
But the 76ers were not alone, every team was pitiful. I challenge anyone to come up with a worse year in Philadelphia sports than 1972 bleeding over to the beginning of ’73. I contend it stands as the worst year in Philadelphia professional sports history.
The Philadelphia Phillies were 59 – 97 that year and finished last in the National League East. Cy Young award winner Steve Carlton won 27 of those games. Without Carlton the Phillies could have easily contended for the title of worst team in Major League Baseball History. One shudders to think how many games the team would have lost without Lefty.
The other team to play at The Vet was even worse. The Philadelphia Eagles were 2-11-1 in 1972 and finished last in the NFC East. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers both by one point, so they were just two points away from a winless season. The team scored just 12 touchdowns in a 14 game season.
The Philadelphia Flyers finished with a 26-38-14 record in 1972. In a city of last place teams, the Flyers fourth place finish in the NHL West made them a giant among midgets. But there was more than that, a new coach named Fred Shero seemed to have a vision. And Bobby Clarke in his third season had the making of a superstar.
The four teams I mentioned had a combined record of 96-219-15. 1972 may not only be the worst year in Philadelphia sports history, but the worst year that any city with at least four major league franchises has ever suffered.
Philadelphia was dubbed The City of Losers. It was depressing for a 15 year old kid in Lansdowne who felt a deep connection with the teams. It was no wonder that Big 5 basketball and Penn State football was so big in the early 70’s. The college teams gave Philadelphia our only taste of winning.
But that would quickly change, for Fred Shero did have a vision. The very next year, the Philadelphia Flyers would shed their reputation for mediocrity; emulating the swagger of a city that had something to prove and nothing to lose. I watched all six games of that Stanley Cup series from the kitchens and living rooms of friends and family. It was on everywhere.
Famously, before game six against the great Boston Bruins, Shero posted a note in the locker room. “Win today and we walk together forever.” They won game six and the Stanley Cup series 1-0 thanks to the brilliance of goalie Bernie Parent.
That night I remember celebrating with my friends and a few hundred other people in the middle of street in Yeadon, Delaware County. The crowd chanted “1,2,3,4. Who the F—is Bobby Orr.” There was sheer elation. Philadelphia became a hockey town that year. The team known as the Broad Street Bullies defiantly ripped the label “City of Losers” from all of our chests.
Philadelphia became a hockey town that year. Suddenly kids, who used to play stick ball, pick-up basketball and touch football, were playing street hockey. And Fred Shero’s prophecy came true, as Clarke, Shultz, Barber, Parent, DuPont, Dorhoefer and Saleski were overnight household names. They were walking together forever into Philadelphia Sports immortality.
Everything seemed to change after the cup came to town. The Flyers would win again and the Phillies, 76ers and Eagles all seemed to drink from it. The City of Loser was now the City of Winners. Clarke and Parent were joined by Schmidt, Dr J and Vermeil. Within the next ten years the City would have a World Series win, an NBA Championship and a Super Bowl appearance. I was there when Tug McGraw lifted the trophy over his head at JFK stadium and I chanted “Fo, Fo, Fo” as Moses moved down Broad Street in a victory parade. But my favorite sports moment in Philadelphia happened at the intersection of Church and Whitby when I shared in shared in a loud and emotional mass transformation of Philadelphia sports fans from what we were, repressed and resigned, to what we are today, proud and passionate.
The suffering of 1972 made 1974, 1980, 1981 and 1983 more meaningful. It makes those of us who remember 1972, the worst of times, treasure today, the best of times.
This is Part 4 of our series on Philly sports memories. Here are the previous entries.
Part 1, with Nick Staskin of Phillies Nation.
Part 2, with John Finger of CSN Philly.
Part 3, with Maxx of Black Landlord.