Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman
Like the Blues, the Philadelphia Flyers were birthed in the great expansion of 1967 in which the NHL doubled in size from six to 12 teams. The Blues and Flyers developed quite a rivalry when together in the Western Division of the NHL, however that ended in 1974 when the NHL realigned and Philadelphia was moved to the Patrick Division of the Clarence Campbell Conference. To add to the confusion, the Patrick Division was then moved to the Prince of Wales Conference in 1981. Today, of course, the Flyers are in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference and only visit St. Louis once, tonight.
In the beginning, though, the two teams were quite similar, both built despite extremely restrictive rules that kept the major young talent in the NHL in the Eastern Division where the "original six" teams stayed. The Flyers drafted second in the goaltending expansion draft of 1967, choosing Bernie Parent, HHoF 1984 (the Los Angeles Kings were first overall and chose veteran Terry Sawchuk, HHoF 1971), while the Blues took Glenn Hall, HHoF 1975, with the third pick. Through the first five rounds for skaters, the Blues took defensemen Jimmy Roberts (15th overall), Noel Picard (24th), Al Arbour (30th) and Rod Seiling (36th) as well as forward Ron Schock (42nd). The Flyers chose defensemen Ed Van Impe (16th overall) and Joe Watson (21st), as well as forwards Brit Selby (27th), Lou Angotti (33rd) and Leon Rochefort (39th).
The general consensus afterwards was that the Flyers had drafted the best players available, while the Kings had made the worst choices. Other notable Flyer selections included goaltender Doug Favell, defenseman John Miszuk (who briefly played in St. Louis for the Braves of the CPHL), winger Gary Dornhoefer and center Forbes Kennedy.
The Flyers also bolstered their roster by purchasing the Quebec Aces franchise in the AHL. The Aces were relocated to Richmond, VA, in 1971 as the Robins.
Two games in Philadelphia in the first couple of years stand out vividly in older Blues' fans minds and epitomize what a great rivalry existed between these two old competitors. Gordon Berenson was a relatively unknown commodity when the Blues acquired him in a trade in November, 1967, with the New York Rangers (along with a minor league defenseman named Barclay Plager) for forwards Ron Attwell and Ron Stewart, the Blues leading scorer at the time. Berenson was dubbed "The Red Baron" for his scoring prowess, finishing the first Blues' season with 22 goals and 51 points in 55 games to lead the team in points.
Unfortunately, neither the Blues nor Berenson were spectacular after 11 games into the 1968 season. The Blues were 5-5-1 and Berenson had only scored three goals. However, that would change on November 7, 1968, in Philadelphia. Back from injury, goaltender Doug Favell made the first save on a Blues' shot, but not the second as Berenson scored on the backhand at 16:42 of the first period. The Red Baron had four shots on Favell during the second period and scored on all four, giving the Blues a 5-0 lead after two periods. A crowd of just over 9,000 actually began cheering for the Blues. Terry Crisp and Camille Henry scored in the third period to make it 7-0, and Berenson got his #6 with just under six minutes to play in the game. And he almost made it seven when a shot clanked off the crossbar. Jacques Plante earned the shutout as the Blues won 8-0 in Philadelphia.
For many years, fans who heard Dan Kelly's famous call of that game on a recording issed by the Blues thought defenseman Ed Van Impe's first name was "Around", because Berenson danced around him all night.
The other game in Philadelphia that will never be forgotten occurred on January 6, 1972. It all started when Blues' coach Al Arbour followed referee John Ashley off the ice to protest a call at the end of the second period. As Arbour argued with Ashley, an unidentified fan poured beer all over Arbour's head, and several Blues' players went after the fans. Bob Plager led the charge into the stands, with several players swinging their sticks, especially at several policemen who intervened. The incident left two fans, two police officers, coach Arbour and player John Arbour (no relation) with minor injuries. The two Arbours and forwards Phil Roberto and Floyd Thomson were arrested on charges of assault and battery, disorderly conduct and conspiracy.
After being allowed to complete the game (the Blues, down 0-2 after two periods, came back to win the game 3-2 on a goal by Gary Sabourin), the four Blues were taken to police headquarters and held in custody. The were not arraigned until five a.m. Charges were dropped four months later, especially after the Blues' owners, the Salomons, announced they would not press charges against or sue the Philadelphia police for brutality. John Arbour had wounds requiring 40 stitches and Coach Al Arbour needed 12 stitches, all caused by police nightsticks. For the most part, Bob Plager escaped punishment, although he was later fined by the NHL for being the first into the stands.
Knowing Bobby, the Salomons most likely paid that fine for him.
There may be no rivalry today like there used to be; nevertheless, the Blues will be seeking a measure of revenge for the loss in Philadelphia a week ago. Expect a spirited game from both teams.