One thing the Philadelphia Flyers were going to be known for was that no one was going to outmuscle us, beat us up or be tougher than us.” With that one sentence from Flyers owner Ed Snider in 1969, a truer prediction for any team was never spoken. The Spectrum, home to the Philadelphia Flyers during their first years as an expansion team in 1967 until 1996, was the birthplace of the era of no mercy play by the Broad Street Bullies. Armed with blades strapped to their feet, battering sticks in their hands, which doubled as weapons, the Broad Street Bullies crossed into unforeseen territory on the ice in their mid-70s seasons. Witness to fights worthy of a boxing ring by heavy handed players such as Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Behn Wilson, and Dave Brown, there was no event more telling of their brutal style of play and intimidation factor than the January 11 exhibition game against the Soviet Union’s Central Red Army team during the Super Series 1976. At the time, the Flyers were two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and the last stop for the Red Army team, who were undefeated in the Super Series. The Soviets knew of the Flyers reckless style of play, having played them in the 1972 Summit Series, where Bobby Clarke delivered an infamous ankle shattering slash to Valeri Kharlamov in Game Six. There was tension even before the final negotiations for the series to take place were finalized, and only grew until the Soviets reached their breaking point. The Red Army team, which was played with more emphasis on finesse and skill, was polar opposite of the Flyers, who played physical and aggressive hockey. The Red Army players were enlisted men in the Russian military, whose only orders were to practice and play hockey. The constant togetherness of the players helped them build a dominating hockey machine. The precision each pass, play, and goal was executed with was unmatched by any other team in the world. Snider, actively involved in the negotiations, wanted a chance to prove that his team was the best in the world against the team that was known as a machine, and Head Coach Fred Shero was on board. “Freddie said ‘we’ll show them a real Iron Curtain’ before the game, and that’s exactly what we did,” former Flyers defenseman Joe Watson recalls. During a get-together before the game, Flyers announcer Gene Hart taught Ed Snider a phrase in Russian wishing both teams the best for the upcoming game, which Snider omitted when he took the podium to speak to the two teams. The gathering planned for before the game did not go as planned: the Soviets and the Flyers stayed separated like oil and water. “When I looked over at all those cold faces on their side glaring at us, I just couldn’t do it” Snider later commented.
The Game: It’s 1976 in the arena infamously known by opponents and hockey fans around the league as the most intimidating building to play in with the most intimidating fans. The tension is palpable between the Bullies and the Soviets, taking the ice for the final game of the Series, and the electric passion of the fans reverberate through the walls of the Spectrum. “They didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. So we were ready for a war,” said Flyers Hall of Fame left winger Bill Barber. Kate Smith’s infectious rendition of “God Bless America” sent the crowd into the typical frenzy that occupies the Spectrum during Flyers games. Only this time, the singing and cheering is amplified by patriotism as well as support. After losing the opening faceoff, the Flyers keep to head Coach Frank Shero’s advice: bottle up the neutral zone and stifle any attempts to gain speed and cross the blue line. Immediately after, dictating the game’s tempo, the Flyers take control of Soviet players physically. The Bullies keep their aggressiveness, winning forechecking battles against the boards and dominating the faceoff. Within the first ten minutes of the first period, the Soviets were out shot 12 – 1, even with killing two power plays from a penalty to Moose Dupont, and a slashing penalty to Ed Van Impe, and keep the score 0 – 0. With their hitting game at full throttle, the Flyers maintain physical control over the Red Army team, checking at the blue line and crushing them in the corners. Finishing his penalty, Ed Van Impe shoots off the bench with a vengeance. Heading toward the blue line for Kharlamov (who Clarke delivered the ankle-breaking slash to four years before), Van Impe delivers a heavy body check to send Kharlamov to the ice for a solid minute. The Soviet bench erupted in protest, claiming that the Flyers’ defenseman had his elbows up as he delivered the check, but NHL officials don’t call the penalty. “He had his head down. When he looked up to see where the puck was, I hit him. I hit him on the side of the head with my shoulder. It was perfectly legal. There was no reason why he should have stayed down. It was an act,” Van Impe said after the game. The players were motioned to the bench by Soviet coach Loktev, who stood pointing and yelling in Russian at referee Lloyd Gilmour. An interpreter relayed the ultimatum given by Loktev: either review the elbowing penalty to Van Impe, or the Soviet players would not return to the ice. Gilmour said once again that the check was clean and tells Loktev that if his players do not return to the ice immediately, he would be charged with a delay of game penalty. And with that, the Soviets retreated to the visiting locker room. The crowd was more vocal than ever, booing and taunting the Soviets, and a sign reading “Tell it to the Czar” is waved by the Spectrum’s famous “Sign Man”. The confused Flyers players meandered around the ice while the Red Army team vacated the ice, and waited for direction by Shero, who stood unmoving behind the bench. “I’ve seen them do that before,” Shero said afterwards. “It’s a tactic they use sometimes when the game isn’t going their way. They always come back.” Heated discussions between NHL president Clarence Campbell, Snider, and NHLPA director Alan Eagleson and Loktev and Soviet delegation head Viacheslav Koloskov were held while fans and Flyers were waiting for the game to resume. Snider told the Soviets
that unless they returned to the ice, they would not receive any payment they were due. The Soviets shoot back with a conditional return: a negotiation of the penalty on Van Impe or the cancellation of their own delay of game penalty. NHL officials did not agree to anything, and after 16 minutes, the Soviets finally returned to the ice. The Flyers, more fired up than thrown-off by the stall tactic, took the lead in only 17 seconds on the power play with a deflection on a Bill Barber shot by Reggie Leach. They never looked back. The Spectrum erupted in pandemonium, and the Flyers were at the peak of their glory. Three more Flyers goals were scored by Rick MacLeish, Joe Watson, and Larry Goodenough to end the game in a solid 4 – 1 victory by the Bullies over the Soviets. They received a standing ovation from a full capacity crowd, and the entire NHL. They had beaten a Cole War opponent and restored honor to the league. Head coach Fred Shero, after the game, said “Yes we are world champions. If they had won, they would have been world champions. We beat the hell out of a machine.” The Legacy: It was plain to see that the Soviets were not equipped to handle the Flyers rugged style of play. Afterward they went so far to complain that Flyers played “animal hockey”. Still, no one was giving them any sympathy. Milt Dunnell of the Toronto Star, commented after the game “The Moscow Musketeers had to put a big fat zero on their aptitude test by pulling one of the dumbest tricks in sports. They hauled their team off the ice. Loktev knew the conditions before he came. Nobody loves playing in Philadelphia. Once he accepted a game with the Flyers, under NHL rules, with an NHL referee, he was in the same boat as the Toronto Maple Leafs or Vancouver Canucks when they come to town. Loktev wanted his team to know what it’s like to play the Flyers in Philly under NHL conditions. Well…that’s what it’s like.” The only goal the Red Army team could muster up came from Victor Kutyorgin in the second period. While they were not able to penetrate the Flyers blue line, they were able to squeeze through to fire most of their only 12 shots at Wayne Stephenson in that mild attack. Being the only team to beat the Soviets in the series, the final game of the Super Series ’76 solidified the Flyers place as not only the best hockey team in the NHL, but in the world. Afterward, many claimed that it proved that the Canadian style of play was better than that of the Soviets. Clarke responded “This doesn’t prove Canadian hockey is better than theirs. It just means the Flyers are better than their best.”
Gabrielle Rosati is a fourth-year English major with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at GR688985@wcupa.edu.
One thought on “1976 Red Army game reinforced Flyers’ “Bullies” status”
It is obvious from the get-go that this writer is not from Philadelphia. We were hated by everyone who wasn’t from Philly and Ms Rosati’s slant in this article is typical of the anti- Flyer style of hockey. But I’ve never read such a pro Russky account of this great game. Still love the Bullies even almost 45 years later.