Orest Kindrachuk. This name means nothing to you, unless you live in Philadelphia or are a huge hockey fan, which describes two fairly small populations. I was watching the Philadelphia Flyers vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third game of their Stanley cup playoff series Sunday—a filthy, fight-filled yet wonderful playoff game won by the Flyers 8-4—when Orest’s name popped into my head like a bad flashback, if I was the sort of person who had those sorts of things.
And this is where Orest Kindrachuk comes in. He was a typical Flyer. A modestly talented overachiever, Kindrachuk was under 6 ft. and maybe 190 lbs. but maybe after too many sticks to the head he must have thought he was 6 ft. 2 in. and 220 lbs. He would scrap, grab, fight, check, whatever was needed, which was the Flyers way. I don’t know why he annoyed me so much, or why I even remember his name. Perhaps it’s because he skated on a line of meat cutters, with Dave “Hammer” Schulz and Don “Big Bird” Saleski. Schulz was truly loathsome, not talented enough to lace his own skates without help. He had 472 penalty minutes—nearly 8 games worth—in the 74-75 season. He just pounded opponents in the corners until the puck squirted out while Saleski hung around for the entrails, a skating skua.
(MORE: Why The NHL Should Stop The Fights)
That was what the Broad Street Bullies did. Even their skill guys were hatchets. The great centerman Bobby Clarke probably taught his kids to slash before he taught them to skate. And referees were so intimidated during this era they would swallow their whistles as the Flyers pillaged my Rangers among many other teams. The Rangers’ great GAG line, as in Goal a Game, featured three artists: Rod Gilbert, Vic Hadfield and “Gentleman” Jean Ratelle. How would a gentleman fare against a hammer?Rangers fans were demonstrably more pugilistic than Rangers players. In one of those mid-70s summers, in a bar in Somers Point, N.J., I remember being caught in the fire zone when Rangers fans and Flyers fans exchanged full beer bottles at 20 feet. (I did not throw anything. No way I was going to waste a beer.)
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh fans now own that acidic relationship, even though they don’t have to share the Jersey Shore. The irony is that this year Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called out the Penguins for being dirty. It’s like Vlad the Impaler taunting Attila the Hun for being unsporting.
The Penguins have been Pennsylvania’s best hockey team since Mario Lemieux showed up in the mid-80s as a teenage phenom. The Pens won the Cup in 1991 and 1992 when Super Mario was peaking (with help from Jaromir Jagr, now a Flyer) while the Flyers were going nowhere. The Pens were finalists in 2008 and beat Detroit in 2009 behind the next phenom, Sid, The Kid, Crosby and the Russian maestro Evgeni Malkin. And now the Flyers, who lost in the finals in 2010, are a team that has enough actual hockey talent to accuse someone else of being intemperate.
It’s enough to make the Hammer gag.