In the early part of his career, Parent tended goal with the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he was best known for being the clutch netminder on the Philadelphia Flyers' championship teams.
Parent was a stand-up goalie, a technique he learned from his boyhood hero, Jacques Plante. Many years later, when the slumping Parent talked about retiring, Plante talked him out of it. In addition, Plante coached Parent on some fundamental points that Bernie had been missing in his game. Plante watched him practise in Philly for two days and didn't say anything. Then he told Parent exactly what he was doing wrong - sitting back on his heels, backing into his crease and losing concentration.
Parent admitted he had considerable fear of playing goal in the NHL, and that fear helped him play better. On game nights, he never appeared without his mask on, even going to and from the dressing room. He also had a strict pre-game ritual. He sat alone under a miniature Stanley Cup and thought about the opposing players he would face, then slept for eight hours, had a steak for lunch and then slept again.
Parent grew up in Montreal in the early 1950s and played pickup games on the street with a tennis ball. Somewhat of a loner as a kid, he liked playing goal. Remarkably, Parent didn't learn to skate until he was 11. In his first game as a kid, he sheepishly admitted he let in 20 goals, not a great start for someone aiming for the pros. But he had the dedication.
By 1965 Parent had moved his way up to the Bruins' farm system. Boston brought him up to the NHL, where he played badly in his first two seasons, letting in an average of 3.67 goals per game. In 1967 Parent was claimed by the Flyers in the Intra-League Draft. It was there that he started to establish his reputation as a top goalie. But in 1971 Parent was traded to Toronto in a very controversial deal. The Flyers had another young goalie, Doug Favell, and thought that Bernie would be better trade bait. In the end the trade was good for Parent because it was in Toronto that he became a teammate of his hero, Jacques Plante.
Parent left the Leafs with great acrimony in 1972 when he became the first Leaf to defect from the NHL ranks to the World Hockey Association. He signed with the Miami Screaming Eagles for $750,000 over five years. Miami's team didn't even have a rink when Parent signed and he ended up with the Philadelphia Blazers in the WHA for $600,000 instead. Parent quit the team during the 1973 playoffs in a pay dispute and forced the Leafs to trade him back to the Flyers.
Returning to the Flyers, Parent became a sports hero in the City of Brotherly Love. One local bumper sticker read, "Only the Lord saves more than Bernie Parent." Now part of the Flyers' Broad Street Bullies, Parent and his teammates won the Stanley Cup twice in a row, in 1974 and 1975. In both seasons, Parent won the Vezina Trophy as best goalie and the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Sadly, Parent's remarkable career was short-lived. In a freak accident, a stick hit him in his right eye when he was 34, causing permanent damage to his depth perception and his ability to focus. Parent was forced to retire from hockey in 1979. He was then signed by the Flyers as "special assignments" coach in 1979, notably to advise goalies, just as Plante had once helped him. He would later serve as an ambassador for the Flyers.