Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Fern Flaman
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One on One with Fern Flaman

17 JANUARY 2012
Fern Flaman helped anchor the Boston Bruins defense for over three seasons before being acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1950-51 season.
Fern Flaman helped anchor the Boston Bruins defense for over three seasons before being acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1950-51 season. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
"When hockey players talk shop, they frequently discuss the matter of who is their toughest opponent," began hockey writer Jim Proudfoot of The Toronto Star. "A note of something bordering on awe creeps into the conversation when the name 'Flaman' comes up. It is not a question of fear, for Flaman is not a vicious player, but a question of knowing that Flaman can deal a devastating bodycheck, that he is among the most competent of defencemen in the business, and that, if aroused, he is one of the most capable fisticuffers in the league."

Saskatchewan, while less populated and smaller than several of Canada's provinces, still produces a staggering number of NHL players. According to www.quanthockey.com, 10.2% of all Canadian players emerge from this prairie province, and the names that have gone on to hockey legend include many big, tough men: Clark Gillies, Gordie Howe, Bert Olmstead, Bryan Trottier, Eddie Shore, Harry Watson and yes, Fern Flaman.

Ferdinand Charles 'Fern' Flaman was born January 25, 1927 in Dysart, Saskatchewan, a small village located about 100 km (60 miles) north of Regina. The winters are bitterly cold on the Canadian prairies, making them perfectly conducive to building outdoor rinks for skating and learning the game of hockey.

While Flaman was a good amateur boxer in his teens, a skill that helped him flourish in the National Hockey League, it was hockey that drew his passion. In 1942-43, while just 15 years old, Fern joined the Regina Abbotts of the Southern Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

Fern Flaman's solid play on the Bruins blue line contributed to the team's run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and 1958.
Fern Flaman's solid play on the Bruins blue line contributed to the team's run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and 1958. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
Good fortune smiled on Flaman. "There was one fellow in town who worked for the fire department and was a hockey bird-dog on the side," he told Boston Bruins: Greatest Moment and Players. The scout noted Flaman's skill level and recommended him to the Boston Bruins. "They had a farm team in the Eastern League called the Boston Olympics but they had too many players so they loaned me to another team in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League called the New Haven Crescents (during the 1943-44 season). Next thing I know, I'm playing against the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters, a wartime club that had NHL stars such as Frankie Brimsek of the Bruins, Johnny Mariucci of the Black Hawks and Art Coulter of the Rangers. What a thrill that was; the first time I had ever been exposed to NHL players and I'm skating against them. I was in awe!"

Soon, the Boston Olympics, the Bruins' farm team, noted Flaman's play and brought him on board. "I played for the Olympics for three years in one heck of a league. We'd go in to Madison Square Garden and play the New York Rovers and there would be crowds as big as those the Rangers got."

In 1944-45, while with the Olympics, Fern made his NHL debut with the Bruins, playing one game. The next year, while still with the Olympics, he again was summoned to join the Bruins for a game.

Throughout his NHL career Flaman registered 208 points (34 goals and 174 assists).
Throughout his NHL career Flaman registered 208 points (34 goals and 174 assists).
(Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
In 1946-47, Flaman jumped to the American Hockey League, anchoring the defence on the Hershey Bears, Boston's affiliate in that league. But during that season, with the Second World War raging and a shortage of players in hockey's elite league, Fern was called up to join the Boston Bruins. "When I was a kid playing peewee hockey in Saskatchewan, we had numbers on our jerseys and we also had the names of an NHL player we hoped to play like. The name on my jersey was Babe Pratt, who had been a terrific defenceman with the Rangers, then the Maple Leafs and finally, the Bruins. When I was in Hershey, Babe was in Boston. The ironic aspect of the story is that when Babe was sent down to Hershey in 1946-47, I was the guy who replaced him."

Although just 20 years of age, the physical Flaman was able to study at the feet of legendary hitters like Pat 'Boxcar' Egan and Jack Crawford, both teammates with the Bruins and established himself as a strong NHL defenceman.

In November 1950, Fern was shattered to be traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Leo Boivin, Phil Maloney and Ken Smith for Bill Ezinicki and Vic Lynn. "The trade was the lowest point in my life. I had felt a part of Boston. I had played three years with the Olympics and nearly three more years with the Bruins. On top of that, it had been in the papers that I would not be traded, that I was an 'untouchable.' Next thing I know, I'm with the Maple Leafs."'

Although Fern had hoped to spend his entire career, the trade was a blessing in disguise as the Maple Leafs went on to win the Stanley Cup. Flaman was Bill Barilko's defence partner when the tragic, young hero scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal.

Fern played three more seasons for Toronto, but during the summer of 1954, Leaf owner Conn Smythe asked Flaman if he would like to be traded back to Boston. "That was awfully nice of him, being that my wife was from Boston and my home was there," Fern said. "I respected Smythe for letting me know in advance where things stood. You don't find many people in sports as decent as he was to me."

Fern Flaman of the Toronto Maple Leafs battling with Milt Schmidt of the Boston Bruins.
Fern Flaman of the Toronto Maple Leafs battling with Milt Schmidt
of the Boston Bruins. (Imperial Oil-Turofsky/HHOF)
He was traded back to Boston in exchange for Dave Creighton prior to the 1954-55 season. Flaman led the league with 150 penalty minutes that season and was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team. "The homecoming was great. I was named assistant captain and played under Milt Schmidt, who had been my teammate in the previous run with the Bruins."

In 1955-56, Fernie Flaman was named captain of the Bruins, replacing Schmidt. He wore the 'C' for the remainder of his NHL career. His leadership was most notable in blocking shots, clearing the front of the net and, when required, throwing punches with the league's heavyweights. When a teammate was in trouble, the captain was always there to confront the perpetrator.

In 1956-57 and 1957-58, the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup final, only to be defeated by the Montreal Canadiens, who were in the midst of a five-year dynasty. In both seasons, Fern was a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's premier defenceman and he was named to the NHL's Second All-Star Team. In all, he played in five All-Star contests.

During the late-1950's, Flaman was recruited by Ted Lindsay and Doug Harvey to initiate a players' association. While that effort was eventually scuttled, it was the precursor the National Hockey League Players' Association that was formed in 1967.

During the 1958-59 campaign, the Bruins staged a 'Fern Flaman Night.' "They presented me with a car and many other gifts," he smiled. "Getting the respect of the Boston fans and the night was a highlight of my career."

Fern's NHL career concluded with the final whistle of the 1960-61 season. During 15 NHL seasons, he played 910 regular season games, scoring 34 goals and adding 174 assists for 208 points. He also earned 1,370 minutes in penalties. At the time of his retirement, Fern was third in NHL history in career penalty minutes. In post-season play, Flaman played 63 games, recording 4 goals and 8 assists for 12 points and collecting 93 penalty minutes.

Fern Flaman played a tough game, giving no quarter. "Of the guys I played against, Gordie Howe was the toughest," stated Fern. "We didn't fight because we had a mutual respect for one another, but we both played it hard. I'm sure I received a few nicks from him, and I gave him a few too."

Gordie Howe had equal respect for Fern Flaman. "He's the toughest defenceman I ever played against."

Fern Flaman has been inducted into the Rhode Island Hockey Hall of Fame, the Northeastern Hall of Fame, the Collegiate Hall of Fame, the Saskatchewan Hall of Fame and, in 1990, he was inducted into the now obsolete Veterans' Category of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.