Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - One on One with Bernie Parent
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One on One with Bernie Parent

"He needs the glove of an all-star shortstop, the agility of a gold-medal gymnast, the reflexes of a championship racing-car driver, the eye of a .400 hitter and the mind of a geometrician," wrote TIME Magazine on February 24, 1975. "Even then, he is nothing if he has not conquered fear, for he lives in a vortex of violence in the world's fastest team sport. He is the hockey goalie, the masked man, the magnet for action in a war on ice."

The netminder — a breed apart. It takes a special athlete to master the art of goaltending and Bernie Parent is one who rose to the top of his profession.

Bernard Marcel Parent was born in Montreal, the youngest of seven children, on April 3, 1945. "Before I was born, my mother (Emilie) had been ill with pneumonia," Bernie says. "After I was born, my mother wasn't strong enough to look after me around the clock so my sister Raymonde and cousin Denise took care of me. They tell me I used to cry and cry. I wasn't getting enough to eat."

Although his life began with a few challenges, once his siblings introduced him to the game of hockey, Bernie discovered his true passion. "Yvan and Jacques (Bernie's brothers) got me started playing hockey. They used to work with me in our backyard. I didn't start out to be a goalie but they noticed I had good balance." Tennis balls and boots substituted for pucks and skates in his neighbourhood and Bernie, a bit of a loner, always wanted to play goal. "Once I stopped the first shot, that settled it," Parent smiles, "The challenge to make a save was always there. It was just in me."

Bernie's brother Yvan was coaching a bantam team whose goalie was hurt in a car accident, and discussions turned to Bernie trying his hand as a goaltender, in spite of the fact he had never played organized hockey on ice. "I was about 9 years old and had never been on skates to play hockey. I felt clumsy wearing the goalie's equipment." One written report claims Bernie's first adventure in net resulted in 21 goals against, but with time, the momentum changed. "Things turned out well the rest of the season and we made the playoffs," states Bernie.

Although the nine-member family was living on a working man's salary, Bernie's parents sacrificed and made their youngest child's dreams come true. "One of my biggest thrills as a boy was at Christmas when I was about twelve," Parent recalls with a grin. "My parents gave me a set of goalie pads. I was so excited, I put the pads over my pajamas, grabbed my goalie stick and went out in the backyard. I pretended I was (Jacques) Plante making great saves against Gordie Howe and Alex Delvecchio in the Stanley Cup finals."

But hockey consumed the young netminder, distracting him from pursuits of bigger importance. "I was so occupied with hockey that I wasn't doing well in school," Bernie admits. "I had to repeat grade seven."

Parent's passion for netminding was fuelled, in part, by his affection for Jacques Plante, the remarkable goalie on Bernie's favourite team, the Montreal Canadiens. "Plante's sister Therese lived next door to us," he reveals. "Whenever we heard he was coming to visit her, we would run across the street and crouch down behind the bushes (hoping to catch a glimpse of his hockey hero)."

Bernie starred with his local Rosemount team and caught the eye of a scout for the Boston Bruins, who recommended that the NHL team sign both Parent and teammate Gilles Marotte. "As a kid, I dreamed of playing for Montreal in the NHL but as I got older, it didn't matter that much," shrugs Bernie. "All that counted was playing in the NHL."

Parent was signed to the Bruins in 1963, a period of time in which Boston had missed the playoffs in five consecutive seasons. Bernie was sent to the Bruins' Ontario junior affiliate, the Niagara Falls Flyers. "I got homesick," Bernie admits. "The guys would go out after games but I'd never go with them. I really felt lonely with the language barrier and being away from home."

Yet, Bernie played well enough to earn the best goals against average in the OHA, and was named to the league's Second All-Star Team. At the completion of the Flyers' season, Bernie was sent to Boston's Central Hockey League farm team to learn more about advancing upwards through the ranks.

In 1964-65, Parent again led the OHA with a sparkling 2.58 goals against average, was named to the league's First All-Star Team and also led his team to a first-place finish. The Flyers rolled over the defending Memorial Cup champion Toronto Marlboros to earn a berth in the Memorial Cup final against Edmonton. The powerful Oil Kings were making their sixth consecutive appearance in the junior championship.

The series was played in Edmonton and the on-ice battle turned into a war, with both sides involved in spearing and fisticuffs. After Niagara Falls' forward Derek Sanderson knocked unconscious Edmonton's Bob Falkenberg, the Flyers pugilist was dragged into a first-aid room by Edmonton spectators, prepared to administer a beating. The president of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association ordered the game halted. Hap Emms, the Flyers' manager, called the game " ... one of the worst things I've seen in my hockey career."

When the dust settled and the series continued, Niagara Falls finished the series with four wins to but one for Edmonton, giving Parent and the Flyers the Memorial Cup championship. "You know what was the biggest single thing we had going for us in the series," asked Hap Emms, rhetorically. "There he is — Parent! He kept us in the games. He's the best junior goalie I've ever had!"

The Boston Bruins had a wealth of netminding talent in training camp in 1965-66. Ed Johnston was their solid number one goalie with newly-acquired Gerry Cheevers just arrived from the Maple Leafs organization and both Bernie Parent and his Flyers' teammate, Doug Favell, looking like the goalies of the future.

Bernie was sent to Oklahoma City, where he turned professional with the Bruins' CHL partner, the Blazers. But injuries struck the Boston crease and Parent was called up to make his NHL debut on November 4, 1965 in Chicago against the Black Hawks. Parent's introduction ended in a 2-2 tie and his showing convinced the Boston front office to keep the rookie with the team for the remainder of the season, splitting the campaign with Eddie Johnston upon his return from sick-bay. It was an eye-opening situation both on and off the ice for Parent. "There were a lot of temptations around Boston then for a young hockey player," admits Bernie "You're twenty-years-old and making pretty good money. It's not an easy situation to handle."

The young goalkeeper played parts of two seasons with the Bruins. But with the NHL expanding from six to twelve teams for the 1966-67 season, the 'Original Six' had to share their wealth. The Bruins protected Johnston and Cheevers, leaving both Parent and Favell available for one of the new teams. The Philadelphia Flyers, enjoying the first overall pick, plucked Parent from Boston. Later, they took Doug Favell, too.

The Flyers won the divisional championship in 1967-68. Through three full seasons with Philadelphia, Bernie proved himself as a dependable and often spectacular netminder. But midway through the 1970-71 season, on January 31, 1971, Parent's world was rocked. General manager Keith Allen informed him that he had been traded. "I heard the words and opened my mouth to say something but nothing came out. I couldn't speak," says Parent, shaking his head. The Flyers shipped Bernie to the Toronto Maple Leafs, receiving goaltender Bruce Gamble, Mike Walton (who they then traded to Boston) and a first round draft pick in return. "I was upset at leaving Philly but I said that no matter who I played for, I'd give it my best shot," Parent recalls.

In Toronto, Bernie became the protégé of his boyhood hero, Jacques Plante. "There was no one in the world quite like Plante," Parent states, remembering his partner in Toronto. "I learned more from him in two years with the Leafs than I did in all my other hockey days. He taught me a great deal about playing goal both on the ice and in my head off the ice. He taught me to be aggressive around the goal and take an active part in play instead of waiting for things to happen. He showed me how I kept putting myself off-balance by placing my weight on my left leg instead of on my stick side. He taught me how to steer shots off into the corner instead of letting them rebound in front of me. That old guy made a good goalie out of me."

In February 1972, Bernie Parent was the first NHL star to sign with the fledgling World Hockey Association. Although Parent finished the season with the Leafs, he was set to begin the 1972-73 season as the starting netminder for the Miami Screaming Eagles. His agent, lawyer Howard Casper, stated, "By the time he's 31, he'll never have to work another day unless he wants to."

"I was happy in Toronto. Those were two good years," Bernie reflects. "But when the WHA came along, it was a chance for me to get security for my family that I couldn't get anywhere else."

Leafs' owner Harold Ballard added, "How could we deny a kid like Parent a chance to pick up $600,000? We can't pay him that kind of money. If Miami can pay it, I want him to have it. All I told him was to make sure he had every penny in advance. Then, he won't get hurt if the thing (WHA) blows up."

Ballard was right. The Screaming Eagles never played a game. The franchise shifted, ironically, to Philadelphia. Bernie laughs thinking about the Screaming Eagles. "The only ice they had in Miami was in a glass!"

The Philadelphia Blazers finished third and Bernie was named to the Second All-Star Team. But on April 4, 1973, following a playoff contest against the Cleveland Crusaders, Parent left the team because he hadn't been paid. "There are times in your life when you have to look out for yourself," he shrugs. The Blazers suspended him. Bernie laughed and took his wife on a cruise. While on vacation, he received a call that the NHL Flyers had secured his services. Bernie Parent couldn't have been happier. "I never wanted to leave in the first place," admits Bernie. "Now that I was back, I couldn't have been happier."

After his one season foray in the WHA, Parent was back in the NHL with the team he wanted to play for. "The WHA situation in Philadelphia was bad," he explains. "The rink was poor and we usually had 2,000 spectators at the games. It was a big change after 17,000 in the NHL. I realize now that the NHL is the only place to play."

But Bernie was nervous — how would he be accepted? "I was a little worried about going back. (Doug) Favell had played really well for the Flyers and the fans loved him." In his first exhibition match, a game against the New York Rangers, Parent allowed six goals in the first period. But he settled down and the fans readily embraced their netminder. "Playing hockey was great fun for me again," he says, "something it wasn't the year before."

The Flyers, now labeled 'The Broad Street Bullies', finished atop the NHL's Western Division, collecting a phenomenal 112 points, which was second only to Boston's 113. Justice was served — the NHL's top two regular season teams faced each other for the Stanley Cup. The series was intense and aggressive but when the final buzzer sounded, the Philadelphia Flyers had won their first Stanley Cup! Parent had been sensational and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

The following season was as magical as its predecessor for Parent and the Flyers. Bernie had emerged as the best goalie in the NHL. In 1973-74, he shared the Vezina Trophy with Tony Esposito and was named to the First All-Star Team. 1974-75 saw Parent capture First Team honours again and he also repeated as the recipient of the Vezina. For the second season in a row, Bernie led all NHL goalkeepers in games won. In 1974-75, Philadelphia earned 113 points, tying with Buffalo and Montreal for team points.

Bernie Parent exceeded even his own expectations during the playoffs in 1974-75. After posting 12 regular season shutouts (for the second season in a row), he posted four more in the post-season and drove the Flyers to their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship. And for a second straight playoff, he earned the Conn Smythe in the process.

Bernie Parent was on top of the world. The Flyer fans chanted, "Bernie! Bernie!" with every spectacular save. But then, a back injury curtailed Parent's season to just 11 games in 1975-76. He rebounded, but the 'Broad Street Bullies' were slowly being dismantled.

Jacques Plante was hired as a goaltending consultant for the Flyers in 1977-78, and it is no coincidence that Parent enjoyed another superb season. He went 29-6-13 through the regular season, posting a league-best 7 shutouts in the process. It proved to be Parent's final full season in the NHL.

On February 17, 1979, Bernie Parent's career came to an abrupt conclusion during a game against the Rangers. During a goalmouth scramble, the blade of a stick came up and was jammed through the seemingly impenetrable eye opening in his mask. Bernie's right eye was seriously damaged. On the orders of his doctors, Bernie Parent retired from hockey. Commenting on his retirement, Parent states, "I feel bad about the whole thing but all good things must come to an end sometime. I've got many pleasant memories, especially those two Stanley Cups."

Bernie Parent retired winning 271 games, tying 121 and losing 198 in 608 regular season NHL games. Parent collected 54 shutouts and finished with a goals against average of 2.55. Through the playoffs, he played 71 contests, winning 38 and losing 33. He earned 6 shutouts and has a 2.43 playoff goals against average. In the WHA, Bernie played 63 regular season games, winning 33 and losing 28 and finished with a 3.51 average.

On his retirement, Bernie was made a special assignment scout and did community relations for the Flyers. He later was made goaltending coach, assisting Pelle Lindbergh to a Vezina season in 1985 and Ron Hextall to the same in 1987.

Bernie Parent's number 1 has been retired by the Philadelphia Flyers, who also named him a charter member of their Flyers Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1984, the first Flyer to be so honoured.

Always good for a laugh, Bernie kept his motto simple. "You don't have to be crazy to be a goalie," Parent smirks. "But it helps!"

Kevin Shea is the Manager of Publishing and Editorial Services at the Hockey Hall of Fame.