The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto has become an increasingly diverse place over the years. Grant Fuhr, goaltender during the Edmonton Oilers’ Stanley Cup runs, became the first black player in the Hall when he was inducted in 2003. U.S. hockey player Cammi Granato and Canadian hockey sensation Angela James joined the previously all-boys club when they were inducted in 2010. James, regarded as the female Wayne Gretzky of Canada, became the second black player and first black woman to enter the Hall.
There’s room for anyone of distinction and accomplishment in the hallowed Hall, regardless of race or gender. But what about room for diversity in hockey style or philosophy? What about Fred Shero? Those questions will be answered Tuesday afternoon when Hockey Hall of Fame officials announce their 2013 inductees Tuesday.
Shero is among a talent-rich pool of 2013 finalists the Hall that includes Detroit Red Wings right wing Brendan Shanahan, Chicago Blackhawks center Jeremy Roenick, Edmonton Oilers defenseman Kevin Lowe, and Flyers center Eric Lindros.
Shero coached the Philadelphia Flyers to their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1973-74 and 1974-75. He also coached the New York Rangers during a 10-year NHL career in which he complied a record of 390 wins, 225 losses and 119 ties (no shootout in those days).
Aside from Lindros – who faces questions about whether he fulfilled lofty expectations during his concussion-abbreviated 14-year career – Shero seems to be the toughest call for the Hall in the minds of some in the hockey establishment.
To them, the unconventional Shero embodied everything bad about the game: He was the ringmaster of Flyers teams that willfully and gleefully punched, kicked, crosschecked, tripped, slashed, mugged and gooned its way to two Cups.
To many, the “Broad Street Bullies” were more about the brutality of Dave “The Hammer” Schultz, Don “Big Bird” Saleski, Andre “Moose” Dupont, and Bob “The Hound” Kelly than the scoring prowess of Bobby Clarke (no Boy Scout himself), Bill Barber, Reggie Leach and Rick MacLeish and the elegant goaltending of Bernie Parent.
When some hockey purists look at the Flyers of that era they see a real-life “Slap Shot” with Shero subbing for Paul Newman as Reggie Dunlop.
If they looked beyond the punches and penalty minutes they might understand why Shero, who died in 1990, belongs in the Hall and is aptly nominated in its “builders” category.
That’s because he helped build the foundation for modern-day coaching in the NHL. He was the first NHL coach to hire a fulltime assistant coach – Mike Nykoluk – and have him on the bench (some teams today have assistant or associate coaches for defense, offense, power plays, penalty killing and goaltending); the first NHL coach to visit the old Soviet Union and incorporate many of their systems, which are staples in hockey today.
“Freddie was ahead of the game,” Clarke, a Hall of Fame inductee who captained Shero’s Stanley Cup squads, told The Philadelphia Daily News last year. “His style of game, he was the first coach to really use system hockey, where everybody knew where they were supposed to go. Everybody stayed in their positions. It was the first time that a style of game had been perfected.”
He was a master motivator, though he earned the nickname “Freddie the Fog” because his players and sports writers didn’t always comprehend his thoughts. But Shero was clear as a bell when he scribbled a message on the Flyers’ locker room board before Game 6 of the 1974-75 Stanley Cup Final against Phil Esposito, Bobby Orr and the rest of the Boston Bruins: “Win today and we walk together forever.” The Flyers won that game 1-0 and, true to his word, players from that team to this day share a closeness between themselves and a city that is unbreakable.
Four members of the Cup-winning Flyers team are already enshrined in the Hall – center Clarke, left wing Barber, team founder Ed Snider and general manager Keith Allen, who built the teams.
Why an innovator like Shero isn’t in the Hall with coaching peers Scotty Bowman, Herb Brooks, Emile Francis, Al Albour, and Punch Imlach is a mystery to many of “The Fog’s” supporters. They hope the mystery will be solved on Tuesday.