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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flyer DNA contains crazy

Unapologetic team skates to beat of its own drummer

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PHILADELPHIA -- In six days, legendary Flyers coach Fred Shero will be posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The honour is long overdue. He passed away more than two decades ago; last coached in the NHL in 1980.

Despite his innovations, many believe Winnipeg product Shero was kept out of the Hall by his peers because of their disdain for the "Broad Street Bullies" and their pugilistic style of play. Hockey's purists have not appreciated the way the Flyers have played over the last 47 years.

If the Capitals or the rest of the NHL is waiting for an apology from the Flyers for Friday night, I hope they're not holding their breath. The Flyers have always been the NHL's wackiest franchise. If nothing else, their view in the NHL has been consistent. That wasn't about to change, trailing by six goals at the end of the second period. Their response was almost predictable.

Before the horn could blow on the second period on Friday night, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren was on his way from the press box to the dressing room to address his team.

What did Holmgren say?

"That stays in the room," coach Craig Berube said.

Judging by his 1,684 career penalty minutes as a player and the ensuing Flyers reaction, we can only guess.

Five minutes into the next period, gloves and helmets littered the ice. Ray Emery skated from one end to the other and rained blow after blow upon the head of unwilling combatant Braden Holtby. Vinny Lecavalier, Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds all answered the call simultaneously.

Two decades after Ron Hextall became a revered figure in this town for similar outbursts, the rest of the hockey world cried out in despair while the thousands left in the Wells Fargo Center stood and roared.

"It hasn't been (part of the NHL)," commissioner Gary Bettman told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Saturday. "It's something we're going to keep an eye on and look at."

Holmgren didn't apologize after the game. "Do I have an issue with it? Probably not," Holmgren said. "When you're getting slapped around like that, it's a response from a frustrated hockey team."

Emery unabashedly said he warned Holtby to protect himself as he grabbed him. "He really didn't have much of a choice," Emery said.

The Flyers do not apologize. They didn't apologize when they poached No. 1 draft pick Eric Lindros from Quebec in 1992, nor when their offer sheet forced small-market Nashville to spend $110 million on Shea Weber in 2012. They didn't apologize when they traded away players with 11- and 12-year contracts and haven't apologized to the five coaches they've fired since 2000.

Shero and the Flyers never apologized for pounding the Rangers' Dale Rolfe -- and no one asked. But this is 2013 and sports have suddenly become a moral lightning rod in our politically correct society -- even though 98 per cent of NHL players recently polled want to keep fighting in the game.

Bettman would have loved to suspend Emery for leading the battle cry. But the NHL actually has a rule (46.2) for aggressors in fights who "continue to throw punches in an attempt to inflict punishment on his opponent who is in a defenseless position or who is an unwilling combatant." You're allowed to be an "aggressor" three times in one regular season without any penalty.

"There was no rule violated that warranted a suspension," Bettman told the Tribune-Review. "But it's something that we have to look at and see what, if anything, needs to be done about it."

The Flyers have always pushed the league to its limit, even if that means giving the sport a black eye. They are perhaps the only team to exceed the league's salary cap in real dollars each season since 2005, squeezing under only by injury exceptions.

The Flyers' only objective over the last 47 years has been to win -- even if that means running over an opponent's goaltender.

Perhaps that is the mistaken mystique of the "Broad Street Bullies." Maybe what it means to be a Flyer is not that you're tougher than everyone, it's that you're willing to do anything -- even the wrong thing -- to win.

How popular internally was Emery's decision? Just watch the tape. As he skates off, more than a handful of teammates pat him on the pads with their sticks.

Emery started the next night in New Jersey. Is it a coincidence the Flyers turned in their cleanest game of the season? They didn't have a single turnover during a 1-0 win. They put the craziness aside and played hockey. Whether it makes you want to vomit or not... this is who they are and who they want to be.

-- Philadelphia Daily News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2013 C2

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