Update 7/12 This piece can be found updated at the URL http://thehealthyscratches.com/2013/07/12/hall-of-fame-inductee-fred-shero-changed-both-the-flyers-and-the-nhl/
When Frederick Alexander “The Fog” Shero was announced as a member of the 2013 Hockey Hall of Fame class, fans of the 1970’s Flyers surely felt a bit of nostalgia.
Shero was the head coach of the Flyers from 1971-1978 and led them to back to back Stanley Cup Championships in 1974 and 1975. During this time the team would become known as the “Broad Street Bullies” for their rough and tumble style of play.
Fans saw a Philadelphia team during Shero’s reign that would go out on the ice and pummel their opponents, never backing down from a scrum or shying away from a collision in the corners. It wasn’t that the team was necessarily being instructed to fight their opponents, but it definitely was not frowned upon if they did.
I swear I have never told a player to attack another player,” Shero said in the HBO documentary Broad Street Bullies. “In fact, I have told my players if they ever hear me saying something like this, they can break a stick over my skull. I ask only that they play aggressively. I had a team that liked fighting, so I let them fight.”
The Flyers were taught to be a fearless group at all times, and let their opponents know that they were never going to back down. But where other teams would go out and use physical intimidation when they did not have any skill, the Flyers used it to go along with their skill.
Under Shero the team was able to get the teams star players such as Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach to buy into the never back down system. These players led a group of skilled players on the team who used rough tactics to accomodate their high skill level, not make up for it.
Shero once told his players,”Take the shortest route to the puck-carrier and arrive in ill humor.”
Shero’s strategy was much more sophisticated than just go out pummel your opponent and put the puck in the back of the net though. He was an astute student of the game-and all things in life- and was never afraid to try something new if he believed in it. This desire to adapt and learn at all times made him one of the real innovators of the game, and a man of many firsts for the NHL.
As a student of the game, it was only right that Shero became the one of the first coaches in North America to travel to Russia to study the Soviet Union’s style of play. Shero did not take this trip lightly, and it would later become evident that he used a lot of what he learned in Russia with his own teams.
“Anatoli Tarasov’s book became my bible,” Shero said to Sports Illustrated in 1975. “I’ve read it at least 100 times. Even now I still don’t know all there is to coaching. I’m still learning, which is why I went to Russia for a coaching clinic last summer. At least I realize I don’t know everything. Trouble is, most coaches don’t know—and certainly won’t admit—that they don’t know everything about coaching.
Shero would use much of what he learned in Russia when he became the first coach in NHL history to employ a system or tactical approach for all five skaters on the ice. He implemented his first system with the Flyers prior to the 1972-1973 season and his players quickly took to it. The Flyers would improve from 66 during the 1971-1972 season to 85 points during the first season his systems were in action.
“It was the first time that a style of game had been perfected. Everyone knew that the Flyers had a certain style of game – and I’m not just talking about the fighting,” said Bobby Clarke about the effect of Shero’s systems.
Shero was also the first to hire a full-time assistant coach, when he hired Mike Nykoluk prior to the 1972-1973 season. While Shero was initially viewed as weak or inept for making the move, with time it was clear the right decision was made. Nykoluk being around allowed Shero to get more individual time with each player, which in turn helped establish a better relationship and understanding with players. This idea was quickly picked up by other teams and today every team in the NHL has multiple coaches assisting the head coach.
Other things that Shero became the first do during his coaching career were the first to use film analysis, the first to employ a pre-game skate to get his players active on the day of a game, and to use in-season strength training. Each of these things made his team better and have now become commonplace for each and every NHL team.
All of these groundbreaking philosophies and ideas changed the game of hockey, but would not have been possible without the players on the ice being receptive to Shero. That was never a problem though, as Shero quickly endeared himself to nearly everyone that he worked with because of his quirky humor and fun personality.
“Nobody on our team missed practice in two years, not even the ones injured,” Shero said in 1975. “They don’t want to miss the laughs. I don’t think you can instruct anyone unless you amuse them first.”
With a personality that made people want to work with him and a mind for the game that none of his peers could match, Shero became one of the most influential coaches in the history of hockey. Without his presence in the game one could only ponder how much longer it would be before his innovations came to the NHL, or if they ever would of.
For a man that had to wait out 13 years coaching in the minor leagues before getting his chance with the Flyers, few could have predicted the success he would have. Shero went on to lead the Flyers to the most successful run in franchise history, and became a legend in the city of Philadelphia. He was able to manage this success very effectively, and changed the way that both players and coaches approach the game in the process.
Looking back on all that he did during his coaching career, it is clear that Shero deserves his place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“No one deserves it more than Fred Shero in my opinion,” Flyers Chairman Ed Snider said. “He was the guy that put it all together. We gave him the parts, and he made it gel.”