Ice Hockey (Professional)


In February 1966, the National Hockey League decided that the future was now. Responding to forces transforming other professional sports leagues, such as the growth of televised coverage and the expansion of franchises to the West Coast of the United States, the NHL decided to expand its static lineup of “Original Six” franchises in Eastern and Midwestern cities—Boston, Montreal, Toronto, Detroit, Chicago and New York. A new division of six expansion franchises, evenly distributed through all regions of the United States, reintroduced professional ice hockey in Philadelphia. Over the next fifty years, the Philadelphia Flyers transformed the region from a professional hockey wilderness to a hockey hotbed.

A black and white photograph of a dilapidated ice rink with peeling paint. Marquee on the front reads
Philadelphia’s earliest ice hockey teams played at the Arena on Forty-Fifth and Market Streets. It hosted professional ice hockey from the 1920s until the Spectrum opened in 1967. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

Philadelphia’s first foray into the NHL had been a failure of historic proportions. In 1931, the Pittsburgh Pirates hockey franchise, in deep financial distress, relocated to Philadelphia, adopting an orange and black color scheme and a new nickname—the Quakers. The team’s poor performance from the previous season— it had only won five games in 1929-30— continued into the 1930-31 campaign. The hapless franchise needed three games to score its first goal and nearly a month to notch its first win. The Quakers finished the season with a record of four wins, four ties, and a staggering thirty-four losses. The team’s .136 winning percentage stood as an NHL record until it was broken by the .131 percentage of the expansion Washington Capitals in 1974-75.

Despite more than a few opportunities, Philadelphia did not seem to like hockey. The Philadelphia Arena, which stood at Forty-Fifth and Market Streets from 1920 until 1983, hosted an array of minor league teams in a variety of leagues from the 1920s until the 1960s, none of which survived for very long. The longest-running franchise of this era was the Philadelphia Ramblers of the now-defunct Eastern Hockey League, which played in Philadelphia from 1955 until its move to Cherry Hill, New Jersey in 1964.

By the 1960s, Philadelphia was a city starved for a winner. A 1966 article in Sports Illustrated observed that “give them a chance, and people in Philadelphia would boo a funeral.” Brief glimmers of hope had been provided by the Eagles’ NFL Championship in 1960 and the 76ers National Basketball Association title in 1967, but the winning spirit did not last. The Phillies, in existence since 1883, had only made it to two World Series, losing both times and painfully throwing away a third opportunity in a tragic 1964 collapse.

Professional hockey returned to Philadelphia due in large part to the presence of Ed Snider (1933- 2016), a native of Washington, D.C., and vice president of the Philadelphia Eagles, who saw the NHL’s expansion plan as an opportunity. His limited exposure to the sport as a spectator had convinced him of the potential success of NHL franchise in Philadelphia. Snider, working with then Eagles owner Jerry Wolman (1927-2013) and New York investment banker Bill Putnam (1929-2002), began to assemble the resources to cover the NHL’s $2 million franchise fee (the equivalent of $44 million in 2016) and build a new 15,000 seat arena–later named the Spectrum— on an empty lot at Broad and Patterson Streets in South Philadelphia.

A black and white photograph of the old Philadelphia Sports Complex taken from the East. Photo shows JFK Stadium, The Spectrum Arena, and Veterans Stadium in a row, surrounded by empty parking lots.
The Flyers played at the Spectrum, shown here between JFK Stadium and Veterans Stadium, from 1967 until 1998. (

Ignoring the city’s spotty history with the sport, the NHL governors added the Philadelphia Flyers to the league, beginning play in the 1967-68 season. The city received the new team with indifference, at best. Area investors dismissed or ignored Snider and Putnam’s efforts to raise additional capital for the team, with one telling the owners, “Soccer will never go in Philadelphia.”

Even with financial support secured, the future of the franchise appeared in doubt. Philadelphia Mayor James Tate (1910-83) sent only a deputy to welcome the team formally to the city, and a parade down Broad Street to the newly opened Spectrum arena attracted a “crowd” of twenty, one of whom vocally predicted that the team would move to Baltimore by December.

On the ice, the new franchise seemed destined to reverse the hard fortunes experienced by the other professional sports franchises in Philadelphia. Drafting wisely among league veterans and minor league players left unprotected by the Original Six franchises, the Flyers won the new Western Division in their inaugural 1967-68 season. For a city with an apparent dislike of hockey, fan attendance for Flyers games grew every season, beginning with an average of 9,625 fans for the first season and growing to an average of over 16,000 in an expanded Spectrum by the 1972-73 season.

A black and white photograph of a small crowd holding signs demanding the Spectrum roof be fixed before playoffs.
When the Spectrum roof was wind-damaged in 1968, it became a political battlefield. Ice hockey fans demanded the roof be fixed before the first Stanley Cup playoff game. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

In other ways, however, the franchise seemed bitten by the same bad luck. On March 1, 1968, the roof blew off of the Spectrum, forcing the Flyers to play the entire last month of their first season on the road. When the Flyers returned to the reinforced Spectrum for their first NHL playoffs that same year, they were brutally smashed out of the opening round by the rough-and-tumble St. Louis Blues.

Despite growing fan interest, team performance over next few seasons followed this same pattern. The first five Flyers teams all ended their campaigns with losing seasons, and their two subsequent trips to the NHL playoffs ended in opening round sweeps by the Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks.

By the early 1970s, owner Snider demanded a team that could win games and defend itself. General Manager Keith Allen (1920-2014), nicknamed “Keith the Thief” by Philadelphia sportswriter Bill Fleischman, deftly assembled a blend of skill and muscle that came to define the NHL of the 1970s. Taking advantage of the league’s first universal entry draft in 1969, the Flyers gambled on a heralded young center from the Western Hockey League, Bob Clarke (b. 1949). Despite his outstanding junior career, Clarke’s diabetes made him a substantial risk in the eyes of most NHL teams. One of the few Philadelphia athletes never booed by the city’s demanding fan base, Clarke blossomed into the skilled, relentless, and iron-willed heart and soul of Flyers teams that would soon leave an indelible mark on the region and its hockey fans.

Tying together this collection of players into a cohesive unit was head coach Fred Shero (1925-90) hired by Allen from the New York Rangers in 1971. Nicknamed “The Fog” due to his introverted personality and indirect methods of communication, Shero’s innovative methods turned a nondescript expansion franchise into a perennial contender. A longtime student of the Soviet style of hockey, he was the first coach to use video analysis and create a set system for his players to follow, among other innovations. A former boxer, Shero also encouraged the aggressive instincts of his teams, which fit into the increasing mayhem in NHL games and transformed the identity of the team.

Philadelphia Bulletin writer Jack Chevalier, covering a fight-filled road victory over the Atlanta Flames, used the phrase “Bullies of Broad Street” in his game report. Bulletin staffer Pete Cafone headlined the article, “Broad Street Bullies Muscle Atlanta,” and a legend was born. While the Flyers gained increasing attention and scorn for their rough style of play—enforcer Dave “The Hammer” Schultz racked up 348 and an NHL record 472 penalty minutes in consecutive seasons—they also began to win. The team notched its first winning season in 1972-73, and Clarke was named the NHL’s MVP.

A black and white photograph of goalie Bernie Parent in a Philadelphia Blazers uniform, defending the goal during a game.
The World Hockey Association briefly had a team in Philadelphia. The Blazers played only one season marred by injuries and logistics errors. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

The rapid growth of Philadelphia as a hockey hotbed encouraged area businessmen Bernard Brown and James Cooper to bring another professional franchise to the city. The Philadelphia Blazers, a member of the NHL rival World Hockey Association, began play in the 1972-73 season. Featuring several former NHL players, including original Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1971, the Blazers hoped to draw fan attention away from the Flyers. The competition was short-lived; the Blazers’ inadequate home arena at the Philadelphia Civic Center failed to draw many fans, and the team did not stack up to the Flyers’ steadily improving roster. The Blazers relocated to Vancouver after only one year in Philadelphia and folded in 1975.

In 1973-74, reacquiring Parent as goalie provided the missing piece the Flyers needed. They won fifty regular season games and upset the heavily favored Boston Bruins in six games to win the seven-year-old franchise’s first Stanley Cup on May 19, 1974. Parent received the first of his consecutive Conn Smythe Trophies (MVP of the Stanley Cup playoffs) for his efforts in goal.

A black and white photograph of Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent holding the Stanley Cup while a crowd cheers behind them.
The Flyers won consecutive Stanley Cup victories in 1974 and 1975. Their aggressive style of play and record-breaking number of penalty minutes during this period earned them the nickname “the Broad Street Bullies.” (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)

The team whose arrival in 1967 had been greeted with indifference unleashed a spectacle of celebration rarely seen in Philadelphia. Two million fans jammed Broad Street on May 20 for the team’s Stanley Cup parade, a throng only surpassed by the 2.5 million fans who celebrated the team’s second consecutive championship in 1975.

Although the Flyers’s consecutive Stanley Cup victories did not continue, they remained among the most successful franchises in the NHL. Valued at $660 million in 2015 by Forbes Magazine, their winning percentage of .578 through 2015 stood second among active teams all time, and they achieved sixteen division championships and six additional appearances in the Stanley Cup finals between 1975 and 2016.

Much changed after the heyday of the 1970s. The Spectrum was torn down in 2011 and replaced by the modern 20,000-seat Wells Fargo Center. The reach of the Philadelphia Flyers extended well beyond their home rink in South Philadelphia and beyond the team’s impact on expanding NHL rules against fighting. Prior to the 1967 expansion, almost all of the players on NHL rosters hailed from Canada. By 2016, slightly less than half of NHL players were from Canada, with nearly 25 percent being born in the United States.

A huge throng crowded the streets to celebrate the Flyers' first Stanley Cup victory in 1974.
A huge throng crowded the streets to celebrate the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup victory in 1974. (

As the Flyers grew in popularity, so did the number of ice rinks and opportunities for young skaters in the region to follow their heroes into the NHL. The most notable, Flourtown, Pennsylvania, native Mike Ritcher (b. 1966), grew up idolizing Parent and backstopped the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship in 1994. From South Jersey, the National Hockey League also gained stars Bobby Ryan (b. 1987) of the Ottawa Senators and Johnny Guardreau (b. 1993) of the Calgary Flames.

Legendary Philadelphia sportswriter Frank Dolson (1933-2006) observed in 1981 that “professional hockey didn’t suddenly appear in Philadelphia after the Spectrum went up; it just seemed that way.” In 1967, many Philadelphians were unsure of the long-term viability of the Philadelphia Flyers. In 2016-17, the Flyers mark their fiftieth year of play in the National Hockey League in front of one of the most dedicated, knowledgeable, and passionate fan bases in the entire league. A gamble originally viewed as foolish evolved into a franchise that impacted all levels of sporting culture in the Philadelphia region.

Michael Karpyn teaches History, Economics, and Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics at Marple Newtown Senior High School in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. He has served as a Summer Teaching Fellow at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where he is a member of the Teacher Advisory Group. (Author information current at time of publication.)

Copyright 2016, Rutgers University


The Philadelphia Arena

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

Philadelphia’s first professional ice hockey teams played in the Philadelphia Arena at Forty-Fifth and Market Streets. Opened in 1920 as the Philadelphia Ice Palace and auditorium, the venue was renamed in 1925. Two years later, the Philadelphia Arrows of the Canadian-American Hockey League played their first game there. In 1930 they were joined by the city’s first NHL team, when the Pittsburg Pirates were transferred to the city and became the Philadelphia Quakers. The team had an abysmal season, losing all but four games and consistently being bested by the Arrows in attendance. The Quakers never played again.

The Arrows remained at the Arena until 1941 when the team also folded. From 1955 until 1964, the Arena was home to the Philadelphia Ramblers of the Eastern Hockey League. With the completion of the Spectrum in 1967, the aging Arena was retired as a professional hockey venue. It was renovated in the late 1970s and renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Arena. It remained in operation until August 1983, when it was destroyed in an arson fire.

South Philadelphia Sports Complex

Ed Snider, vice president of the Philadelphia Eagles, along with Eagles owner Jerry Wolman and investment banker Bill Putnam raised enough money for the National Hockey League franchise fee and financed a new arena in the 1960s, bringing ice hockey back to the city. The new arena, named the Philadelphia Spectrum, was built on an empty lot at Broad and Pattison Streets, adjacent to the existing Municipal Stadium (later JFK Stadium). The lot was previously the site of the 1926 Sesquicentennial Exhibition. Four years later, Veterans Stadium, home of both the Philadelphia Phillies and Eagles, was built nearby. The Spectrum is shown here, visible between the two larger arenas. All three have since been demolished: JFK in 1992, the “Vet” in 2004, the Spectrum in 2010.

The Spectrum remained home to both the Flyers and the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team until 1996. To convert the playing surface from an ice rink to a basketball court, a removable wooden floor was placed over the rink surface. The arena also was an attractive concert venue because of its acoustics. Both the Flyers and the 76ers moved to the Wells Fargo Center, built on the former site of Municipal Stadium. On the land where the Spectrum was located, an entertainment center known as Xfinity Live! was constructed.

Fix The Roof Then Fix The Blame!

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

Toward the end of the Spectrum arena’s construction, funds began to run low. To reduce costs, underwriter Jerry Wolman eliminated most of the interior décor and was granted a building code variance for the roofing material. The roof was found to leak shortly after the arena opened, but was nonetheless deemed safe. Less than six months later in February 1968, a heavy wind tore a section of the roof off and sent it careening into the parking lot just before a matinee Ice Capades show with a crowd of about 11,000 patrons. To calm the crowd, the Ice Capades’ band humorously played the tune, “Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder.” The roof was patched but held for only two weeks before being destroyed again. Mayor James Tate personally inspected the roof and closed the arena until permanent repairs could be made.

Political infighting between Tate and political rival Arlen Specter delayed repairs. Specter, who had been defeated by Tate in the 1967 mayoral race, contended that the Spectrum was built with improper permits, while Tate cited the building code variance Wolman successfully obtained during construction. In the meantime, the Flyers could only play away games as none of the other available venues in the city had ice rinks. Restless sports fans began to protest for the roof repairs to be completed in time for the NHL playoffs, set to begin in early April. The roof was repaired, and the Flyers faced off against the St. Louis Blues in their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff game at the Spectrum.

Philadelphia Blazers

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

In the 1972-73 season, the Philadelphia Flyers were joined on the professional hockey scene by the Philadelphia Blazers playing for the newly formed World Hockey Association. The World Hockey Association hoped to form teams in cities without them and to that end, recruited former Flyers goalie Bernie Parent to the association’s Miami Screaming Eagles. He was the first NHL player to join the new league.

Plans for a hockey arena in Miami fell through before the start of the season and the team was transferred to Philadelphia and renamed the Blazers.

The Blazers’ first game proved disastrous when the ice at the Civic Center, the team’s home arena, cracked under the weight of the Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine. The game had to be rescheduled. (The fans in attendance pelted both Blazers players and officials with souvenir opening night pucks.) Parent was injured early in the season and forced to sit out several games. Despite these setbacks, the team recovered to play in the WHA playoffs that season. It was not enough to save the franchise and they were moved to Vancouver at the end of the season. Bernie Parent left the Philadelphia Blazers during the 1973 WHA playoffs when the cash-strapped Blazers owners stopped paying his contract. He returned to the NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs, who then traded his rights to the Philadelphia Flyers in the summer of 1973.

Flyers Victory Parade, 1974

On May 20, 1974, a huge throng—estimated at two million by some counts—crowded the streets to celebrate the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup victory. Beginning at the Spectrum arena at midmorning, traveling north on Broad Street, the tremendous horde filled the streets and sidewalks, parting only for the parade vehicles. The procession ended at Independence Mall. There, Kate Smith, whose recording of “God Bless America” had opened Flyers home games since 1969, sang her trademark tune six times to a roaring crowd. The next year, the Flyers repeated their performance. Their 1975 victory parade drew an even larger crowd of two and a half million. As of 2016, the Flyers had not won another Stanley Cup championship.

Broad Street Bullies Win the Stanley Cup

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries

After several seasons of being defeated in the National Hockey League playoffs, the Flyers won the Stanley Cup championship in two consecutive seasons, 1973-74 and 1974-75. In April 1974, they first faced off against the Atlanta Flames, and after defeating them, won a narrow victory over the New York Rangers. In the finals, they defeated the Boston Bruins, the oldest NHL team in the United States. The next year the Flyers repeated their success, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Islanders, and finally the Buffalo Sabres to win their second Stanley Cup.

Center forward Bobby Clarke and goalie Bernie Parent are shown here celebrating the team’s 1974 victory. During this era the team’s aggressive physical playing style and record-breaking accumulation of penalty minutes earned the Flyers the nickname “the Broad Street Bullies.” The team once again made it to the finals in the 1975-76 season, but was defeated by the Montreal Canadiens.

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Time Periods



Related Reading

Beddoes, Richard. Hockey: The Story of the World’s Fastest Sport. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1973.

Chevalier, Jack. Broad Street Bullies: The Incredible Story of the Philadelphia Flyers. New York: Collier Books, 1974.

Cole, Stephen. Hockey Night Fever: Mullets, Mayhem and the Game’s Coming of Age in the 1970s. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2015.

Cooper, Bruce. “A Concise History of the American Hockey League and Minor League Pro Hockey in Philadelphia, 1927-2009); online at

Dolson, Frank. The Philadelphia Story: A City of Losers Winners. South Bend, Ind.: Icarus Press, 1981.

Greenberg, Jay. Full Spectrum: A Complete History of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club. Chicago: Triumph Books, 1996.

Hart, Gene. Score! My 25 Years with The Broad Street Bullies. Los Angeles: Bonus Books, 1990.

Willes, Ed. The Rebel League: The Short and Unruly Life of the World Hockey Association. Toronto: McCelland and Stewart, 2005.

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