Parent, Bernard Marcel ("Bernie")

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PARENT, Bernard Marcel ("Bernie")

(b. 3 April 1945 in Long Pointe, Quebec, near Montreal, Canada), one of the best goaltenders in the history of the National Hockey League (NHL) and inductee of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It would have been impossible for the Philadelphia Flyers to attain one Stanley Cup, let alone two straight championships, without Bernie Parent. If he was not the greatest goaltender in NHL history, Parent certainly was the very best in the early and mid-1970s, when Philadelphia's Broad Street, a main thoroughfare, was the hub of a pair of championship parades. While the team's captain, Bobby Clarke, supplied the heart, and the center Rick MacLeish furnished the pivotal goals, neither of those meaningful assets could have produced a title without the virtually airtight goal-tending of Parent. A disciple of the immortal Canadian goalie Jacques Plante, Parent was an original Flyer. Drafted from the Boston Bruins organization in 1967, he already had been touted as a future star and became the first player to join Philadelphia in the NHL's first expansion year. (The NHL expanded several times, beginning with the 1967–1968 season, when it doubled from the "original six" to twelve teams.) The Flyers were fortunate, because Boston had two fine goaltenders to choose between: Parent and the veteran Gerry Cheevers. When the Bruins opted for Cheevers, Parent was left unprotected in the draft, and Philadelphia snatched him.

When Parent reported to training camp in 1967, he competed for the top goaltending job with the equally young Doug Favell, whose acrobatic style starkly contrasted with Parent's classic standup puck stopping. The Favell-Parent duo paced the Flyers to first place in the NHL's expansion division, while Parent turned in an impressive record of 2.48 goals against average and 4 shutouts. Reaching the top was not easy. Parent was a worrier, but with the encouragement of a fellow teammate, the veteran Larry Zeidel, he overcame his jitters. After a 4–1 win against the Montreal Canadiens early in the first season, Parent came away with a new outlook on life. That game was a turning point for his career. Slowly but relentlessly he established himself as Philadelphia's premier goalie. During the 1969–1970 season, Parent posted 2.79 goals against average in sixty-two games, but the Flyers had trouble scoring goals in those early years. To remedy the problem, they traded Parent midway through the 1970–1971 season to the Toronto Maple Leafs for center Mike Walton and goaltender Bruce Gamble.

Parent was shocked and disappointed. He had established firm roots in Philadelphia and was a favorite with the fans. That was the bad news. The good news was that Parent ended up playing alongside his boyhood idol, Jacques Plante. It was the best thing that could have happened to Parent. He honed his goaltending style to sharpness under the tutelage of Plante and, in the 1971–1972 season, lowered his goals against average to 2.56. In 1972 a rival major league, the World Hockey Association (WHA), was launched, and a team in Miami known as the Screaming Eagles was awarded a franchise. The Eagles persuaded Parent to sign for the inaugural 1972–1973 season, but before the first puck was dropped the Florida franchise dissolved. Parent found himself playing for the WHA's Philadelphia Blazers. That season he played fifty-seven consecutive games out of a total of sixty-three nonconsecutive games, and chalked up thirty-three victories, the most in the WHA. After just one season, however, it was apparent that the Blazers were a second-rate operation, and they were dissolved as a Philadelphia WHA team. When the Flyers' owner Ed Snider suggested that Parent return, he was quick to agree.

"I never wanted to leave in the first place," said Parent as he signed a multiyear contract with the Flyers on 22 June 1973. "Now that I'm back, I couldn't be happier. I've always considered myself a Flyer." Parent was welcomed by his teammates. "Bernie," said the Flyers' Bobby Clarke, "is the most valuable player in all of hockey." Parent certainly bolstered his reputation during the 1973–1974 season. Playing in 73 of 78 games—more than any other NHL goalie that season—Parent produced a dazzling 1.89 goals against average, the best score in the NHL. Up to that time an expansion team had never won a Stanley Cup, but the Flyers were driven by Coach Fred Shero, by Clarke at center, and by Parent's goaltending. This winning combination took them to the finals against the Bruins, who had won championships in 1970 and 1972 and were led by the superstars Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Philadelphia took a lead of 3 games to 2 going into the sixth game of the series, whereupon Parent blanked the Bruins, 1–0. The Flyers had their first Stanley Cup, and Parent won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs.

Perhaps Parent's most decisive moment in his bid to win over the demanding Flyers fans occurred on opening night in 1973. Philadelphia was facing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Parent's former team. Parent shut them out, allowing the Flyers to win by a score of 2–0. He had a total of twelve shutouts that season, just three shy of a league record. Parent was looking more and more like a vintage Plante every night. Whenever he would slump, he would recall the advice of the old master. "We had pretty much the same styles," said Parent. "I watched everything he did, how he handled himself on shots, and whatever he was doing, I tried to do."

Parent's finest hour was reserved for 19 May 1974, when the Flyers beat Boston for the Stanley Cup, a feat duplicated the following year against the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately for Parent, his 1975 Stanley Cup–winning experience would be his last. He missed most of the 1975–1976 season because of back surgery and was never quite as sharp afterward, although he performed brilliantly in the 1978 playoffs. In 1979 his career came to a sudden end. During a game against the New York Rangers on 17 February 1979, the Flyers defenseman Jimmy Watson was attempting to clear an opponent away from the net. Watson's stick blade pierced Parent's mask, permanently damaging the goal-tender's right eye. Parent's career ended after just thirty-six games of the season. In 1982 Parent became the Flyers' goaltending coach, a position he held until 1994. Parent had two sons and a daughter with his wife, Carol. In 1994, Parent became vice president for Rassanaio-Baillet-Talamo, a marketing firm in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Parent's credentials were more impressive than those of any goaltender who wore the Flyers' orange and black. He finished his ten-year Philadelphia career with a goals against average of 2.42 and an overall record of 232 wins, 141 losses, and 103 ties, including an amazing 50 shutouts. His playoff numbers were equally impressive: a 35–28 record of wins and losses, supported by 2.38 goals against average and 6 shutouts. The Flyers retired Parent's goaltender jersey number in 1979. Parent was a classic, from style to performance. In 1984, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Parent's autobiography, written with Bill Fleischman and Sonny Schwartz, is Bernie! (1975). See also Jay Greenberg, Free Spectrum: The Complete History of the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club (1996), and Stan Fischler, The Greatest Players and Moments of the Philadelphia Flyers (1998). For further information on Parent see James Duplacey, Joseph Romain, Stan Fischler, Morgan Hughes, and Shirley Fischler, Twentieth-Century Hockey Chronicle (1999), and Dan Diamond, Total Hockey: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Hockey League, 2d ed. (2000).

Stan Fischler