The term genius is thrown around with great frequency when it comes to coaches and managers in professional sports.
A coach who can string together 10 wins in a row is likely to hear the word whispered from time to time. But the truth is that most coaches who go about their business in the NHL are merely trying to put their best players on the ice and whatever theories they have concerning strategy and game management may get overwhelmed as a game or season plays out.
But every once in a while, an innovative mind comes into the game. A coach who plays a lot more than hunches. A coach who has an advantage over his competitors.
One of those coaches was Fred Shero, who led the Philadelphia Flyers to the only two Stanley Cup championships in their history in 1974 and again in '75. Shero was elected to the 2013 class of the Hockey Hall of Fame, more than 32 years after he last coached in the league. Shero died in 1990 at the age of 65 from stomach cancer.
Shero coached the Philadelphia Flyers from 1971 through '78. When his run in Philadelphia came to an end, he coached the New York Rangers from 1978 until he resigned 20 games into the 1980-81 season.
Known as "Freddy the Fog" because of his obscure references and sayings that often left listeners—players, coaches and media members—in a confused state as they tired to figure out what he was saying, Shero knew how to turn a losing team into a dominating championship team.
Fred Shero - First to use systems, first to use a game plan geared at an opponent, first to utilize morning skate, first to study film— John Boruk (@JohnBorukCSN) July 9, 2013
Shero was the first coach to regularly study videotape as he prepared to coach against an opponent. Now teams have video coaches who regularly cut up tape so players and coaches can see who they will go up against, but it was Shero who first used the practice.
He was also the first coach to use morning skates the day of the game to prepare his players, and he also traveled to the Soviet Union to study coaching methods.
Shero was the first coach to hire an assistant.
When Shero was hired by the Flyers prior to the 1971-72 season, they were a struggling team that had not won a playoff series. His first year behind the bench was awful, as the Flyers finished with a losing record and did not even qualify for the playoffs.
However, he was in the process of building a hard-skating and aggressive team that would soon become the scourge of the NHL. The next season, the aggressive Flyers not only turned things around but they beat the Minnesota North Stars in the first round before losing their semifinal series to the Montreal Canadiens.
The Flyers found an identity that season as they were not going to let any opponent intimidate them. It was quite the opposite, as the Flyers handed out punishment and became one of the toughest teams in the league.
They had talented players like Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Rick MacLeish, but the overriding factor when playing against the Flyers was to be prepared for a brawl.
The team became the Broad Street Bullies that season as Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly and Don Saleski were more than willing to take on all comers. The rest of the Flyers were aggressive as well, and if they sensed any fear, they were able to overwhelm an opponent.
Shero was not in favor or against his team's pugnacious ways. He just wanted to win. He saw that his team played better hockey when it was aggressive and he encouraged his players to go all out every time they were on the ice.
That paid off in 1973-74, as the Flyers became the first expansion team to beat an Original Six team when they defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in the semifinal round. They didn't stop there, as they upset Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final in six games.
Prior to the final game of that series, Shero wrote a line on the team's chalkboard that was crystal clear in its message, according to veteran Philadelphia sportswriter Frank Servalli:"Win today and we walk together forever."
The following year, the Flyers defended their title as they defeated the Buffalo Sabres in six memorable games.
Shero's use of strategy and line matching was often overlooked because the Flyers loved to brawl on the ice, but he often was able to take advantage of matchups.
His Flyers got to the Stanley Cup Final again in '76, but they were swept by the swift-skating Montreal Canadiens.
After he left the Flyers, he led the Rangers on a memorable run in the spring of 1979 to the Stanley Cup Final, but the team's quest for a championship was derailed by the Canadiens.
It has been considered quite surprising that Shero had been kept out of the Hall for so long. His coaching tenure of 10 years was not long, but his record of 390-225-119 gave him a winning percentage of .612. That ranks fourth in NHL history behind Scotty Bowman, Mike Babcock and Toe Blake.
Many considered his exclusion to be a punishment for the Flyers' brawling ways. However, Flyers owner Ed Snider and Clarke are long-time members of the Hall of Fame, and they played an even bigger role in the team's history than Shero did.
"I am thrilled to hear that Fred Shero was elected to the HHOF," Snider told Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com. "There's no sense looking back as to why it didn't happen sooner, because today's a happy day to celebrate the fact that a guy that deserves it immensely has finally been elected to the Hall of Fame. It's a great day for the Philadelphia Flyers."
Shero went into the Hall of Fame in the "Builders" category. Only one coach can go into the Hall of Fame per year, and he got in ahead of the late Pat Burns.
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