“Hey Dad, why is that guy on the ice with no jersey or skates on?” 6-year-old me said while watching the Flyers in Darby, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1987. That “guy” was the Flyers’ Dave Brown, who came onto the ice with no jersey and in flip-flops to join a brawl before Game 6 of the 1987 Wales Conference Final between the Flyers and Canadiens at the Montreal Forum.
When you think of Flyers rivals, the Canadiens are not always near the top of the list. But for those fans who go back to the 80s, they’ll always remember one of the most unique and intriguing brawls in the history of professional hockey.
The Flyers weren’t lacking in the toughness department with the likes of Brown, Rick Tocchet and Scott Mellanby, and the Canadiens were always ready for rough stuff with players like Shayne Corson and Chris Nilan, among others. The pregame brawl may have been what sunk the Canadiens, as the Flyers won the series, 4-2. Thirty-three years later, the NHL still hasn’t seen something like what it saw that night in Montreal.
Unwritten rules in sports are usually associated with baseball but there are some in other sports. In hockey, one of the unwritten rules is to not cross center ice during pregame warmups but the Canadiens had their own ideas. The Habs developed a pregame ritual of shooting the puck in the other team’s net when warmups were wrapping up, and the Flyers seemingly had had enough of it. As the players made their way to exit the ice after warmups, Ed “Boxcar” Hospodar and backup goaltender Chico Resch waited by the door of the bench. When Corson and Claude Lemieux re-entered the playing surface for their ritual, Boxcar and Resch went right after them, with Hospodar dropping the gloves and pounding Lemieux, while Resch paired off with Corson who had shot the puck.
As word got back to the dressing rooms, more players came back to the ice, some of them only in warmup shirts and hockey shorts, and others (including Brown) not even wearing skates. The lasting image that remains in Flyers lore may be that of Brown, wearing sandals and without a jersey, fighting Canadians tough guy Nilan. Nilan later said that he remembered fighting Brown for eight to 10 minutes and then having to play an entire game, but that he was spent before the game started. The pregame brawl delayed the start of the game, but when the game eventually got underway, the Flyers pulled out the win to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Hospodar was suspended for the remainder of the playoffs, which included the seven-game Stanley Cup Final series, but there were no other penalties handed out during the brawl. The incident at the Forum, however, changed the sport forever. Following the brawl, rule changes were implemented to severely punish any player who leaves the bench during a fight, effectively ending bench-clearing brawls.
Many would consider this a black mark for the league, which dealt with protests of the violence following the incident. However, for a fan base who grew up on the Broad Street Bullies, the brawl is part of the fabric of the Flyers franchise.
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