They say don’t meet your heroes in life because they will never live up to your expectations. Who are “they”? I met my hockey hero, Bernie Parent on a warm spring afternoon in the middle of April in 2022 at a sports show in Sherwood Park, Alberta. I couldn’t have met a better person.
There were literally over a hundred people in line waiting for his autograph, I just wanted to meet him and take a photo. After waiting in line for over 45 minutes, I realized it was my turn to meet the great Bernie Parent. I almost froze in my tracks as close to 50 years of memories came flooding back and I felt like a 9-year-old kid again. When I walked up to Parent, I told him that I had waited over 48 years for this moment. He was such a gentleman, he took off one of his Stanley Cup rings and handed it to me for a photo of the two of us. It was honestly a moment I never thought I’d ever experience. One that I dreamt about and talked about since I was a street hockey goalie back in my hometown of Vermilion, Alberta.
Parent Inspired Generations of Hockey Fans
Parent inspired me like so many others who grew up watching him. He started his professional career in the 1965-66 NHL season with the Boston Bruins and joined the Philadelphia Flyers for the 1967-68 season after being left unprotected in the NHL Expansion Draft. After four years with the Flyers, Parent was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs where he got to play with his boyhood idol and NHL great, Jacques Plante.
After two years with the Leafs, then one year with the Philadelphia Blazers of the WHA, Parent eventually returned to the Flyers for the 1973-74 season where he eventually led them to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Parent was nothing short of sensational after returning from the WHA. In the 1973-74 and 1974-75 seasons, he won both the Vezina Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy in consecutive years and is the only goaltender in NHL history to have won the Conn Smythe two years in a row.
Parent Was A True Artist in Goal
When I recall watching Parent during his Stanley Cup years, I felt as though I was watching an artist like Mikhail Baryshnikov in net. He moved with such grace and artistry that it left a lasting impression on me, and hundreds of thousands of others around the world. He didn’t just make a great save, it was usually a statement, and when you contrast his artistry with the ruggedness of those tough Flyer teams of the early 70s it’s easy to see why Parent stood out.
I recall events such as the playoff game in 1971 between the New York Rangers and the Maple Leafs when Parent had his mask flung into the stands by the Rangers Vic Hadfield during a bench-clearing brawl in the third period. I remember feeling fear for Parent, wondering if he’d ever get his mask back.
Thankfully, I had many more happy memories of my hockey idol including Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup Final when Parent robbed the Bruin’s Ken Hodge of a goal in the third period. That save helped preserve a 1-0 shutout and the Flyers went on to be the first team from the 1967 Expansion to win the Stanley Cup.
Another lasting memory was the Flyers beating the Buffalo Sabres in the 1975 Stanley Cup Final. That series was famous for Game 3 or “The Fog” game played in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. Not only was it hard to see the puck because of the fog on the ice, but a bat flew over the players, another ominous sign that this wasn’t just any ordinary hockey game.
Meet Your Hockey Heros While You Can
With the recent passing of NHL legends Guy Lafleur and Mike Bossy, I encourage every hockey fan to meet your hockey heroes when you can. When both of these legends recently passed away, I shed a tear because of the wonderful memories they brought me, and also because Lafleur and Bossy were both kind souls.
Hockey players are a different breed of professional sports hero. They’re approachable and many will take the time to talk or share a story of their time in the NHL. Sure there are some exceptions, a couple of bad apples or people who’ve had a bad day, but overall, the players I’ve met such as my hero Bernie Parent have been true gentlemen.
Related: Guy Lafleur: The Last of the Great Habs Skaters
I know hockey has changed over the years. The players are stronger, and faster. The goaltenders are giants and could try out for the NBA as easily as they do for the NHL. However, the spirit of the game hasn’t changed, and that’s the best part of being a fan.
Hockey is a game full of rich stories. I’d like to know yours. In the comment section, let me know who your hockey hero is.