One of my all time favorite quotes was from Gordie Howe when he talked about tough left winger Reggie Fleming.
"Is Reggie Fleming a hard-nosed player?" a reporter questioned Mr. Hockey.
"I don't know. I never felt his nose," quipped Howe.
While we don't know if he had a hard nose per se, we can answer the reporter's question for him - yes, Reggie Fleming was a very hard-nosed player.
He was a highly effective utility forward though he originally was a defenseman. Born in Montreal, Fleming spent most of his junior and minor league career playing defense. However due to his small size (5'8" 170lbs) he was converted to a left wing for much of his NHL career. With his decent speed and physical, hustling style he was an extraordinary penalty killer. Another reason for his great penalty killing was he was a superb defensive forward, as many players are once they are converted from the blueline to the forward position. Fleming already had a great understanding of defensive positioning by the time he moved up.
He was also a pesky player. He loved to get under the skin of the opponents, disrupting them from their game, thus giving his team a much better chance of victory. The opposition hated him, but Chicago fans loved him.
Fleming started his career with his hometown Montreal Canadiens, but only saw limited action in just 3 games. Most of his first 2 pro seasons were spent at the minor league level, as a defenseman.
Reggie was part of a 9 player (mostly prospects/minor leaguers) trade with the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of 1960. The trade was definitely great news for Reg, as he became an NHL regular the following season for the next 11 years. It was in Chicago that he was converted to left wing, though also saw time along the blueline when need be.
In his first year in Chicago teammates nicknamed him "Mr. Clean" because of his bullnecked, crew cut appearance that resembled the mascot for the famous cleaning product. But in actuality Fleming was one of the NHL's dirtier players. He would lead the league in penalty minutes in 1965-66 and had a career total of 1468 PIM in 749 games. In one game in his rookie season, Fleming set an NHL record (since bettered) for most penalty minutes in one game against the New York Rangers. A bru-ha-ha escalated after Ranger goalie Jack McCartan whacked Reg with his goal stick. Every player on the ice got involved but it was Fleming who earned 37 minutes in penalties based upon a two-minute minor penalty, two more five-minute penalties and a ten-minute misconduct penalty, plus a game-misconduct penalty!
Fleming played 4 solid seasons with the Blackhawks "Gashouse Gang." That was the nickname given to the Hawks because of their rough, physical style of play. But in 1964 the Hawks traded Reg with Ab McDonald to Boston in exchange for Dougie Mohns. He responded with his best NHL season in Boston, scoring 18 goals and adding 23 assists. In his previous 4 years in the league, Fleming only scored a combined total of 21 goals and 26 assists, so this was definitely a breakthrough year for the winger. The Bruins at the time were the cellar-dwellars of the league and Reg had a chance to play a more significant role while with the B's.
In the middle of the 65-66 season Reggie was traded to the New York Rangers for John McKenzie. The deal was one of a few significant moves by the Bruins which helped to build up the B's to the Stanley Cup championship calibre teams of 1970 and 1972.
Fleming would enjoy 3 1/2 seasons of solid play on Broadway. In 1969 he was traded to the expansion Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers of course would go on to become hockey's "Broad Street Bullies" just a couple of years after Fleming's departure. Needless to say the Flyers acquired Fleming for his veteran leadership and to lay the seeds of what was to come in Philadelphia.
Fleming's stay in Philly was short as the following season he was selected in the Expansion Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. He played admirably for the Sabres but 1970-71 proved to be Fleming's swan song in the NHL.
Fleming continued to play minor league hockey for parts of 6 years after his NHL days were over. Two of these seasons were spent in Chicago with the WHA's Cougars.
Fleming will forever be remembered as one of hockey's most ferocious competitors.