June 24, 2012

Hall of Famer Fern Flaman Passes Away

All the excitement of the National Hockey League draft this weekend nearly covered up this sad story: Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Fern Flaman passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 85. 

"He's the toughest defenseman I ever played against."

That ringing endorsement came from no other than Mr. Hockey himself, Gordie Howe. And he was talking about Ferny Flaman, the Scott Stevens of his day.

Flaman was a rugged, no-nonsense defenseman with the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for 15 National Hockey League seasons. He scored just 34 career goals, but Flaman was known more for his vicious body checking, his aggressive play and his uncanny shot blocking ability.

Though known as the toughest defenseman in the league, Flaman did not necessarily want that advertised.

"I've got a wife and daughter to support," Flaman told reporter Herb Ralby back in 1948. "I can't have everybody in the league after me which is what happens to a player with that reputation."

After establishing himself as a feared enforcer, thanks largely to memorable battles with the Leafs' Bill Eznicki and Gus Mortson, Flaman never went looking for a fight, though he found more than a few anyways. He was always the first player to arrive on the scene should one of his teammates find themselves in any sort of peril.

Far more impressive than his fistic ability was his feared status in the bodychecking department. In addition to Howe, Jean Beliveau, the most imposing figure of his day, held a great respect for Flaman.

"Any other player I do not worry about," Beliveau told writer Jim Proudfoot. "But when I go near that fellow, believe me I look over my shoulder."

Proudfoot was one of the few and most prolific writers of his day, establishing his archives as window at generations gone by. About Flaman he wrote:

"When hockey players talk shop, they frequently discuss the matter of who is their toughest opponent. A note of something bordering on awe creeps into the conversation when the name Flaman comes up. It is not a question of fear, for Flaman is not a vicious player, but a question of knowing that Flaman can deal a devastating body check, that he is among the most competent of defencemen in the business, and that, if aroused, he is one of the most capable fisticuffers in the league."

Here's the full Fern Flaman biography. Also, Tom Gulitti of Fire and Ice has a look at the interesting 50 year friendship between Flaman and New Jersey Devils boss Lou Lamoreillo. Lou hired Flaman as a scout for many years.

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