July 14, 2013

Fern Flaman

"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."

Rushed into professional hockey due to shortages of players because of World War II, Flaman made the Bruins roster on a full time basis in 1947-48 after three seasons in the minors. Though he quickly established himself as a physical presence, it took Flaman a while to really evolve into a big league defender. After 3 full though relatively uneventful seasons with the Bruins, the B's traded him in to Toronto 14 games into the 1950-51 season.

It was a great move for Ferny as he realized his great potential that made him such a valuable commodity. By the end of his first year in Toronto he was a regular on a team that went on to win the Stanley Cup. For Flaman, it would be his only chance to sip champagne from Lord Stanley's Mug.

Flaman developed a reputation as one of the leagues most feared hitters and classic defensive blueliners while in Toronto. The Bruins had begun to realize that they made a mistake in letting Flaman get away, and on July 20, 1954 they traded Dave Creighton to Toronto to get him back.

It was perfect timing for the Bruins. In 1954-55 he was named to the NHL's second all star team, an honor he'd achieve again in 1957 and 1958. By the 1956-57 season he was named as the Bruins captain, a position he would keep until the end of 1961 when he retired from the NHL. Twice he led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals, though coming up short to Montreal both times.

Flaman had quit the NHL in 1961 but not hockey. Though he had trained himself for a career as electrician following his athletic career, he was not yet ready to give up the game he loved. He continued to play as a playing coach in the American Hockey League. Not only was he the team's best defenseman, but as coach he guided the Providence Reds to the league's best record in 1962-63.

Flaman would go onto be both a coach and general manager at the minor league level until 1970 when he became the head coach at Northeastern University. He was the US College coach of the year in 1982 and led his team to the Hockey East championship in 1989 - his final season as coach.

A year later in 1990 Flaman was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the veterans category. Fern was added to the Hall not only for his fine play at the NHL level, but for his many contributions to the game throughout his whole life. Even today, at the age of 80, Flaman still does some scouting work for the New Jersey Devils.

Special thanks to Arnie Goodrich.

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