Shocking evidence has surfaced that suggests the mid-'70s Philadelphia Flyers were vastly overrated as hockey toughs. Broad Street Bullies indeed. If they were a team only Darth Vader could love, why does the venerable Hound still have all his teeth?
Yep, after 10 years as a fabled, if not fulltime, Flyer, after more than 900 regular-season and playoff games, after thousands of checks and even worse wrecks on the ice, Bob Kelly's teeth remain intact. Two are capped, much to the frustration of former teammate Bobby Clarke.
"He's always trying to knock 'em out, or hope somebody else'll do it -- so I'll be like him," Kelly was saying before a Caps' practice the other day. He smiled and rapped his knuckles on a wooden bench for luck. "When I used to get hit in the face or something, he'd skate over. I'd figure he was worried about me getting hurt, but he'd say: "'Did you lose any teeth?' I'd say: 'No, not this time.' He'd shake his head, smile and go away."
Kelly has been a Cap since Aug. 21; he has been Hound since early in his NHL career. Everybody ought to have a nickname, Kelly reasons. Or at least people who work together and are under constant pressure. It helps develop the spirit and swagger necessary to win championships and keep opposition sticks holstered.
"There was one (telling) quote from a player we beat in the '74 playoffs," Kelly recalled. "He said if they had to win the way we did they'd sooner lose. Which they did. They lost. The incident was that one of his guys got pummeled pretty badly (by the Flyers) and nobody came to help him.
"We didn't build our team around the philosophy where one man'll stand and fight alone. We would stand and fight together, for each other, on the ice and off. This other guy chose not to help his teammate. And they lost."
Hound evolved from Mad Dog, which everyone thought appropriate for Kelly because of his hell-bent, reckless play while trying to make the Flyers in 1970. Mad Dog might have stuck had Kelly allowed it. Though accurate, Kelly found it offensive. Not even a hockey player can go through life being called Mad Dog.
He can exist nicely being called Hound. Only strangers still call him Kelly any more. His wife even calls him Hound. So does his daughter. The mind clicks into fantasy gear here and imagines Heather Kelly saying to her husband: "Hound, take out the garbage." Or Kendra saying: "Hound, can we go skating after practice?"
Often, they can. Hockey might be a dog's life at times, but Kelly is a good enough skate to be seen with friends and family on a frozen pond not long after a hard practice. Without his hockey armor, Kelly is what the Phillies' Greg Luzinski would look like if he lost 20 pounds. From a distance on the ice, Redskin fans might think Bill Brundige had returned to the athletic wars.
As Hound with the mean Flyers, Kelly's reputation sometimes meant he could intimidate a young opponent off the puck. Such as his present teammate, Paul Mulvey.
"My first year (with the Caps)," Mulvey said, "we're in Philadelphia and he was spot-shifting. He came up beside me (with the puck near Mulvey's feet) and I figured it was a go (fight) sort of thing. I was trying to make a name for myself at the time, you know, punching around guys.
"He came at me and I tensed right up (preparing for the blow that surely would lead to blows). But he just stole the puck, didn't hit me at all. Didn't score on the play, but that's what respect does for a guy like that. I figured, 'Oh, Geez, he's gonna kill me.' But instead he's out with the puck and gone."
With the Caps, he's out with the puck and gone more than he ever was with the Flyers. There he was a man asking: what's my line? And finding he had none. Like area favorites Mitch Kupchak and Clarence Harmon, Kelly was told to dash on the ice and excite the Flyers, as Jean Pronovost put it, to "wake the game up."
He always did.
In Washington, he has a regular shift with fine players (Dennis Maruk and Pronovost) and often is used on power plays. The flexible Flyer has become an indispensable Cap.
"You can't help scoring goals with the time and circumstances I have here," he said. This was after the Caps' 3-0 victory over Los Angeles and he said: "Suppose I had three goals (he had none) and we lost, 4-3. What consolation would that have been? I have no bonuses for goals and assists -- and I don't want any.
"It's a lot more gratifying to go home after making waves (as a team) during the season or doing well in the playoffs than it to say: 'Well, I had 50 points but we didn't make the playoffs. That's not the way to build a winning organization."
Before Kelly became Hound, while growing up in small-town Canada, he was as aggressive -- in a nonviolent way -- off the ice as he now is on it. During breaks in school (he has a 12th-grade education), Kelly had jobs that included a stint with an electrical company, clearing land with a chain saw 12 hours a day, road work and wrecking houses.
At two months past 30, Hound still is in the wrecking business.
"Eddie Van Imp told me when I first broke in: 'Before you know it, 10 years'll be gone. Flip a coin. That's how long it takes.' That's basically what's happened. I don't feel any older, like it was yesterday when I started."
He has come full cycle in a way. He started with a team that went from bad to beautiful in a hurry. He is hoping for a similar experience with the Capitals. In Philadelphia, his role was the one he likes most -- whatever it took to help the team. He has that role here -- and more.