Flyers Where are They Now?: Tim Kerr

Flyers Where are They Now?: Tim Kerr
August 23, 2011, 3:47 pm
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AVALON, N.J. -- Tim Kerr, who ranks seventh in goals per game in NHL history, probably is the leagues runaway all-time leader in stoicism.

They practically had to put him on the operating table to stop him. And they will place him in his grave before he ever complains.

Not only did Kerr rarely raise a stick at the defensemen who chopped at and hung on him while he was scoring 370 career goals in 655 games, he wouldnt even bother to lift it as the goal light went on.

I wasnt excited when I scored because I expected to score, he said. I always said the best job in hockey was to be a 20-goal scorer. Score once every four games and life is good.

It was not always good for Kerr, who suffered three knee injuries and a broken leg in his first four Flyers seasons, and had a knee (1985) and a shoulder (1987) give out on him in agonizing stages during Flyers runs to two finals. In those series against the Edmonton dynasty, Kerr played just two games (in 1985), then only eight during the 1987-88 season after five operations on a shoulder.

He gulped aspirin to build a tolerance for the anti-inflammatory drugs that enabled him to bounce back to 48 in just 69 games in 1988-89 and had 14 goals in 13 playoff games that spring before his thumb was broken by a Penguin slash that rendered him effectively useless in a semifinal loss to Montreal.

Four plagued seasons later, it was over for him at age 32, all the liberties taken in the slot in an era where men were allowed to be men and few were big enough to handle his 225 pounds ultimately cheating Kerr out of numbers that likely would have put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I had some crazy things with injuries that certainly hurt my time playing and numbers and stuff, Kerr said. But I enjoyed the challenge of all those rehabs.

I had a great run, a lot of fun with a great group of guys. Every night going to the rink you felt like we had a good chance to win. It was unfortunate we didnt win the Cup, but I guess I would be more disappointed if we had a team that didnt give everything it had.

I look back on guys taking shots before games to freeze up, remember playing an Islander series with a strap-on when I couldnt get my hand out of my pocket without using my other arm. Today I dont think you would see that very much. But we had some warriors who would do anything to try to win.

He laughed.

I gave everything I had with my body, Kerr said. I know that because I can feel it today.

If its any consolation to the goalies who surrendered to him, Kerr, 51, needs a knee replacement.

My shoulders are good though, amazingly, he said. It also should be of considerable consolation to Flyers fans who winced every time Kerr had to come out of the lineup and who cried over the still-unexplained death of his 30-year-old wife Kathy 10 days after she gave birth in 1990, that Kerr is living happily ever after, not that he would be whining if that wasnt the case.

Obviously Im going to be the last guy complaining about business because it was pretty crazy there for a few years, we did pretty well, said Kerr, who owns Tim Kerr Power Play Realty. Obviously sales arent what they used to be, but there are still people getting in and out of this market and rentals have been excellent.

He sits behind the desk in an office a lot bigger than the 10,000 signing bonus the undrafted and ironically perceived to be under-motivated free agent accepted from the Flyers after a reduced six-round draft in 1979. Picked on the advice of Flyers scout Eric Colville, he was probably the team's biggest return ever on 10,000.

Kerr bought a car with a lot of that money. But when he joined the Flyers a year later, part of his 60,000 went into real estate. Today, he has multi-million-dollar homes here and in Moorestown, N.J., where the Kerrs spend the school year, plus places in the Cayman Islands and Vermont.

He owns two teams, one in Pensacola, Florida, the other in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the Southern Professional Hockey League, which he also operates. Tim Kerr Charities is run by his wife Midge when she is not running six kilometers in triathlons.

First in her age group in New York three weeks ago, brags Kerr.

First in importance, Tim Kerr Charities, which has raised more than 1.5 million over almost two decades, will stage Sundays Cedar Island 5K Swim benefiting the Wounded Warriors Project; a Sept. 3 Splash and Dash kids event for a young cancer patient named Jay Devico; and a Sept. 4 7K run and 5K walk for the aid of the family of a fallen soldier, Johnny Kihm. (Details and entry information for all events are available at Timkerrcharities.org).

Midge met Kerr at the Tim Kerr Run in Avalon in 1991 as a junior high gym teacher at Springton Lake Middle School in Delaware County.

Wasnt a hockey fan at all, she said. A cousin persuaded me to go and there were a few people there who thought we should meet.

I didnt think either one of us was looking for someone. But both our parents knew it was something special, and I knew he was the man I had been waiting for to spend my life with forever.

Their charity work became more hands-on than ever in 2005 after the middle of their three sons, Wesley, was treated at Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia for a rare bone infection.

We went home with a well child while others were still there facing life-threatening illnesses, said Midge. We had to do more.

Midge missed becoming the national triathlon champion in her age group last weekend in Vermont by 14 seconds 14 seconds she probably thinks were wasted not helping others.

Even before Kathys death, through the grind of another rehab, Tim was saying, you certainly dont have to look far to see people who have more problems than you do.

And having found them, he rallies for them.

Its fun to give back and help, great that my kids are involved, and I hope they keep this going for a long time, he said.

Kayleigh, 10 months old when Kathy passed away, works in California. Kimberly, who was just 10 days old, is going into her junior year at West Virginia University. Garret will play basketball this year as a freshman at Philadelphia University of the Sciences, Wesley, a rising senior at Moorestown High School, is being recruited for basketball and golf scholarships, and Tanner, the best student in the family, is a rising junior who plays soccer and tennis.

The best thing about having his own businesses, said Kerr, is that he can run his schedule around his kids athletic events. He makes almost all of them. His children, who come first, indeed are the first reason the knee replacement he has put off for years will soon happen.

I still work out an hour a day, mostly elliptical and light weights. If I dont, I dont have a good day, he said. But I cant get around a golf event without having a tough time in the end or play tennis with my kids without hurting for a few days. Its pretty much time to get it done.

This time, one would hope that no surgical screws fall out or become infected, like they did in Kerrs nightmarish summer of 1987. After averaging 56 goals over the previous four seasons, he missed almost all of 1987-88. Yet he still scored a goal in the Game 7 loss in Washington, and thanks to Pat Croce and an almost supernatural will, bounced back the next season to get 48 and win the Bill Masterton Trophy for his perseverance.

He was as dedicated an athlete as I have ever worked with, said Mike Keenan, who coached the Flyers to those two finals.

Kerr had an unfortunate amount of practice at it. He missed half the 1989-90 season, when the Flyers missed the playoffs for the first time in 17 years, then the following year came back 14 days after Kathys death only to soon need arthroscopic knee surgery.

He returned too soon, rested some more, then stepped on a puck during a warmup and suffered an incapacitating groin-hip pull. When he finally came back in March, for the first time in his career he wasnt instantly pumping goals. New GM Russ Farwell began the necessary overhaul by exposing Kerr to the expansion draft to stock the San Jose Sharks, who quickly traded him to the Rangers for Brian Mullen.

Jay Sniders was the first call to me, and he apologized, said Kerr. I believe sincerely the Flyers didnt think I would be picked up.

Going to another team after pretty much your whole career in Philly was not easy. That was the end of it for me, passion-wise, because it really didnt work out after that. I had another operation, then went to Hartford the next year with coach Paul Holmgren and my knee just wasnt responding, so I packed it in.

I dont hold any regrets, the Flyers treated me great while I was here. My proudest thing in the game was when the Flyers inducted me in their Hall of Fame the year after I retired. I was very honored they did that so quickly, pretty cool.

But no cooler than Kerr waiting in the slot, players hacking at him, hanging on him, bouncing off him.

Every team would try to put their biggest defensemen on me, which is what I wanted, because chances are I would be quicker than that guy, he said. I could use my body off of his and have a field day out there.

The guys who defended me better were the smaller, quicker guys who were able to close off the angles. Once I got the puck, bigger or smaller than me wasnt going to make a difference.

We laughed about the Pelle Eklund option. If I wasnt one of the first three options for Pelle (Kerrs primary setup guy when he scored 34 power play goals in 1985-86, still an NHL record) then he could do something else with the puck. Hey, if I was going to take the beating, I wanted the puck."

The feed was on his stick and in the goal even faster than they could schedule his next surgery. But this was no one-trick pony with a range of five feet. In the signature game of his career and of the first finals run Kerr scored four goals within 8:16 at Madison Square Garden on two close-in forehands, a backhand and a one-timer steaming up the slot to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 6-2 lead.

The Flyers, who had not won a series the previous three springs, withstood a Ranger comeback to complete a 6-5 win and a 3-0 sweep. We were feeling that pressure, needed some confidence, said Keenan. And that mountain of a man gave it to us.

It makes one wonder what Kerr could do today, when defensemen have been disarmed of practically every weapon but the pokecheck.

But I dont doubt theres more of those smaller, quicker type of guys who did well against me, said Kerr. And Im sure the goalies are better, too.

I wasnt sure about it at first, but I like the game today.

That said, the good old days hardly are just somebodys bloated memories. The 1987 Oilers, who had added Kent Nilsson and Reijo Ruotsalainen to Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey, were the greatest offensive team ever, and without Kerr the Flyers were still alive deep into the third period of Game 7.

Take away Edmontons best goal scorer, too, and I dont know where it ends up, said Keenan, but Kerr doesnt spend any time thinking about it.

It was hard because we sacrificed so much, wanted it so badly, he said. But Im not somebody who looks behind very much.

My Avalon restaurant went under because I was finishing up playing in New York and Hartford. But I look at that as a business education thats been very beneficial for me.

To lose Kathy, obviously it was a crazy period of my life. My kids know the story, but its not a conversation in my house every day. I was blessed to meet another woman and wife and be able to grow my family.

Everybody has periods in their life they look back upon as not an easy time, but I am certainly not one to dwell on what if. Im very fortunate with what I have today and look forward to tomorrow.

Jay Greenberg covered the Flyers for 14 years for the Daily News and Evening Bulletin. His history of the Flyers, Full Spectrum, was published in 1996. He can be reached at jayg616@aol.com.