In the instant Gary Dornhoefer tumbled over Cesare Maniago, Philadelphia fell fully head-over-heels for the Flyers.
Of the 403 postseason goals the franchise has scored, Dornhoefer had the first clutch one, for the first good team the Flyers ever had. Bill Sutherland had scored off a St. Louis leg from outside the blue line in a Game 6 double overtime during the franchises first playoff series in 1968. But the Flyers lost Game 7 at the Spectrum and still hadnt won a series when they took their first winning regular-season record into Game 5 of a 1973 first-round matchup against the Minnesota North Stars.
Tied 2-2 in the series and 2-2 in overtime, a player tied to the franchise since Day One decided he wasnt so much tired of losing but just plain too exhausted to risk playing any longer.
It was near the end of the shift and I was so tired I didnt want to go out there anymore, said Dornhoefer. One mistake and the games over, you have to force the issue.
When Bill Goldworthy, who had tied the game with eight minutes remaining, missed a pokecheck at the blue line, Dornhoefer, on his off wing, took a step inside Barry Gibbs, pushed the puck ahead and switched to his backhand.
Tom Reid grabbed Dornhoefer as he lifted his shot, which flew waist-high past goaltender Maniago before the right wing couldnt avoid the goalie, not that Dornhoefer had ever been known to try. Before he hit the ice, his stick was in the air and so were 17,077 delirious fans who had waited the same six years for the hero of the franchises first big playoff moment.
First time I ever saw a replay of it was when I was inducted into the Flyers Hall of Fame, said Dornhoefer. Didnt know I had that move, works maybe one time out of a thousand.
They inducted him for more than just one goal, actually for 11 of the most relentless seasons for arguably the most relentless franchise the NHL ever has seen. But that was the hump score, by a guy who had busted his own for a non-descript expansion team since Day One.
The North Stars were finished off, 4-1, two days later in Bloomington. The Flyers, who got a split of the first two games at Montreal thanks to Rick MacLeishs overtime stunner in Game 1, came home for Game 3 to a six-minute standing ovation.
Dornhoefer cant remember scoring a goal on "Gary Dornhoefer Night" in 1978 in the last regular season game in which he would ever play. But at age 69, its like that ovation before Game 3 of a semifinal series in 1973 happened yesterday.
Ill never forget it, he said. You could not talk over it.
The Canadiens didnt lose another game and went on to win the Cup, but the Flyers went home for the summer utterly convinced of their destiny as champions and played like it from the opener in October.
Every time you think youre gaining ground on those guys, they just kick the skates out from under you, said goalie Ed Giacomin after the Flyers outlasted the Rangers by one goal in Game 7 of the next springs semifinals.
Primarily he meant Dornhoefer. In the third period that day Giacomin lost Steve Vickers on a goal that cut the Flyers lead to 3-2 in the third period. Twelve seconds later, Dornhoefer was at the net to get back the goal that proved to be the winner.
Give me 15 Gary Dornhoefers and I dont have a care in the world, Fred Shero once said. He doesnt make excuses.
Dornhoefer didnt buy them from teammates, either, not that they often offered them after watching him practically kill himself for the cause.
If I was a goalie and had to deal with someone like me, I would be frustrated as hell, he once said, but at the same time No. 12 was practicing sadism, he was indulging in masochism.
He was such a maniac that when I played against him, I thought he had to be a drinker and carouser off the ice, recalled Ross Lonsberry, Dornhoefers linemate through the Cup years. Turned out, he was the opposite.
He wanted to play golf, didnt go out with us much, but at the rink he was the greatest teammate you could have. He spent himself even at practice, looked like death warmed over after games. But he had a huge pain threshold.
When I went on the line with him he told me, you chase them behind the net and then get the hell out of the way. If you are at the net when I get there, Im not responsible for your safety.
Of course, that meant his own, too. Before the Flyers took him in the expansion draft, Dornhoefer, who spent the 1966-67 season at Hershey, had been trying to make the Bruins at 145 pounds.
The Flyers once ordered me to drink Stout beer over the summer to put on weight, he recalled. I couldnt stand the stuff, think I gained like three pounds.
Though he filled out to 190, Dornhoefer paid a price that, sadly, today he cant rationalize, even with two Stanley Cup rings. The Broad Street Bullies walk together forever, as Shero wrote on their blackboard during the 1974 Final, but thats not much consolation to Dornhoefer when he cant walk a golf course. The left knee replacement he will receive in September will be his third and the seventh orthopedic operation since his retirement.
If I had to do it all over again, I wouldnt, he said. I retired at 35 and I just turned 69, so I have experienced these physical problems for now half my life.
Its not very pleasant. I can walk maybe two holes on a golf course, thats it. A few months ago I fell down the steps from my attic to the second floor and went head first into the wall. I have the stitches to prove it. The knee just gives out and down I go.
Surgeries on his shoulder and right knee have had better results. But the physical discomfort is constant, and emotional pain lingers, too. Dornhoefer lost his daughter Stephanie to breast cancer at 35 and he has no contact with a troubled son whom, far as he knows, lives with Dornhoefers ex-wife Cheryl.
But the old Dorny cackle and sarcasm during a team changeover at the Toronto airport one time, Dornhoefer happened to come across referee John McCauley at a coffee stand and wordlessly offered him his glasses are still largely in place as he hobbles the concourse at the Wells Fargo Center with Bernie Parent and Bob Kelly in his official capacity as a Flyers greeter.
Stephanie left Dornhoefer a 14-year-old granddaughter, Sydney, who was four when her mother passed away. Her scheduled visit this summer is reason to delay surgery until September. And though arthritis may be keeping him from a complete happily ever after, not so for six greyhounds enjoying their golden years at the Port Republic, N.J. home of Gary and his second wife Jackie.
I picked the golf course (Calloway) near there, he said. Jackie then picked the house, but I resigned from the club when it got too expensive.
Im on social security now, my man.
His highest hockey salary was 110,000 in his final season, before he went to work as a color commentator for Hockey Night in Canada and Flyers. The paychecks have always been means to the first tee.
I enjoyed even the practicing in hockey because it was my goal to get better, Dornhoefer said. In golf I still have the same goal.
I enjoy the competition, even playing for lunch.
No Stouts in any of those bets. He still is thin as was the goalies patience with him, the only thickness to him, as he looks back, being his skull.
Rick MacLeish hit his head on my cheekbone, knocked me cold for two, three minutes and I didnt miss a game, he said. I had severe headaches for months, took a couple aspirin and played.
I think the players are a little smarter today. We didnt think about it at the time. I made the choice and was able to be on a team that won a couple Cups. I think your game is what it is. I couldnt dance around and try to avoid injuries.
He suffered enough of them his first two years for the Flyers to expose him to a waiver claim following an eight-goal season. I got a call from the Rangers, asked me if I planned to keep playing and I said yes, but they never picked me up.
Then, I started to put the puck into the net.
Lonsberry arrived in a mid-season trade in 1971-72. MacLeish, acquired in a three-way that sent Parent to Toronto, came up to start 1972-73 and one of the best and best-balanced lines of the 70s anchored the Flyers for five seasons in which they never failed to reach the semifinals.
Dornhoefer suffered a shoulder separation in Game 3 against the Bruins in 1974, making him all the more appreciative of being able to triumphantly follow Clarke and Parent around the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium surface 12 months later. That was the ring he understandably most cherished, and sadly it was stolen years ago from clothes he left in a golf locker room.
He scored the biggest goal of that second Cup drive, too, after the Islanders, down 3-0, forced a Game 7 at the Spectrum. Only 12 seconds after Kate Smith left the ice and the puck was dropped, Dornhoefer blasted a 40-footer past Chico Resch that almost took the Spectrum roof off for a second time.
Dornhoefer could shoot it, scoring 20-plus goals five times, topping out at 30 in 1972-73. But by 1977-78, he was down to seven in only 47 games.
(GM) Keith Allen asked me if I could play another year, Dornhoefer recalled.
I said, Keith, what have you been watching? When the puck is in our end, Im still in their end.
My knees were shot. Athletes always try to get one more year but I knew it was time.
He was probably on borrowed time from the first time I tried to hit Leo Boivin at my first Bruins camp and felt hit by a tank. But the last known player to have thrown a body check in an All-Star Game another player, I forget who, asked me what the bleep are you doing? made the most of every shift.
There wasnt that much toughness around Dornhoefer when I got there, but that didnt seem to matter to him, Clarke said. And when Paul Holmgren got here (in 1975), Dorny was a big influence on Paul.
Holmgren most recalls Dornhoefer during the 1976 Cup Final, when he was hit so hard by Larry Robinson in Game 2 that the Forum boards cracked.
While they were fixing them, Dorny stood on the bench yelling at Robinson is that the hardest you can hit? said Holmgren.
The Canadiens swept the series by a total margin of five goals to end one dynasty and begin their own. And Dornhoefer had a hard time rationalizing it.
I tried my whole career to knock Guy Lapointe on his butt, then passed the torch to Paul and he never did it either, said Dornhoefer. Lapointe was the one guy that I guess was too smart for us.
You cant play yourself to exhaustion every game over 14 NHL seasons, state 34 years later you regret it all, and yet still lament the ones 20 pounds heavier than yourself who got away.
Must be the German in me, Dornhoefer said. Problem is, when you hit somebody bigger, you get the worst of it.
Thats the way I played, I wasnt going to change. Even though I look back and feel it wasnt worth it, I cant say I would change a thing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.