Sportscaster Stu Nahan, who along with the late Gene Hart helped teach Philadelphians the art of ice hockey, died Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles.

Nahan, whose background also included a role as a sports announcer in the "Rocky" movies, was 81 and suffered from cancer.

Nahan was the first Flyers play-by-play announcer in the late '60s, when the city didn't know ice hockey from ballet dancing.

"Baseball, football, basketball, everybody understood that," said Ray Didinger, a senior producer at NFL Films and former Daily News sports columnist.

"But hockey we had to learn," Didinger said.

"Both Gene and Stu had to explain the rules to us, to tell you how everything worked, probably the hardest broadcasting job that anybody ever undertook in the city," Didinger said.

"It was really an art, what they were doing.

"The television and radio coverage back then was not what it is now," Didinger added.

"Not all the games were covered, and sometimes they would only do the third period of the game. And if it was on the West Coast, they might not cover it at all," he said. Games also were broadcast on the radio.

The sport was so new in the city that the team had to pay for the games to be broadcast, said Hart's widow, Sara. Hart did color commentary on the games with Nahan, later becoming a stellar play-by-play announcer in his own right.

Nahan was "a real hockey addict. He was a real professional; he loved what he did, " Sara Hart said.

"Stu was a terrific announcer," said Flyers chairman Ed Snider. "When we were just an expansion team, he gave us a very professional look and helped get us off to a good start, along with Gene Hart. He was always professional, on or off the air, in very good humor," Snider said.

The reason Nahan was so good at broadcasting hockey play-by-play was that he had learned the sport growing up in Canada and had been a minor-league-hockey player, in Los Angeles, for about five years, Didinger said.

Nahan moved with his mother from his native Los Angeles to Canada when he was 2 ,and he later played hockey at McGill University in Montreal.

Nahan also did some play-by-play for the Eagles.

Nahan had come here in the late '60s to perform on Channel 48 as "Captain Philadelphia" in a children's show, similar to one he formerly had in Los Angeles.

Nahan took on the play-by-play in 1967, the Flyers' first season, but resigned the job entirely in 1971 at the request of his full-time employer, ABC, in Los Angeles,where he had returned to live.

"He would catch up to us on the road, flying out of Los Angeles," recalled Joe Kadlec, the Flyers' press and public-relations executive for 40 years and now an ambassador with the team. "He would be our announcer on the road for television."

"You couldn't have asked for a better person" for the job, Kadlec said. "He was so genuine, so down to earth, just a happy man."

After leaving the Flyers, Nahan broadcast sports for three Los Angeles television stations before retiring in 1999. *

Daily News staff writer Ed Moran contributed to this report