COVER SPORTS long enough and some unforgettable scenes are etched in your mind. One of my favorites is the scene in the Flyers locker room after their Stanley Cup-clinching victory over Boston in May 1974.
As the Flyers beat writer for the Daily News, I was observing the celebration when I noticed Barry Ashbee, in civilian clothes, standing against a wall. He was wearing sunglasses, not to be fashionable, but to protect his right eye, which was damaged when a shot by the Rangers' Dale Rolfe in the semifinals struck him.
An old-school, rugged defenseman, Ashbee acknowledged he was tearful in the final minutes as the Flyers defeated the Bobby Orr/Phil Esposito-led Bruins, 1-0, in Game 6.
"You might never see another bunch like this," Ashbee told me. "I've never been so proud of a bunch of guys in my life."
On tonight's occasion, when the Flyers begin honoring former players whose numbers are retired, it's worth remembering Ashbee and what he meant to the Flyers. Ashbee's widow, Donna, will accept his No. 4 banner from the Spectrum. Fans will receive replica banners.
Ashbee died in 1977, at age 37, only 1 month after he was diagnosed with leukemia. The Barry Ashbee Research Laboratories were quickly established at Hahnemann University Hospital. For years, proceeds from the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives carnival went to the Ashbee Labs.
Ashbee was named a second-team NHL All-Star in his final season, 1973-74. He is a member of the Flyers Hall of Fame, and two annual awards are named after him: one for best Flyers defenseman and the other to the Hershey Bears player who personifies Ashbee's qualities of "perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey."
After playing for Hershey, Ashbee joined the Flyers for the 1970-71 season. He and I hit it off partly because we had a mutual friend, Tom Johnson, a Bears fan and a Gettysburg College classmate of mine.
Over the years, Ashbee and I had our share of disputes. The strong-willed Ashbee wasn't a big fan of the media. If he thought we were wrong about some Flyers issue, he'd tell us.
Following our arguments, I'd walk away, then return and begin, "As I was saying . . . " Usually, Ashbee would smile and we'd have a cordial conversation.
The first game Ashbee attended after getting hurt in Game 4 of the semifinals was the Stanley Cup clincher at the Spectrum. He was in owner Ed Snider's center-ice box when the surprised fans in front of the box recognized him and gave him a standing ovation. When the remaining fans in the sellout crowd realized what was happening, they also responded with a standing ovation.
The injury left Ashbee 90 percent blind in the eye. With his playing career over, the Flyers named him an assistant coach. He was miserable his first year as an assistant, then grew into the job. Had he lived, I think he would have been the Flyers' head coach after Fred Shero headed up the New Jersey Turnpike in 1978 to coach the Rangers.
I looked forward to many more "debates" with Ashbee.
The schedule for honoring other Flyers whose numbers are retired is: Bernie Parent, Dec. 8; Bob Clarke, Feb. 3, 2011; Bill Barber, March 31. *
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