After the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup, the team’s first championship in 54 years, they fulfilled the words of their coach, Mike Keenan: “Win this, and you’ll walk together forever.”
• Lucas Aykroyd writes about Trevor Linden’s
appointment as Vancouver’s new president for
hockey operations, The New York Times, April 13, 2014.
Yes, true. On June 14, 1994, as the Rangers prepared to meet the Canucks in Game Seven, Mike Keenan gave what his captain would call one of the best speeches he’d ever heard. Rick Carpiniello recounts this in Messier: Steel In Ice (1999):
“Go out and win it for each other, and if you do, you will walk together for the rest of your lives,” Keenan told the Rangers.
“He seized the moment,” Messier said. “He took control of the situation. We needed it at the time. Mike came through when we needed him most. Everything he said hit home, to everybody. It was incredible. It got us back on track.”
But credit where credit’s due. Aykroyd, Carpiniello, and Messier fail to mention the man — a Rangers’ coach of another era — who not only said it first, 20 years earlier, but proved that it worked.
Everybody knows this, right? Before he got to the Rangers, when Fred Shero (a.k.a. The Fog) was coaching the Philadelphia Flyers, he used to leave his players messages on a blackboard in the dressing room, a koan here, an adage there, words to challenge and spur the spirit. Going into Game Six of the finals against Boston in May of 1976, the Flyers had the chance to wrap up the series and win their first Stanley Cup. Lose and they’d have to go back to Boston. Shero worked his chalk. Rick MacLeish scored. Bernie Parent shut, as they say, the door.
Miracle Flyers Take The Cup and
the City Goes Wild with Joy!
read the front of The Philadelphia Inquirer next morning.
A quick history of Shero’s chalk-talking would have to go back a few years. Shero himself steers clear of the blackboard and its uses in the book he wrote with Vijay Kothare, Shero: The Man Behind The System (1975). According to Jack Chevalier in The Broad Street Bullies (1974), it dates to the coach’s second season with the Flyers, 1972-73, when he wrote a note about team commitment before a big win. “Ever since, Shero has been hungrily searching for clever passages and slogans to circulate among the team or to give to a particular player.”
“Ahhhh,” said captain Bobby Clarke at the time. “I look at them and laugh. I can’t remember any, because there’s a new one every day. I wonder where he gets ’em.”
“They used to laugh at first and dream up funny things to write beside my messages. But now they act like it’s something sacred. They’d never erase it.”
With Shero gone — he died in 1990 — the central repository of Shero’s blackboard wisdom resides in Rhoda Rappeport’s Fred Shero (1977).
“An oak tree is just a nut that held its ground,” he wrote one night.
And: “A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion.”
“Four things come not back — the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life and neglected opportunities.”
“If he read this stuff to us, it wouldn’t work at all,” defenceman Barry Ashbee told Chevalier. “It’s corny, and some guys still laugh. But if you really look at the quotes, there’s a lot of life in there.”
Shero could sound a little bashful, talking about his sloganeering. “I just ran across a couple of good ones last year,” he said 1974, “and tried ’em out. Before that I guess I coached like everybody else. Now I find these things in books, magazines — everything I read.” Chevalier:
His sources range from the life story of Washington Redskins coach George Allen to an article entitled, ‘Ten Lost Years — A History of Canadians During The Depression.’
On his bulletin board is an Edgar Guest poem, ‘Team Work,’ neatly typed on Flyers stationery. Each player got a copy. He also passed out a fan’s poem, ‘It’s All A State of Mind.’ The first line: “If you think you’re beaten, you are.’ From an old Saturday Evening Post, Shero clipped a Cadillac advertisement with an editorial entitled ‘The Penalty of Leadership.’