Flyers Heroes of the Past: Brad Marsh (Part 2)
Friday, 03.09.2007 / 12:00 AM / News
For Part 1 of Flyers Heroes of the Past: Brad Marsh, click here.
The Silver Era
If the 1973-74 to 1975-76 seasons were the golden era of Flyers hockey, the three season period of 1984-85 to 1986-87 was the silver era. While his offensive statistics were modest, anyone who watched the Flyers during that era recognized that defenseman Brad Marsh was one of the team's most valuable foot soldiers.
During the Keenan era, the Flyers typically played only four defensemen on a regular basis: Howe, McCrimmon, Marsh, Doug Crossman, and later, Kjell Samuelsson, saw most of the playing time.
Keenan's coaching style centered on tearing down his players' individuality and then remolding them his own way. Marsh was a galvanizing, unifying force in the locker room. He went the extra mile to make teammates feel wanted and helped sooth younger teammates' hurt feelings and wounded pride when Keenan would single out someone for public humiliation. Poulin and Howe both point to Marsh's influence as a key reason why the Flyers' players were able to mentally handle four seasons under Keenan's ultra-demanding and critical style.
With a proven veteran like Marsh, the coach was more apt to let the player stick to his established style. But Marsh still felt Keenan's lash from time to time. In particular, Keenan and assistant Ted Sator got on Marsh's case to improve his cardiovascular conditioning throughout training camp.
Setting an example for his teammates, Marsh met the challenge. His stamina grew to the point he was able to handle 20 minutes of ice time on a nightly basis and even competed in the Liberty-to-Liberty triathlon during the 1986 offseason. On the ice, he became one of the most underrated defensive defensemen in the NHL.
Marsh had arguably the best season of his NHL career in 1984-85, while playing in front of Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Pelle Lindbergh. He posted an excellent plus-42 rating and 20 points during the regular season.
When Howe had to withdraw from the NHL All-Star Game in Calgary game due to injury, Marsh was named to the Wales Conference team in his place. Unfortunately, his connecting flight from Toronto was cancelled due to heavy snow, and the player was unable to make it to Calgary in time.
As the playoffs started, the Flyers were determined to end the vicious cycle of first-round defeats after strong regular seasons. Only Brian Propp, Tim Kerr and Thomas Eriksson had won a playoff series in a Flyers uniform. Marsh, McCrimmon and Doug Crossman had won with other teams.
Marsh spoke out candidly on the subject the day before the Flyers faced off with the Rangers in game one of the first round. The Flyers had swept the season series with the blueshirts but remembered all to well the nearly annual first-round debacles with the Rangers.
"You know what I remember most about my four years here?" he said to the Philadelphia Daily News. "Not all the games we won, but the feeling I had each year sitting in the locker room after we were eliminated. I want to erase that."
Marsh held true to his word. He was a warrior in the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Finals, suiting up in all playoff 19 games for a team racked with numerous key injuries. His courageous play night in and night out gave the NHL's youngest team stability at a time when many of the top skill players and goaltender Lindbergh were hurt. Now that the monkey was off their backs, the Flyers figured to have many deep playoff runs to come.
The 1985-86 season was bittersweet for Marsh. A few weeks after Lindbergh's death in a November car crash, Brad and his wife Patti celebrated the birth of a child. They named their son Eric in memory of Lindbergh, whose given name was Per-Eric. December 21, 1985 was the only game Marsh missed that season, as he stayed by his wife's side when she went into labor.
Although the Flyers one again won the Patrick Division with ease, there was a pall over the entire season. Marsh's plus-minus rating suffered in 1985-86, tumbling to even. Even so, it was good for third among Flyers defensemen that year, behind Howe's staggering plus-85 and McCrimmon's plus-83. Marsh also failed to score a single goal that year, for the only time as a Flyer.
But those stats were meaningless in light of Marsh's value to the Flyers penalty kill and his off-ice value to the team, especially after Lindbergh's death. The heavily-favored Flyers were stunned in the first round of the playoffs, once again at the hands of the New York Rangers.
The 1986-87 season was nothing short of magical on the ice for the Flyers, although behind the scenes a host of players were ready to mutiny against Keenan. Along with Howe and Dave Poulin, Marsh rallied the team once again.
With rookie goaltender Ron Hextall providing Vezina Trophy goaltending and the best puckhandling skills anyone had ever seen from a goalie, the Flyers once again won the Patrick Division. Marsh had 11 points, 124 penalty minutes and a plus-nine rating in 77 games. While he rarely went out looking for fights, Marsh would sometimes drop the gloves to protect a teammate, especially his goaltender. His willingness to stand up for his comrades was just one of the many ways Marsh led by deed.
The most important goal Marsh scored during his career came during the 1987 playoffs. With the Flyers locked in a game-seven struggle with the New York Islanders, the Islanders went on a crucial power play while trailing 2-0. The Islanders had started to seize momentum and a goal on the man advantage would make the game tight. Instead, Marsh scored shorthanded to extend the lead to 3-0. The goal virtually assured the outcome, sealing the series for the Flyers.
The Flyers played a marathon-like 26 games in the 1987 playoffs, en route to stretching the Edmonton Oilers to seven games in the Stanley Cup Finals. Brad Marsh started in every game, playing to a plus-two rating, avoiding bad penalties and scoring three goals (one more than his regular season output).
Crashing Halt in Philly
Brad and wife Patti, a Philadelphia native, had become fixtures in the Delaware Valley community. Brad was always among the team's most active participants in local charities and Patti was a tireless worker in the Flyers Wives Charities program, and annually helped organize the Flyers Wives Fight for Lives Carnival at the Spectrum.
Brad was also immensely popular among the fans and media. A winner of the Good Guy Award (now Yanick Dupre Award) from the local media, Marsh was also chosen the team's most popular player in a vote by the Philadelphia Flyers Fan Club.
Marsh was one of the most approachable athletes in professional sports, and one of the most unassuming. The 30-year-old defenseman still drove the same beaten up truck he bought ten years earlier, toting around his beloved rottweiler, Ernie. Despite teasing from teammates, he proudly still wore his old London Knights jacket to practice (although Ernie had gnawed on it as a puppy).
In the summer of 1987, Marsh, Flyers management, his teammates and the fans expected the player to play several more seasons in Philadelphia, and perhaps even finish his career in Philly. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.
As his career moved along and the number of remaining helmetless players began to dwindle, playing without a helmet became one of Marsh's calling cards. By no means an impractical or foolish man, Marsh readily acknowledged that he was taking a gamble, especially given the way he threw his body in the path of the puck. But playing without a helmet became a source of pride to him; indicative of his status as a "throwback" veteran. In December, 1987, Marsh's refusal to wear a helmet almost had tragic consequences.
In a game at the Spectrum against the Boston Bruins, Marsh took a sandwich check from Ray Bourque and Cam Neely near the blueline. Marsh's head was driven violently into the support beam near the end of the bench. Crashing hard into the support, he toppled backward and the back of his head crashed hard into the ice.
Even had he been wearing a helmet, he almost certainly would have sustained a concussion. Without a helmet, the results were downright frightening. Blood poured from his head and he lapsed into unconsciousness as medics rushed to his aid. If not for the excellent medical care he received, Marsh could have died. As it was, he sustained a severe concussion and lost a good deal of blood.
Despite still feeling concussion symptoms, Marsh returned to the lineup after missing just four games. This is something that would not be allowed today, but was still left to players' discretion back in the 1980s. The only concession Marsh made to his injury was temporarily donning a helmet.
Marsh made a mistake by coming back so quickly. Keenan tried to cut Marsh's ice time in order to ease him back into the lineup. But the player was ineffective for the rest of the season, almost certainly as a result of post-concussion syndrome. He fell out of favor with Keenan – which further widened the chasm between the coach and the locker room – and finished with a minus-13 rating. The Flyers lost to the Capitals in a seven-game first round series.
Flyers management was concerned that Marsh would never be the same player again and was looking to bring in younger defensemen. As a result, the club left Marsh exposed to the waiver draft. He was claimed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"All good things must come to an end, and Toronto was my favorite team growing up," Marsh said philosophically. His only regret was not winning a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia.
Marsh was not quite finished after the head injury. He went on to play another five NHL seasons. He became more of a respectable 5th or 6th defenseman than the stalwart second pairing player he had become for Bob McCammon and Mike Keenan's Flyers.
Although he was a journeyman player for the remainder of his career, making stops in Toronto, Detroit, and Ottawa, Marsh continued to be a popular player with fans everywhere he went and remained much appreciated by grateful coaches and goaltenders.
As in Philadelphia, Marsh quickly emerged as a leader during his time with the Leafs, donning the "A" as an alternate captain. Things got off to an auspicious start when he was named second star in his first game with Toronto, but the Maple Leafs were in the midst of a tumultuous period. For the first time in Marsh's career, he played for a club that missed the playoffs. The next year, he led the Leafs with a +14 rating. But he started to grow frustrated with the situation in Toronto.
"The team was in complete disarray. I had, in two and a half seasons, four head coaches," Marsh writes on Marshys.com. "And with each new head coach they brought in their own style and philosophy on how they were going change things in Toronto. Under coach Tom Watt I went from playing 25-30 a minutes a game to sitting in the press box for 30 straight games with the only explanation being – be patient, I want to try something. Well whatever he was trying didn't work as the team was still in last place. It was quite obvious that Tom had no plans for me, so I asked for a trade."
Marsh was traded to the Red Wings midway through the 1990-91 season. He was happy to back on a wining team, although Detroit underachieved in the playoffs during his season and a half with the Wings.
"Everything was first class. At the time the Red Wings were a very good hockey team, in fact they were one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and it sure was great to be playing in a winning atmosphere again, where every game- every practice meant something," he writes.
Detroit declined to pick up the option on the last year of Marsh's contract. He spent the summer of 1993 looking unsuccessfully for a new team. Finally, he met up with Ottawa Senators Director of Hockey operations John Ferguson at a charity golf tournament in Chatham, Ontario.
"I didn't enjoy golfing as much as other hockey players. I was going there to get a job," he admitted on his website.
In his final NHL season, 1992-93, Marsh was an alternate captain for the Senators and was chosen as one of the special "commissioner's" selections to the Eastern Conference All-Star team. It was a nice gesture for a player who brought so much enthusiasm to his job and truly appreciated each and every day he spent in the National Hockey League.
After his career ended, Marsh became the Director of Team and Business Development for the Ottawa Senators. He also became the proprietor of "Marshy's Bar-B-Q and Grill", a popular restaurant in the Corel Centre. The restaurant now has locations at Scotiabank Plank and Centrepoint.
Marsh has also stayed active in the hockey community. He has taken a leadership role in Ottawa-based CARHA (the Canadian Adult Recreational Hockey Association), and is one of the key organizers and promoters of the 2008 CARHA Hockey World Cup, an international adult amateur tournament to be held in Quebec City. In addition to CARHA, he is active in NHL alumni events. He was also honored by having his number 22 London Knights jersey retired.
"You couldn't ask for a better teammate than Brad Marsh. You also couldn't ask for a better human being," concluded longtime teammate Tim Kerr.