Where are they now: Brian Propp
Flyers Hall of Famer turns to business & finance world after hockey
Five times Brian Propp reached the Stanley Cup finals without once becoming a champion.
“Hard to find someone who played in five finals and didn’t win,” said Propp, but actually there were four others, including Gerry Melnyk, the late Flyers Western scout who, without hesitation, endorsed the drafting of a 94-goal scorer in the great draft of 1979. Even with the lowering of the age limit to 19 that year doubling the number of prospects, it still was as curious as it proved fortunate that Propp still was available with the 14th pick.
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“The owner in Portland spread a rumor that I was party person to get Perry Turnbull drafted [second],” recalls Propp. “It worked.
“I had fun in junior like all the players, but I couldn’t have performed like I did if I was out all the time.”
Turnbull, the first left wing taken, scored 188 NHL goals in eight seasons. Tom McCarthy, the second, finished with 178. Propp, the third, had 425 in 16 seasons, four times topping 40, four times bettering 90 points, twice coming within three of 100.
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Close again, no cigar for the Brandon Bopper, whose Wheat Kings lost only five regular season games on the way to the 1979 Memorial Cup before he broke in with a Flyers team that lost only one of its first 37 contests.
“Seemed normal,” he smiled.
Charmed was the puck quickly leaving Propp’s stick. So seemed his life, so who would have predicted for him a career of falling just short?
Has Mr. Almost ever felt sorry for himself?
‘It’s disappointing because the Stanley Cup is your ultimate goal,” Propp, 55, said last weekend at a Cinnaminson diner, over a club sandwich he didn’t finish, all the better to stay near his playing weight of 195 pounds. “But all you can do is give it your best.
“People forget about how hard it is to get to a final, but in Philly they don’t forget how hard we played those three years to get there with a lot of injuries. I missed games, or I would have had 100 points at least one of those years. Fortunately, I was able to win a Canada Cup (in 1987).
“Awards are nice and I have a ton of them. I was named the all-time greatest left wing in Canadian junior history, which to me is like getting into the Hockey Hall of Fame, The Flyers put me in their Hall of Fame. This July the Saskatchewan Hockey Hall of Fame is going to induct me. And I’m 25th all-time in career plus-minus, which I’m pretty proud of because I played both ends of the ice.
“Even when you do win and get all these awards, that’s in the past. You think your kids are going to keep all your trophies when you are gone? They are going to wind up in an estate sale.
“You live on your laurels, you never will succeed in the next area of your life. I have always looked to the future.”
That’s his new line of work, looking to the future. Propp has recently signed on with Archetype Advisors LLC, a Doylestown-based investment advisory firm that has a joint business relationship with financial powerhouse Price Waterhouse Coopers.
“I can really help the younger players to think past everyday life to the future,” Propp said. “Because I have lived this.
“I played for $65,000 my first year. When salaries started to go up in the late eighties to mid-nineties and I finally made good money ($350,000 his final season), I didn’t have somebody telling me ‘no’ about some bad investments. I lost money that now could have paid for my (two) children’s college. Those are life experiences you go through. You get older and wiser.”
2nd All-Time in Goals
Goals: 369 | Assists: 480 | Pts: 849
“A lot of hockey players today, coming from different countries, might want to invest there while playing here which is where PWC can answer any tax questions. We are not looking to replace anyone’s CPA, attorney or investment advisory. My role is to be the point person to use Archetype’s and PWC’s resources to get everybody on the same page.
“We’re targeting customers with a net worth of $500,000 to $20 million. Rather than work through one brokerage that is always pushing their own product, they can work with our team to develop the plan that everybody needs.
In 1979, shares in the Walt Whitman Bridge bought on a street corner, were a better investment than a wager on Propp ever becoming a radio color analyst, which he was for the Flyers for nine years, or an investment councilor. Your contact at Archetype Advisors (Brianpropp.com) wouldn’t make eye contact when he passed you in a hotel corridor.
“Maturity,” he said, asked about his metamorphism. Also a sense of adventure. Inspired by a 1986 Howie Mandel performance Propp attended in Atlantic City, he started mimicking Mandel’s “guffaw” after scoring goals.
“Timmy Kerr wouldn’t even raise his stick when he scored,” Propp laughed. “I thought I could use the personality.
“When I came back to the bench, Mike Keenan said, ‘What the bleep was that? Don’t do it again.’ I kept doing it anyway.”
A hearty last guffaw to Brian Propp, the second of five kids of Margret and Reinhold Propp, a Lutheran preacher of Neudorf, Saskatchewan, a farming community 300 persons strong where everybody already knew everybody, kind of eliminating much of the need to be outgoing.
“When Bob Clarke retired, it gave me and a few other players the chance to mature as the leaders on the team,” said Propp.
“I developed media skills and participated in community charity events. My wife Kris (they met on a Flyers cruise in 1987 and were married in 1992) was a broadcast major and also helped me tremendously.
“Business always interested me. When I put my hockey work ethic into place, set goals and developed a plan, I was successful.”
He is the Flyers’ third -all-time leading scorer behind Clarke and Bill Barber. Propp also is second in playoff scoring, quite the irony considering that after the Flyers run to the finals in his rookie year, they went out in the first round four of the next six, their leading point producer failing repeatedly to carry them.
“I took some heat,” Propp said. Good for him, he eventually took it to heart.
“I realized we wouldn’t win the first round unless I was one of the reasons I finally put more pressure on myself to try to score every game in the playoffs,” he said. “Dr. Steve Rosenberg was our sports psychologist and I worked a lot with him on visual and mental relaxation and positive thinking.”
“A lot of the first rounds when we lost to the Rangers, were harder than winning the second and third rounds (in 1980, 1985 and 1987)”
Propp didn’t come alive until later in the Flyers run of 1985, but fully lived down his choker image in 1987, after the Islanders won Games 5 and 6 to force Game 7.
“He played like he was possessed in that game,” recalls Mark Howe. A line Keenan put together during the Montreal series of Propp, Tocchet and Pelle Eklund scored huge goals as the Flyers won in six, then brought the team back from deficits of 3-0, 3-1 and 2-0 to the Oilers to force Game 7 of the greatest final of the expansion era.
“The Islanders had come back against Washington and were coming back against us, too,” said Propp. “So me stepping up to that next level in the big game was important for my career.
“But I think the best playoff game I ever played was that year, when we were down three games to one and 3-1 in Game Five against Edmonton. I had four assists, then chased Jari Kurri down, lifted his stick and scored into the empty net but they called an icing saying Kurri had touched the puck. It was plain as day that he hadn’t. I’m thinking, ‘what if they score now?’”
At the buzzer, Howe put the puck the only safe place he knew against those Oilers-- over the glass, and the Flyers had a remarkable triumph of will, to be followed by another one in Game 6 when J.J. Daigneault’s late winning goal capped the rally.
WATCH DAIGNEAULT'S FAMOUS GOAL HERE...
In Game 7 there was no tragic, hunting mistake to torment those Flyers forevermore. Six eventual Hall of Fames to one (Howe), the Oilers turned it up and had the puck practically the last 30 minutes of the 3-1 win. Still, those Keenan teams are almost as well remembered as the Flyers’ Cup winners.
“Most of the guys will tell you that was the closest team they ever played on,” said Propp. “We had such great leadership, from Dave Poulin, Tim Kerr, Brad McCrimmon, had dealt with so much adversity, like losing Pelle Lindbergh and dealing with Keenan that it brought us closer to together.
“Mike used to yell at me more than anyone because I used to drive him crazy. But people don’t know that the next day before practice he would call you in and talk it over, sort of apologize.
“To a guy like Peter Zezel, whatever Mike said would bother him for a long time. Guys like me and Ilkka (Sinisalo) could deal with it. I always respected Keenan because he wanted to win every game. If he needed to play two lines, he would. I see too many games today where robotic coaches roll lines in the fear that guys are going to get tired. I don’t buy that. Your best payers will play better if they play more.”
Propp was one of the guys who played better when Keenan played them more. The coach had been fired by 1989 when the Flyers, with a retooled defense around Howe’s final healthy year, sprung from the weeds of fourth place to avenge the previous year’s defeat by Washington, beat Pittsburgh and get to another semifinal against Montreal.
The Flyers were leading Game One at the Forum, 1-0 when Chris Chelios left his feet to drive Propp into the glass with an elbow. He was unconscious even before the back of his head bounced off the ice.
“I was the leading scorer at that point of the playoffs,” said Propp. “He knew if he could take me out it would help them.
“In today’s world that would have been at least a 25-game suspension and he got nothing. I woke up in the hospital, thought I was still in Pittsburgh.
“I missed only one game. We had baseline testing, then, too, so I must have passed, which is pretty amazing.”
He scored the only Flyers goal in that Game 3 of a series the Flyers would lose in six, but not before Ron Hextall left the net in the final seconds to crown Chelios with his blocker and start a near-riot. Years later, when Chelios came to the Red Wings, he told Howe the hit on Propp was vengeance for previous dirt by Propp, who hardly was an angel with his stick.
“That’s a crock,” says Propp, still not offering any olive branches.
“Being one of Brad McCrimmon’s closest friends going back to our days in Brandon, I spoke at the luncheon following his funeral in Detroit,” he recalled. “Chelios came up afterwards and told me what I said was really nice but other than that we haven’t patched it up yet.
“You can see it on You Tube -- it was nasty and on purpose and I don’t think he had a lot of remorse for it, at least he never said so. I know the type of person he is.
“It took me a couple years afterwards to really get over it. My reactions weren’t slowed, but I would go into the corner flinching, thinking what might happen getting hit from behind again.”
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Indeed, Propp looked he was near the end when, the following March, Clarke took a No 2 pick for him from Boston, where he joined Poulin, who had been traded to the Bruins six weeks earlier. When the two returned to the Spectrum to beat a Flyers team that would miss the playoffs for the first time in 18 years, epithets were screamed by fans towards Clarke in the press box. None of them came from Propp.
“I didn’t think about it as an insult to get traded for a second-round pick,” he said. “I was going to be a free agent, and wasn’t going to get another contract from the Flyers, who were going in a different direction, so Clarkie did me a favor trading me to where we had a chance to win.”
The Bruins got to the finals before being swept by Edmonton. GM Harry Sinden re-signed Poulin but not Propp, so Clarke, fired by the Flyers, hired by the North Stars, brought Brian to Minnesota, where after upsets of Chicago. St. Louis and Edmonton Hockey’s Forest Gump found himself in a second final in two years with two different teams.
The North Stars led 2-1 until Mario Lemieux took over. Right time, right place, wrong team again for Propp, whom the North Stars loaned the following year to Lugano in Switzerland for part of the season.
He finished up with the Whalers, achieving both NHL point No. 1000 and game No. 1000 against the Flyers at the Spectrum. “With family and friends there it was great,” he said. After a year as a player coach in France, Propp came home to manage a Medford, N.J. rink and all its hockey programs.
“At that point some guys started playing longer because there were more teams,” he said. “I could have gone to an expansion team and been a checking line guy, easier than being a scorer.
“But I had a dislocated shoulder, a bit of a knee and had had hand surgery. It was getting tough to do what you have to do over the summer at that age to stay in shape. There’s a time to go out rather than become known as a hanger on.”
He started a family, quit the Flyers broadcast booth when he felt it took him away too often from his daughter Paige (a senior at Bishop Eustace who will row at Drexel) and son Jackson (a ninth grader at Eustace.)
Now the guy who would barely speak a word wants to talk to you about your future; the scoring star redeemed for all those first-round losses, will be your man in the clutch at retirement.
“The way I look at things, tomorrow is another day,” said Propp. “I want to get some more of today’s players to think the same way.”
You can write to Jay Greenberg at email@example.com