Rick MacLeish #19
Article by Bill Meltzer
Inspired by coach Roger Neilson, drafted along with Reggie Leach by the Bruins and traded to Philadelphia for Bernie Parent, Rick MacLeish's career intersected in unexpected ways with some of the most notable names in team history. The quiet MacLeish proved to be one of the most consistent offensive performers in team history and scored some of the most important goals in team history, including a Stanley Cup winner. His quiet demeanor and effortless stride hid an inner desire, which emerged in one clutch situation after another.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to assessing Rick MacLeish's career with the Philadelphia Flyers. There are some who claim that apart from two great seasons (1972-73 and 1976-77) and two great playoff runs (the Flyers Stanley Cup years of '74 and '75), MacLeish was a nice complementary offensive player but not a true NHL star. Others point to his year-in and year-out consistency in scoring 30 goals and near point-per-game production as the team's second (later third) line center/left wing and say that MacLeish was just as indispensably important to the Flyers attack as Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber. Whatever one's opinion of MacLeish's standing in the pantheon of hockey heroes, no one would deny that his presence in the Flyers lineup gave the team a legitimate threat beyond Clarke's line. Opposing teams could not key only on stopping Clarke and hope to successful.
MacLeish was one of the smoothest skaters and purest offensive talents ever to wear the Orange and Black. Head tilted, hair flapping in the breeze, the guy called "Bedrock" (or "Cutie" or "The Hawk") injected a bit of flash and dash to the Broad Street Bullies. He had good ice vision, a deft passing touch, excellent puck handling skills and wrists like a longshoreman. Although MacLeish never particularly enjoyed the defensive aspects of the game, he was an excellent faceoff man and his line was often matched against the opposition's top offensive line. While some questioned MacLeish's intensity level, it almost always seemed that he would rise to the occasion offensively and defensively in big games.
Hockey always seemed to come easily to Rick MacLeish. Perhaps too easily sometimes. A self-described "river skater" and a "freestyle" improviser, he seemed not be working as hard the rest of his teammates. MacLeish's style did not always please his coaches but it made him popular with the fans. During the Broad Street Bullies heyday, coach Fred Shero said, "We're trying to make him use the body more. If his man passes the puck, Ricky's supposed to take him out of the play instead of making a big circle and chasing him. Skating in circles drives me crazy." Constant needling from Bobby Clarke and linemates Gary Dornhoefer and Ross Lonsberry kept MacLeish's mind from wandering during games. Said Lonsberry, "when his head tilts too much to one side, we know he's falling asleep."
Years later, MacLeish admitted, "I needed someone to push me." It would be a mistake, though, to assume that MacLeish was lazy. "He works as hard as hell," contended Dornhoefer in defense of MacLeish. Rick simply was blessed with the talent to succeed while expending less energy than most other players. Hockey legend Alex Delvecchio, a one time coach of the Detroit Red Wings, said of MacLeish, "You don't have to go [full speed] all the time. Rick moves when he has to. He has that anticipation for the play and the puck."
Growing up in Cannington, Ontario, Richard George MacLeish had two great loves: hockey and horses. His family's backyard brushed up against the banks of a river. Each winter, Rick's father flooded the backyard with a hose to create a wonderland of ice for his son. The younger MacLeish would spend hour upon hour skating. Starting hockey training at a young age, he later adding a stick and puck to his backyard routine to practice his stickhandling as well as honing his already effortless stride. When the weather warmed, Rick turned to his passion for all things equine. MacLeish's paternal grandparents raised quarter horses and he would spend most of his summers with his grandparents, riding their horses. MacLeish was very close with his grandparents. He often sought out their advice when it came to important life decisions.
MacLeish was never very talkative or demonstrative as a child or teenager, traits that continued through his adult years and manifested themselves on the ice, too. His playing style was flamboyant but his personality was not. He merely went out, scored his goals and went back to the bench. Rick's first measure of hockey fame came at the pee-wee level. He dominated the Quebec City national Pee-Wee tournament to such an extent that he returned something of a local celebrity upon his return to Cannington. Rather than basking in the glow of the attention, MacLeish felt a bit uncomfortable with it. In most every game he played, MacLeish was the best player on the ice. Years later, when Flyers announcer Gene Hart asked him the most goals he ever scored in a single game, MacLeish blushed and answered without the slightest hint of boasting or exaggeration, "nineteen."
Recruited to play major junior hockey for the Peterborough Petes of the OHA, MacLeish's coach proved to be another strong influence over Rick's subsequent pro career. Noting his young charge's strong wrists, the coach told him to forget about slapping the puck. He encouraged the player to work on honing his wrist shot, telling him that as he moved up the ladder in the game and the caliber of opposing defense and goaltending improved, using a quick wrist shot would serve him better than winding up for a slapshot. The advice proved to be prophetic. MacLeish has always been quick to credit his Peterborough coach for helping him to develop what later became his bread-and-butter as a pro. Like MacLeish, the coach also went on to even greater fame in the pro ranks. To this day, the coach remains a well-respected figure throughout the hockey world. He has been behind the bench in an array of NHL outposts, including Philadelphia. The coach's name? Roger Neilson.
Under Neilson's auspices, MacLeish worked hard to develop his wrist shot. Soon, he could put the puck just about anywhere he wanted to. He was as deadly one-on-one with the goalie as he was shifty in eluding defenders. In his two years with Peterborough, MacLeish scored a combined 95 goals in 104 games. He was rewarded by becoming the fourth overall selection in the 1970 entry draft. In another strange-but-true twist of hockey fate, MacLeish was picked immediately another highly recognizable name in Flyers history. Owning the third and fourth picks of the '70 draft, the Boston Bruins selected two forwards. The first was Reggie Leach. The second was MacLeish.
MacLeish joined the Bruins' Oklahoma City farm club for the 1970-71 season. He got a rude indoctrination into professional hockey. Primarily playing left wing, he produced only 13 goals and 26 points in his first 46 games. Despite the rookie's lack of production, the Philadelphia Flyers still coveted him. In the middle of the '70-'71 season, the Flyers made a three way deal with the Bruins and Maple Leafs sending Bernie Parent to Toronto and then forwarding Mike Walton to the Bruins in exchange for MacLeish and Ron Shock. MacLeish was happy to leave Oklahoma City and even happier when the news came that he'd be playing for the Flyers, rather than their Richmond Robins farm team. "I didn't learn a thing in Oklahoma City," said MacLeish . He also added, "The NHL is where every player wants to be. I was no different."
At first, the trade looked like a disaster for the Flyers organization. Goalie Bruce Gamble, who came over from Toronto as part of the Parent deal, suffered a heart attack during a game against Vancouver. Gamble played the entire game but suffered worsening chest pains throughout the night. As soon as the team's plane landed in Oakland (where the Flyers were traveling to play the Seals), Gamble was taken to the hospital. He survived the heart attack but had to retire from hockey. MacLeish, meanwhile, struggled badly. He became a target for the boo-birds as he only scored 2 goals and 4 assists in his 26 games for the Flyers in '70-'71 and a mere 1 goal and 3 points in his first 17 games during 1971-72.
Flyers General Manager Keith Allen, heavily criticized at the time of the Parent deal and now being pilloried because the early returns on the deal were not working out, remained patient with MacLeish. However, Allen decided that it was best to send MacLeish down to Richmond. Said Allen, "Rick is a victim of his own success in Junior. He was so good at Peterborough in his last year he didn't have to bear down to get results. When he came here, he played at the same tempo too casual. He wasn't explosive. He didn't seem to realize that even the stars have to work hard up here."
MacLeish tried to put on a brave face when the news came of his demotion to the AHL. He said, "I knew the Flyers were disappointed with me coming in and fading out. But that part of it didn't really matter to me. I didn't make the trade. The fans? If they're going to boo me, let 'em." Despite his protests to the contrary, the demotion to Richmond came as a severe blow to MacLeish's already waning self-confidence. Although he was reasonably productive for the Robins (24 goals, 35 points in 42 games), MacLeish was miserable there. "I didn't have much desire for a while," he admitted.
MacLeish had a hard time adjusting to the Robins volatile coach Eddie Bush. Bush was a screamer and he took particular dislike to MacLeish's work habits. Rick became one of Bush's prime whipping boys. After yet another slow start, MacLeish eventually started to produce but he continued to play robotic, sullen hockey. "Bush knows his hockey," said MacLeish in 1973, "but I guess he didn't know how to tell it to the players."
Arriving at Flyers training camp for the 1972-73 season, MacLeish had a lot of incentive to buckle down and prove himself to the increasingly skeptical Flyers brass. Rick dreaded the thought of another season in Richmond. The word around camp was that hustling young center Bill Clement had moved past MacLeish and was the front runner to be coach Fred Shero's second line center on opening night. The competition, spiced by a solid dose of needling from captain Bobby Clarke and Gary Dornhoefer, spurred MacLeish to work even harder. MacLeish was the Flyers best player in camp. Clement made the team but was assigned to the fourth line. As the year started, MacLeish set a personal objective of cracking the 20 goal barrier. "I thought that might be stretching it," said MacLeish.
Centering a line with Dornhoefer and Lonsberry (and playing left wing on the powerplay with Clarke and "Cowboy" Bill Flett), MacLeish did a lot more than just reach 20 goals in 1972-73. He finished 4th in points in the NHL, behind Phil Esposito, Clarke (who won the Hart Trophy), and Bobby Orr. MacLeish scored 50 goals and added 50 helpers for an even 100 points. The Flyers, sparked by a young nucleus that included not only Clarke and MacLeish but also promising rookie Bill Barber (30 goals, 64 points in 69 games), had the first winning season in club history. They advanced to the Stanley Cup semi-finals before going out in 5 games to the more experienced Montreal Canadiens. MacLeish won game 2 at the Forum with a goal in overtime.
After the season, MacLeish and his wife, Carolyn, returned home to Cannington for the summer. To MacLeish's surprise and dismay, the town named August 18, 1973, "Rick MacLeish Day," and scheduled a parade in his honor. At first, MacLeish was adamant about not wanting any part of such a tribute. At Carolyn and his family's urging, MacLeish finally relented. During the Rick MacLeish Day parade, the Flyers star rode down Cameron Street in an open convertible, sheepishly waving to the crowd. Behind him were floats, decorated bicycles and a drum and bugle corps. At night, a picnic supper and a dance were held. Over five hundred people from the small town came out for Rick MacLeish Day, not including all the parade marchers. The folks of Cannington obviously had a great time celebrating the success of one their own but, to Rick, the real joy of the off-season was relaxing with Carolyn, riding his horses, and hanging out with best friend Bobby Stewart (a former teammate in Oklahoma City who played 9 NHL seasons).
The fun had only just begun. The Flyers were about to embark on the most glorious chapter of their team history. The re-acquisition of Parent and the rapid emergence of rookie defenseman Jimmy Watson helped make everything come together in 1973-74. During the Flyers magic ride to their first Stanley Cup, the club did a lot of fighting on the ice and a lot of laughing off the ice. In a locker room full of extroverts and practical jokers, MacLeish remained one of the few players whose words did not speak just as loud as his deeds. Off the ice, he was much more comfortable around his teammates and his horses than he was among fans or reporters. MacLeish's discomfort in being interviewed led to one of the most embarrassing episodes of his life.
Named the first star of a tie game in Montreal, MacLeish was called over to do a live postgame interview from rinkside with Gene Hart. Looking down at the ice instead of straight ahead, Rick failed to notice the television camera that was rolling directly across from him. Assuming he was on radio, MacLeish fidgeted for a few moments and then sought other ways to get through the interview while Hart asked him about his performance in the game. In his book Score!, Hart recalled the cringe-worthy events that followed. Wrote Hart, "I couldn't help noticing that Ricky had placed his thumb against one of his nostrils and had blown his nose on the ice right in front of me. I was somewhat startled, but I carried on. Next, Ricky pulled the score sheet out of my hand and started to read it. I tried subtly to take it back, so Ricky would, hopefully, pay attention to the camera. Then I asked Ricky a question, and while I was holding the mike for his answer, he reached down inside his pants and started to scratch his groin. I was thinking, 'Oh, my goodness! What do I do now?' but somehow we got through the interview." Later that night, MacLeish was mortified to learn that the fans in the Delaware Valley had seen everything he did. As you might expect, MacLeish's wife, who was watching in astonishment at home, let her husband know she was none too pleased with his manners. As you also might expect, once MacLeish's teammates found out about what happened, "Cutie" never heard the end of it.
Fortunately, MacLeish continued to be far more elegant on the ice than he was in certain televised interviews. Although he did not quite approach his totals of 1972-73, MacLeish still enjoyed a fine regular season in 1973-74. He scored 32 goals and 77 points in 78 games, among which were numerous timely goals and assists. In the playoffs, MacLeish stepped up his game even further. He was the leading scorer in the postseason, wristing home 13 goals (to go along with 9 helpers) in 17 games. He scored the game winners in game 2 of the opening round sweep of the Atlanta Flames and games 1 and 5 of the hard fought semi-final round against the Rangers. Of course, no goal in Flyers history was more important than the one MacLeish nabbed on the afternoon of May 14, 1974. With nearly sixteen minutes elapsed in a scoreless first period, the Flyers were on the powerplay. MacLeish, moving in front of the net, re-directed "Moose" Dupont's shot from the point past goaltender Gilles Gilbert. The goal would prove to be the only one the Flyers would get or need on the day, as Bernie Parent made the 1-0 lead stand up and the Flyers downed the Boston Bruins in 6 games to win the Stanley Cup.
After taking part in a slightly larger parade than Rick MacLeish Day (the Flyers 1974 Stanley Cup victory parade was attended by over 2 million people), MacLeish began to reap the rewards of NHL stardom. He bought a couple of harness racing horses and assisted in their training. Rick and Carolyn also bought a fancy house in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, near the homes of many of his teammates. Since he was forbidden to keep a horse in the backyard of his home, Rick did the next best thing. He bought a horse- sized dog; a great Dane he named Caesar.
MacLeish and the Flyers repeated their 1973-74 success the following year. Rick bagged 38 goals and added 41 assists for 79 points in 80 games (the only season of his career in which MacLeish dressed for every game). In the playoffs he added 11 more goals and 9 more assists as the Flyers once again carried off the Stanley Cup, this time downing the Buffalo Sabres in a 6 game final.
The Broad Street Bullies had a hard time gaining respect around the hockey world. The second Stanley Cup finally took care of that. Nevertheless, apart from a select few players, Flyers players continued to be reviled for their brutality. MacLeish was one of the few who was considered to be more than a barbarian on blades. MacLeish, however, was actually one of the club's toughest fighters, despite his average size (5-11, 185). Although rarely called upon to show his pugilistic prowess, MacLeish was a tough customer when he did drop the gloves. Two of his more notable fights were a pummeling he laid on Detroit's Henry Boucha during a bench-clearing brawl and a one sided thrashing of the Rangers Jerry Butler. Flyers teammate Bob Kelly, one of the more active combatants on the Broad Street Bullies, was glad that MacLeish was on his side. He knew full well how tough MacLeish was, having unsuccessfully taken Rick on back in junior hockey. Said Kelly, "Rick just stood there and slugged it out with me. I can honestly say I never lost a fight in Junior, but that was one I did not win."
Of course, goal scoring and play making would always be MacLeish's stock in trade. The team missed his presence in the lineup during the 1975-76 postseason, when the quest for their third consecutive Stanley Cup was ended in the Finals by a Montreal Canadiens sweep. With twenty-nine games left in the regular season, MacLeish was lost for the remainder of the season. The Flyers were playing a road game in Los Angeles. During the first period, MacLeish was down on the ice as the Kings Marcel Dionne tripped over him. Dionne's skate blade slashed MacLeish across the throat. Fortunately, the blade missed MacLeish's jugular vein by a fraction of an inch. It was also a stroke of good luck that the Flyers oral surgeon, Dr. Everett Borghesani, happened to be traveling with the team at the time. Rushing down with his first aid kit, Dr. Borghesani saved MacLeish from bleeding to death. The doctor finally got the wound sealed with 88 stitches before he was taken to the hospital for observation. Greatly relieved that their teammate was going to survive, the Flyers welcomed him back to Philadelphia in true hockey style: they poked fun at MacLeish's massive neck wound. Walking into the dressing room, MacLeish was greeted by a message on the blackboard which read, "What's the difference between Rick MacLeish and Frankenstein's monster? Two stitches!" MacLeish took it all in the spirit in which it was intended and came back with a little gallows humor of own. He said, "My neck's fine, boys, but when I puff on a cigarette, smoke comes out my throat!"
MacLeish celebrated his return to the ice with an outstanding 1976-77 season. He scored 49 goals and finished with 97 points. He also had 4 goals and 13 points in 10 playoff games. The Flyers, however, lost in the semi-finals to the Bruins. This marked the beginning a slow period of slippage in the late 1970s. The next season, MacLeish scored 31 goals and had 70 points in 76 games. Once again, the Flyers lost in the semi-finals. The team went into a transitional period as the Broad Street Bullies were broken apart in 1978 and a new coach, Bob McCammon, took over for the New York Ranger-bound Fred Shero.
MacLeish loved having Shero for his coach. The coach's offbeat sense of humor and willingness to let his players be themselves resonated with almost every one in the lockerroom. McCammon, though, was another story. Unprepared for being an NHL coach, McCammon was in over his head during his first stint as Flyers coach. Among the most notable of players who chafed under McCammon's stewardship was MacLeish. The two almost came to blows after McCammon publicly ripped MacLeish's effort after a loss to the Islanders. As it turned out, MacLeish had been playing with a broken wrist. He missed 9 games with the injury.
After 49 games, McCammon was out and Pat Quinn was promoted from the Maine Mariners to take over the head coaching duties. Quinn's more upbeat approach worked well for MacLeish, who rebounded to finish well. His 29 goals and 58 points in 71 games were a cut below MacLeish's usual standard, but the bad wrist and the problems with McCammon certainly contributed to his decreased production.
The 1979-80 season was a big bounceback campaign for the Flyers. It was the year of the Flyers record 35 game unbeaten streak. MacLeish, now 30 years old and centering the third line, scored 31 goals and 66 points in 78 games. The stats themselves were only up slightly from the previous year but it was the timing of the offense, in a somewhat reduced 5-on-5 role, that was impressive. MacLeish's big game performances were especially good that year, especially during the streak and the playoffs. In the postseason, MacLeish scored 9 goals. In the Stanley Cup finals, the Flyers old guard of Clarke and MacLeish played key roles in helping the team to win game 2 and to avoid elimination in game 5. Finally, Quinn's Flyers fell to the Islanders in a heart-breaking and highly controversial 6th game of the Finals.
MacLeish had another solid season for Quinn in 1980-81, scoring 38 goals and 74 points in 78 games. However, the Flyers brass decided that the time had come to move the aging player while his trade value was still high. MacLeish was sent to the Hartford Whalers in a trade that brought the Flyers Ray Allison and the fourth overall pick in the 1982 draft (used to select Ron Sutter). MacLeish split the 1981-82 season with the Whalers and the Penguins, scoring a combined 19 goals and 47 points in 74 games. The follow season, injuries limited Rick to a mere 6 games, in which he failed to light the lamp. After the season, the Penguins let the 33-year old MacLeish go.
MacLeish contacted the Flyers to see if they were still interested. Ironically, the team's coach (and new de facto GM) was Bob McCammon, who had returned to replace Quinn during the 1981-82 season. McCammon offered MacLeish a tryout contract. He accepted. Putting on the orange and black again seemed to rejuvenate MacLeish, who had a torrid preseason and rushed out of the gates in the regular season. He soon came back down to earth but still had a respectable 8 goals and 22 points in 29 games. Even so, McCammon informed MacLeish that he did not fit in the Flyers plans. MacLeish was sold to the Detroit Red Wings, for whom he finished his career. MacLeish retired at the end of the 1983-84 season.
After his career, MacLeish became a successful insurance salesman. Like many former Flyers, he has made the Delaware Valley his permanent home. He still lives and works in South Jersey. MacLeish is also a regular participant in Flyers Alumni events, taking to the ice in most Alumni games. He was elected to the Flyers Hall of Fame in 1990. While he may fall a tad behind Toronto-enshrined Hall of Famers Clarke, Parent and Barber in the Flyers roll book of all-time heroes, Rick MacLeish's place in Flyers history is secure.