Hockey Hall of Famer Shero lived in a fog of innovation as successful coach in NHL
Fred Shero changed hockey, and he could have not done that from a fog.
“They tell people he lived in a fog, but he didn't,” said Ken Hitchcock, who sought out Shero when coaching his former club, the Philadelphia Flyers. “As hard as it was, as much as he enjoyed the players, he really stayed away from them so he could make calculated decisions that were best for the team. He was one of the first coaches that really removed himself from the emotion of the game and just made sure everybody stayed in that circle.”
Shero will join hockey's chosen circle Monday night and enter the Hall of Fame as a “builder.”
Penguins general manager Ray Shero has crafted a speech for his father's induction ceremony in Toronto. He consistently has said his father “would be honored and thrilled” — but those close to the Shero family believe this moment is bittersweet.
Fred Shero died Nov. 24, 1990 — 14 years after his “Broad Street Bullies” finished one series victory short of winning the Stanley Cup for a third consecutive season.
The Flyers' identity is tied to the legacy left by Shero's clubs — always physical and never apologetic — and no Flyers squad since has won enough to best the “Bullies.”
Shero is the only coach to bring the Cup to Philadelphia.
Many of Shero's former players attended the Hall of Fame events that started over the weekend. They really “walk(ed) together forever” as Shero promised they would before a triumphant Game 6 of the Cup Final in 1974.
Those Flyers were fighters, Hitchcock conceded, but they also were North American cousins to the Soviet Union's skilled Red Army clubs.
“Freddie was an avid reader of (Anatoly) Tarasov, way ahead of everybody else, so he understood the soccer mentality that the Russian game was developed from, and he brought a lot of that into North America,” Hitchcock said.
Hitchcock, St. Louis' coach and a Cup winner with Dallas in 1999, and Jacques Martin, a current Penguins assistant who was a head coach with four NHL clubs, said Shero deserved Hall enshrinement long ago.
They are flummoxed as to how voters waited so long — “much too long,” Martin said — to immortalize a man they said stands with Scotty Bowman and Roger Neilson as innovative bench bosses.
“He led a revolution,” Martin said. “He brought in systems. He made it about teaching.
“There's no doubt more is known about his teams' aggressiveness and intimidation. To the average people, that is more of a factor than the execution of their system. But if you go back and watch, what stands out for a coach is the way those Flyers teams played a system. Everybody does it now, but back then, his teams were the first.
“A lot of what we as coaches do now he started doing.”
Penguins assistant Tony Granato, a former head coach with Colorado, noted that Shero also introduced assistant coaches and game-day morning practices to the NHL. The documents Shero left behind offer evidence of his visionary approach.
Ray Shero keeps some of his father's meticulous notes — on responsibilities for the NHL's first assistant coach, drills to implement structure throughout a lineup, strategies to implement at morning skates — inside his office at Consol Energy Center.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was allowed to borrow those documents a few years ago.
“I have things in my desk right now that I think should be in a museum because they are that unique,” Bylsma said. “I'm like, ‘I can't believe this stuff.' It's that ahead of its time. I have a (Flyers) team booklet, some letters — and there are things in there that we as coaches today are doing and probably not as well.”
Bylsma, author of several books and reputable for his word selection, said Fred Shero should be described one way:
“The greatest,” Bylsma said. “I don't think you can be the greatest in the game if you don't change it. You can be a great player, but the greatest change the game.
“Bobby Orr changed the way defensemen play. Fred Shero changed the game for coaches.”