This week’s Flyers celebrating two builders

The first time I saw Bud Poile, he was a forward and head coach of the Edmonton Flyers in the Western Hockey League, twin jobs he handled for the last two-plus seasons of his playing career. His brother Don was on the team and I recall regularly mixing them up.

The first time I saw Fred Shero, he was a defenceman wearing number 2 for the Winnipeg Warriors, also of the Western League, the best of the foursome. He also coached the Flyers — the ones from the National Hockey League, in Philadelphia.

On Saturday, those Flyers play the New Jersey Devils in the latest iteration of NHL outdoor games — the 40th. The Flyers are celebrating their past, specifically Poile and Shero. Poile was their original general manager, Shero their Stanley Cup-winning coach.

Both are in the Hockey Hall of Fame for what they did in street shoes, not on skates. Their NHL management careers ended more than 40 years ago. They appear to have been on the same team only once— it wasn’t in Philly, it was in New York, where they played together for one season as Rangers. But what makes their connection this week so fascinating is the lineage they launched.

Sons and grandsons of both followed the familiar footsteps. Their families have each been a part of hockey for 100 years.

Poile spent 47 of them as player, coach, general manager, executive, president and commissioner. His son David, like his dad, was an original general manager twice (Washington and Nashville) and served 51 years before retiring last year. Bud’s grandson Brian has been with the Predators for 14 years, and counting. Fred Shero’s hockey life lasted 43 years. His son Ray, now 62, was a GM or assistant GM for 26 years and is still in the game. Fred’s two grandsons are currently NHL scouts: Chis (Columbus) and Kyle (Philadelphia).

The grandfathers were both hockey men I encountered as a reporter.

Poile was from Fort William, blessed with that northwestern Ontario work ethic, accommodating personality and sense of humour. He played for 10 professional teams, including all but one (Montreal) of the original six, and his name is engraved on the Stanley Cup from Toronto. When we first met, Poile was the Vancouver Canucks’ original general manager for the two seasons I was on the hockey beat. When we last met, at an Italian greasy spoon where old hockey contacts gathered for lunch, Poile was as personable as he’d always been.

Shero, Winnipeg-born like me, coached the Broad Street Bullies whose two Cups interrupted what could have been seven in a row for the Montreal Canadiens of the ’70s. As a baseball writer who occasionally covered the Canadiens, my only encounters were in media scrums where Shero could be curt and intimidating, like his team.

What I do remember about him is this:

After he had surgery for stomach cancer in the early ’80s, I watched a video clip of Shero, discussing his disease.

“Everybody,” he said, “should get cancer.”

Once the shock wore off, he explained that living with cancer is the best way to value every day.

Fred Shero valued every day of his life for seven years after that.