I didn’t know Keith Allen too well, but the lasting impression I have of the classy Flyers icon is the handshake.
The powerful, meaty handshake.
Allen was 89 and his memory was fading quickly when I met him at his residence during the NHL lockout before last season. Former Flyer Joe Watson introduced me to Allen at the Sunrise Senior Living facility in Newtown Square.
We shook hands, and I immediately felt I was in a death grip. Allen, wearing a red Santa hat with “Flyers” spelled in sparkles, did the same thing to Watson.
“You’re trying to break my hand!” Watson bellowed.
“No I’m not,” replied Allen, smiling sheepishly.
While he was still strong physically and still exercising, Allen was battling dementia and having a difficult time remembering the glory days he helped create as the Flyers’ general manager.
I cherish the hour or so we spent together then _ and even more so now _ after learning the sad news that Allen had died on Tuesday.
He was the first coach in Flyers history, and as their general manager, he was the architect of their Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975.
"In my mind, he was and always will be one of the greatest general managers in the history of hockey,” Ed Snider, chairman of the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, said in a statement. “He was known as 'Keith the Thief,' I never knew of a bad deal he made. This team would never have reached the level of success we have had over the past 48 years if it were not for Keith.”
Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, paid tribute to Allen.
"Keith Allen always found a way to bring exceptional talent to Broad
Street and weave it into the fabric of a team that would succeed and endure
at the highest level, because in Philadelphia, for his Flyers and their
fans, no other level was acceptable," he said in a statement.
Snider said that, over the years, Allen became “one of my closest confidants and one of my best friends. I will never forget all of the many memories we shared together."
Allen, 90, is survived by his wife, Joyce, their sons, Brad and Blake, and their daughter, Traci, and their four grandchildren, Chelsea, Shay, Jillian, and Chase.
Blake recalled a gathering of former Flyers and broadcaster Steve Coates at his parents' home in Beach Haven, N.J., in 2012, at a time "when Dad still had moments of clarity from his advancing dementia.
The players who paid a visit that day included Bobby Clarke, Jim Watson, Bill Clement, Gary Dornhoefer, Bob Kelly, Don Saleski, Orest Kindrachuk and Bob Dailey.
"They all crowded into the TV room and told old war stories," Blake Allen said. "After they had left, I asked Dad, 'Was it fun seeing those guys again?' "
"Let’s do that more!" Keith Allen said, according to his son. "Let’s do that every week!”
“You love those guys, huh Dad?”
“I love them because…”
He searched for the right words, Blake Allen said.
"I love them because we won.”
In the Flyers’ first season in 1967-68, Allen coached the team to the title in the old West Division, which was composed of the six expansion teams. He became the GM in 1969 and held that position until 1983.
While he was the general manager, the Flyers won two Stanley Cups, reached the Stanley Cup Final four times, and compiled a 563-322-194 record for a .612 winning percentage.
Allen, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1992, added such players as Barry Ashbee, Rick MacLeish, Bill Flett, Ross Lonsberry, Andre Dupont, Reggie Leach, and he reacquired Bernie Parent. He was also responsible for drafting Clement, Kelly, Bill Barber, Tom Bladon, Jimmy Watson, Paul Holmgren, Pete Peeters, Dave Brown, Ron Sutter, Ron Hextall, Brian Propp, Ken Linseman, and Pelle Lindbergh.
In addition, he signed Tim Kerr, Kindrachuk, Bob Froese, and Dave Poulin as free agents, and acquired Mark Howe in a trade.
Allen spent 13 years as a pro player, including parts of two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. He was a member of the Wings’ 1953-54 Stanley Cup championship team.
In a way, Allen was the godfather of the Flyers. He was there for their birth as their coach, and as the general manager he guided their stunningly quick rise to NHL kings in just their seventh season.
"Keith and I were awfully close in building the two Stanley Cup winners," Snider once told me. "I was a lot more active on a day-to-day basis back then, and we worked very well together. I don't think he ever made a bad deal. Basically, even though he's in the Hall of Fame, I think he's underappreciated for what he did."
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.