Larry Zeidel, a rugged former Flyers defenseman who became infamous for a bloody, stick-swinging incident in 1968, died Tuesday morning at Pennsylvania Hospital. He was 86 and had been battling congestive heart failure and kidney problems.
"He was as tough as they come on the ice, but off it, he was a total gentleman," said Joe Inemer, one of Mr. Zeidel's close friends. "He'd give you the shirt off his back."
Mr. Zeidel, regarded as one of the game's best fighters, spent most of his career in the minors, playing parts of five seasons in the NHL. He finished his career at age 39, playing nine games with the Flyers in 1968-69. The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder played 57 games for them in 1967-68, their first season in the league, and had one goal and 68 penalty minutes while rooming with goalie Bernie Parent, who became a Hall of Famer.
About two years ago, Mr. Zeidel moved in with George and Joan Bradley in their Mayfair home. Joan Bradley had befriended him when he used to live with a neighbor.
"He was like a giant teddy bear," she said. "I loved him like a second father."
Nicknamed "The Rock," Mr. Zeidel also played for Detroit and Chicago. He won a Stanley Cup ring with Gordie Howe and the Red Wings in 1952.
Playing for the Flyers in 1968, Mr. Zeidel and Boston's Eddie Shack were in a stick-swinging battle at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The Flyers were playing a home game there because part of the roof had blown off at the Spectrum.
Shack had allegedly made off-color remarks about Mr. Zeidel's being Jewish.
"He was so proud of being one of the first Jewish players in the league," Joan Bradley said.
The NHL suspended Zeidel - who had been involved in several stick-swinging incidents in his career - for four games. Shack received a three-game suspension.
After his career ended, Mr. Zeidel worked for a while as a marketing consultant for investment funds.
As for his hockey career, Mr. Zeidel once said there was a couple of reasons why he played with an edge.
"First, I played some senior hockey in Québec City, and we could play well and win, but the fans would rather have us involved in a real brawl and lose the game," he said. "There were a lot of rugged guys in the league at that time, too, so maybe it was partly a matter of survival.
"The other thing is that there's the big thing of being young and having stars in your eyes. The clubs themselves are as much or more to blame. They play up the tough guys. Guts, guts, guts is all you hear from a lot of coaches and managers, even as early as junior [league]. I was playing for some coaches and managers who would tell me, 'Go get him.' So I did."
Mr. Zeidel is survived by his wife, Marie, four children and 10 grandchildren.
Services will be held Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon, at Cassizzi Funeral Home, 2915 East Thompson St., Philadelphia.