Rick MacLeish, smooth-skating, Cup-winning Flyer, dies at 66

Rick MacLeish, 66, a three-time all-star who scored arguably the biggest goal in Flyers history, died Monday night.

Brad Marsh, president of the Flyers Alumni Association, confirmed Tuesday morning that Mr. MacLeish had died.

Mr. MacLeish had been battling meningitis and kidney and liver problems, according to his daughter Brianna MacLeish.

"Ricky was the most talented player the Flyers had during the 1970s," said Hall of Famer Bob Clarke, who was one of Mr. MacLeish's teammates and is now the team's senior vice president. "Life after hockey wasn't fair to Ricky. He left us far too soon."

In a statement, team president Paul Holmgren said the Flyers had lost "one of their legends," and he called Mr. MacLeish a "good father, grandfather, teammate, and friend. Rick will be missed by all who were fortunate to come and know him over the years. His happy and friendly demeanor was front and center everywhere Rick went. Today, our thoughts and prayers are with Rick's wife, Charlene, his daughters, Danielle and Brianna, along with his grandchildren. May he rest in peace."

The smooth-skating center had one of the league's most dynamic wrist shots, and he became the first 50-goal scorer in franchise history in 1972-73. Mr. MacLeish, the NHL's leading playoff scorer when the Flyers won Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, finished with 349 career goals.

"Ricky," former Flyers left winger and coach Bill Barber said, "was like poetry in motion on the ice. He was so fluid with his skating style and his wrist shot. He was an exceptional skater, and you have to realize that in that era the good skaters stood out."

Mr. MacLeish's daughters put together a statement, calling their father "an amazing dad and grandfather. We are comforted in knowing he is with his grandson, Tyler, who he was very close to. We want to thank the Flyers family and fans for their outpouring of support."

Tyler died in 2007 at age 4.

Mr. MacLeish was drafted fourth overall by Boston in 1970, and he played for the Flyers, Hartford, Pittsburgh, and Detroit in a career that ended in 1984.

On May 19, 1974, Mr. MacLeish redirected Andre "Moose" Dupont's power-play drive past Boston goalie Gilles Gilbert to give the Flyers a 1-0 first-period lead in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. The goal, perhaps the most important one in franchise history, was the only one scored in the epic, series-clinching game at the Spectrum.

The goal, and Bernie Parent's standout goaltending, enabled the Flyers to win the Cup in just the franchise's seventh season of existence.

In the early 2000s, Mr. MacLeish suffered a heart attack while playing in an alumni game and underwent surgery a few days later.

"I wasn't excited about having open-heart surgery, but the doctor reassured me that he could do the surgery with one arm tied behind his back," Mr. MacLeish, known for his laid-back and quiet demeanor, later recalled.

"I said, 'When you operate on me, you make sure you are using both arms!' "

Mr. MacLeish was a 21-year-old prospect when he was acquired by the Flyers for Mike Walton on Jan. 31, 1971. The Flyers had acquired Walton and Bruce Gamble earlier in the day from Toronto as part of a trade that sent Bernie Parent to the Maple Leafs. The Flyers got Parent back two years later in another deal.

Nicknamed "Hawk," "Bedrock," "Cutie," and "Pink Floyd," Mr. MacLeish struggled in limited duty during his first two seasons with the Flyers and was sent to the minors.

He was moved from left wing to center in 1972-73, his first full season with the Flyers.

It turned out to be his coming-out party.

Mr. MacLeish erupted for 50 goals, becoming the first player from an expansion team to reach the milestone and at the time the youngest player, at 23, in NHL history to accomplish the feat.

Mr. MacLeish finished with 100 points that season. During the first part of the season, he centered Barber and Gary Dornhoefer. Barber was later moved to the top line with Clarke and Bill Flett, while Ross Lonsberry joined Mr. MacLeish's unit.

"He was a great skater with a great shot," said Dave Schultz, one of Mr. MacLeish's teammates on the Flyers. "He scored a lot of big goals for us."

Mr. MacLeish was the NHL's top point producer in the Flyers' playoff runs that culminated with Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975. In the 1974 playoffs he had 13 goals and 22 points in 17 games, and in the 1975 playoffs he had 11 goals and 20 points.

"He was probably one of the better pressure players the Flyers have ever had," said Barber, a Hall of Fame left winger.

Dornhoefer said Mr. Mac Leish was underrated.

"The Flyers could have a mediocre game, but because of his skills as a player and the athlete he was, he could carry us. He was that gifted," Dornhoefer said. "I always felt that during the years he played he never got the recognition he properly deserved."

"Although he played in the shadow of Clarkie, he was every bit as good as Clarkie," said Bob Kelly, another winger on those championship Cup teams.

In a 2005 interview with Flyers public relations director Zack Hill, Mr. Mac Leish recalled being accidentally sliced in the neck by the skate of the Kings' Marcel Dionne during a 1978 game.

"It really did not hurt. It just felt like a boot hit me," Mr. MacLeish said at the time. "When I skated to the bench, I put my hand up to my neck and my fingers went into my neck. The blood started spurting out, and that is when I realized it was serious. Thank goodness the carotid or jugular was not severed.

"Luckily our team doctor was there. He went out to the bus and got his kit and 180 stitches later [other accounts say he received 88 stitches] I was all sewn up. He started stitching me in the first period and did not finish until the end of the game."

After the game, Mr. MacLeish said, "we went out for a couple of beers and cigarettes. [Defenseman] Joe Watson said there was some smoke and beer coming out of my neck. I am not sure what it was, but it was definitely something. Around 4 a.m. that morning I woke up, and I was bleeding all over the place because the stitches had broken. We called the team trainer, and he took me to get new stitches."

An Ocean City, N.J., resident, Mr. MacLeish grew up in Cannington, Ontario. He was a racehorse enthusiast, and he owned several of them since purchasing one for $5,000 while a minor-leaguer in the Boston Bruins system. After retiring from the NHL, he went into the insurance and financial business and kept involved in the harness racing world.

Mr. MacLeish's love for horses started at an early age. As a youngster, Mr. MacLeish spent most of his summers with his paternal grandparents, riding the horses they raised.

In Flyers history, Mr. MacLeish is fourth with 697 points and sixth with 328 goals. He is tied with Barber at 53 for the most playoff goals in franchise history.

Barber compared Mr. MacLeish to Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault of Buffalo. "They had similarities," he said. "They had speed and the skill. Perreault was a little better stickhandler, but Ricky was invaluable to our team."

Joe Watson, a Flyers defenseman during their glory years in the 1970s, said Mr. MacLeish was "one of the most naturally skilled players" in Flyers history. "I'd put him up there with [Claude] Giroux, [Eric] Lindros. and [Peter] Forsberg in terms of natural skill," he said.

Mr. MacLeish is survived by his daughters; his former wife, Carolyn, and his second wife, Charlene.

Mr. MacLeish is the fifth player from the 1974 or 1975 Stanley Cup champions who has died. Barry Ashbee, Wayne Stephenson, Flett, and Lonsberry are the others.

Funeral services will be held in South Jersey and Canada and will be private.

scarchidi@phillynews.com

@BroadStBull www.philly.com/flyersblog

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