Boston Bruins defenseman and captain Fern Flaman was in for quite a surprise when he was honored at Boston Garden near the end of his Hall of Fame career.
When the door to a gift-wrapped new car was opened, he was greeted by his mother, oldest brother, and sister-in-law, who were invited from Canada by the Bruins, the team that signed him in 1943.
A 5-foot-high portrait of Mr. Flaman, who retired from the Bruins in 1961, also was part of the festivities, for which fans chipped in with donations. It was a treasured memento in his Westwood home the rest of his life.
“That night and the night he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame were among his happiest memories,” said his daughter, Laurie Fletcher of Barrington, R.I.
Mr. Flaman, an inductee to six sports Halls of Fame, and whose 255 hockey coaching victories from 1970 to 1989 at Northeastern University are a school record, died of cancer Saturday in his home. He was 85.
“I played with him and I played against him and there was no one tougher in the National Hockey League,” said Bruins legend Milt Schmidt. “He was a real stay-at-home defenseman who rarely got caught up-ice. And he was a quiet leader who never backed down from anybody.”
A three-time NHL All-Star, Mr. Flaman was traded by the Bruins to the Toronto Maple Leafs, for whom he played on the 1951 Stanley Cup championship team. Toronto traded him back to Boston in 1954.
A player-coach with the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League from 1961 to ’65 and a scout for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils the past 22 years, Mr. Flaman was honored last month in St. Paul as a Legend of Hockey by the Hobey Baker foundation. In his remarks, he paid tribute to his wife, the former Jeanne Magner.
“Their whole life together was a love affair,” their daughter said.
After thanking former players and colleagues, Mr. Flaman said he was “also accepting this in behalf of Jeannie, who can’t be with me tonight. She and I have been teammates for 65 years.
“I put everything I had into hockey. It dominated my life for many, many years … then one day it ends. You hang ’em up, and when you look around you see that the kids turned out super and that you have a loving family waiting for you. That’s when you fully realize you’ve been married to a very special lady.”
Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer three years ago, Mr. Flaman kept visiting his wife, who has Alzheimer’s disease, every other day at an assisted living facility in Norwood until shortly before his death.
“He was more worried about her than himself,” said their son Fern, of Walpole. “Family and loyalty came first with my dad.”
Lou Lamoriello, president and general manager of the New Jersey Devils, called Mr. Flaman “a key part of our organization.”
“I first met Ferny when I was playing at Providence College and he was coaching the Reds, and he would let me practice with them,” said Lamoriello, adding that he and Mr. Flaman were “very close.”
Lamoriello’s son, Chris, the team’s vice president of hockey operations, said Mr. Flaman admired prospects who wanted to win and “showed the character and leadership qualities he had as a player.”
Starting out in 1970 as Northeastern’s head coach, Mr. Flaman led the team to its first Beanpot title in 1980 and followed that with three more, in ’84, ’85, and ’88. The Huskies won the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship in 1982, the same year he guided the team to the NCAA final four and was named coach of the year by the American Hockey Coaches Association. The university also won the Hockey East title in 1988 when he was the conference’s coach of the year.
The 1984 Beanpot victory over Boston University was the most emotional of his coaching career. Mr. Flaman’s son Terry, a former Harvard hockey captain who was dying of cancer, delivered an inspirational pregame speech, and then sat in the stands at Boston Garden in a wheelchair next to his mother, who had broken her leg and also was in a wheelchair.
“Ferny had called us together at center ice after a practice three weeks earlier and told us Terry was in tough shape, so we knew,” recalled current Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan, who played for Mr. Flaman at Northeastern and later was his assistant coach. “After we won, we raised the Beanpot for Terry and Jeanne.”
Terry died three months later.
Mr. Flaman “was crying as he left the Garden bench and headed for the dressing room,” wrote the Globe’s Bob Monahan. “Fern Flaman, the former Bruin defenseman who made No. 14 one to be feared in the National Hockey League.”
In 2010, Mr. Flaman returned to the Northeastern’s Matthews Arena for a night in his honor, walking to center ice on a red carpet arm in arm with former Bruins teammate Don McKenney, his assistant at NU for all 19 seasons. “Ferny was very moved by the recognition,” said Jack Grinold, Northeastern’s longtime sports information director, who was master of ceremonies. “He was a man of winter who carried summer in his heart.”
A native of Dysart, Saskatchewan, Ferdinand C. Flaman played 910 regular season and 63 NHL playoff games, totaling 38 goals, 182 assists, and 1,463 penalty minutes. He led the Schmidt-coached Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals in 1957 and 1958, both losses to Montreal.
Mr. Flaman usually didn’t pick a fight unless one of his teammates was getting the business from an opponent.
“When hockey players talk shop, they frequently discuss the matter of who is their toughest opponent,” Toronto Star columnist Jim Proudfoot wrote during Mr. Flaman’s prime. “A note of something bordering on awe creeps into the conversation when the name Flaman comes up.”
Said McKenney: “All he had to do was give you that stare, and whether you were an opposing player or one of his players at Northeastern, you knew words weren’t necessary. You’d better shape up.”
Assigned to the Bruins’ Boston Olympics farm team at 16, Mr. Flaman was in New York’s Madison Square Garden a year later, suiting up for the Bruins for one game that season. “He was impressive even at that age, and it didn’t take him long to get his feet on the ground,” said Eddie Barry, an Olympics and Bruins teammate. “And if you tried to get position in front of the net on him you’d get leveled.”
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Flaman leaves a brother, Gordon, of Red Deer, Alberta; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in First Parish of Westwood. Burial will be private.
“I never met a better person on or off the ice,” said Doug Mohns, a close friend and former Bruins defense partner. “Ferny was a hard worker: honest, truthful, and dependable. I am going to miss him.”