PITTSBURGH - Hockey Hall of Famer Fern Flaman, who played for the Bruins from 1947-51 and then again from 1954-61, and was the head coach at Northeastern for 19 seasons, died Friday night of cancer at the age of 85.
NHL vice president Jim Gregory announced the news of Flaman’s death Saturday at the draft.
“One thing I can say is that if there was anyone tougher than Fern Flaman during my career, I can’t imagine who it would be,’’ Bruins legend Milt Schmidt told The Hockey News. “I played with and against some great defensemen and he was one of the greatest. He was a great stay-at-home defenseman.’’
Flaman, who also played in the NHL for parts of four seasons with the Maple Leafs, appeared in 910 games over 17 seasons, finishing with 34 goals and 174 assists.
But defense was Flaman’s main responsibility, and he carried it out well.
Flaman, who was born in Dysart, Saskatchewan, had the respect of his opponents, Gordie Howe once calling Flaman the toughest player he ever played against, and Jean Beliveau once saying of Flaman, “When I go near that fellow, believe me, I look over my shoulder.’’
After retiring from the NHL, Flaman went on to become a player-coach with the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League. He then coached Northeastern from 1970-89, leading the Huskies to their only four Beanpot titles, and the Hockey East championship in 1988.
He was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.
“We’ve lost a great man, a great person, and a great National Hockey League player,’’ Schmidt told The Hockey News.
Matthew Grzelcyk was raised in Charlestown. John Grzelcyk, Matthew’s father, works at TD Garden as a member of the Bull Gang. And the younger Grzelcyk will be a freshman at Boston University this fall.
Naturally, he was just about speechless when his hometown Bruins picked him in Saturday’s third round.
“I really can’t put it into words,’’ Grzelcyk said. “It’s pretty unexpected.’’
The 18-year-old defenseman played the last two seasons for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. The 5-foot-9-inch, 177-pound Grzelcyk (pronounced grizz-lick) is considered a puck-mover similar to Bruins prospect and former Terrier David Warsofsky. Grzelcyk said he models his game around former NHLer Brian Rafalski, also an undersized puck-mover.
“He’s the type of kid who plays much bigger than he is,’’ said Wayne Smith, Bruins director of amateur scouting. “He’s got a Bruins mentality. He plays hard. He’s hard to play against.
“He plays virtually a mistake-free game. His decision-making, his ability to move the puck, is second to none in this draft.’’
Grzelcyk was the 177th-ranked North American skater by the Central Scouting Bureau. This past season, he had two goals and 20 assists in 56 games for the Under-18 team.
Grzelcyk will participate in Team USA’s national junior evaluation camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., in August, and is aiming to make the World Junior Championship roster.
“Probably the best two years of my life,’’ Grzelcyk said. “I feel like I really needed the development. That’s exactly what I got.’’
The Bruins picked Seth Griffith and Cody Payne in the fifth round.
Griffith, who came courtesy of the Benoit Pouliot trade with Tampa Bay, is a junior teammate of Bruins prospect Jared Knight with London of the Ontario Hockey League.
The 19-year-old center led London in scoring last season with 45 goals and 40 assists.
The 5-10, 180-pound Griffith will likely return to London in 2012-13 and be coached by Dale Hunter, who left the Capitals following the season.
“He’s a big-time player,’’ Smith said. “Dale and Mark Hunter both were preaching his game. They both feel he brings that quality that they shared when they played - that ability to win pucks and win races.
“He’s not going to bowl you over. He’s not a real big guy. But he has a high hockey IQ. He has an NHL shot and an NHL release.’’
Payne, a 6-2, 201-pound forward, plays for Plymouth of the OHL, Tyler Seguin’s former junior team. In 60 games this past season, Payne had five goals and 11 assists while recording 107 penalty minutes.
In the sixth round, the Bruins drafted defenseman Matthew Benning, nephew of assistant general manager Jim Benning. Brian Benning, Matthew’s father, appeared in 568 career NHL games.
Matthew played for Spruce Grove of the Atlantic Junior Hockey League in 2011-12, and has yet to commit to a college.
“When he’s on the ice, people know,’’ Smith said. “When he’s on his way to the bench, he’s the type of guy who’ll give you a shot to the head just because you looked at him.’’
In the seventh round, the Bruins took forward Colton Hargrove, who will be a freshman at Western Michigan this fall.