Ross Lonsberry wasn’t the best player in the history of the Philadelphia Flyers. Nor was he the toughest player on the famed Broad Street Bullies that terrorized the NHL in the mid 1970s, which helped them win 2 Stanley Cups. But to teammates, Ross Lonsberry was a player that they needed to hold the team together. Lonsberry passed away after a long battle with cancer on Sunday evening. He was 67 years old.
Born in Humboldt, Saskatchewan in 1947, Lonsberry began his NHL career with the Boston Bruins in 1966, after an outstanding junior career with the Estevan Bruins of the SJHL. Lonsberry struggled to crack the Bruins lineup, Boston traded him to the Los Angeles Kings for two first round draft picks in 1969.
Lonsberry established himself in Southern California, as the expansion Kings were still trying to find their identity. The smooth-skating left-winger recorded back-to-back 20 goal seasons for the Kings. The Philadelphia Flyers started to take notice of Lonsberry, and orchestrated the biggest trade in NHL history at the time, to acquire him.
Lonsberry, “Cowboy” Bill Flett, Eddie Joyal and Jean Potvin were dealt from the Kings to the Flyers for Serge Bernier, Jim Johnson and Bill Lesuk. The deal turned out wonderfully for the Flyers.
Flett ended up scoring 43 goals for the Flyers in the 1972-73 season, while Lonsberry found himself on a line with Rich MacLeish and Gary Dornhoefer. The trio meshed nicely despite their different styles. MacLeish was the sniper. Dornhoefer did the dirty work along the boards. Lonsberry played a more defensive role while being the speedster of the line. The line was an integral part of the back-to-back Stanley Cups the Flyers won in 1974 and 1975.
Lonsberry stayed in Philadelphia till 1978, when he along with good friend Orest Kindrachuk and Tom Bladon to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a first round draft pick. Lonsberry did play for three seasons in the Steel City, until retiring in 1981.
Fred Shero, Lonsberry’s coach in Philadelphia and words of praise for Lonsberry back in the day.
“I knew Lonsberry would be good because I’ve seen him play for 10 years. But he’s been unbelievable this year.” Shero said back in 1974. “He has more stamina than Bobby Clarke and he’s been the key man in a lot of games. He’s done everything for us.”
Kindrachuk kept in close touch with Lonsberry, during his battle with cancer. This story he told to Jay Greenberg of flyers.com “Talked to him last week and he was upbeat. We were walking up some steps and he said “Whoa, I have to slow down, only have one lung right now.”
“I said, ‘Does that mean you can only have a half-beer?” He said, ‘No, I will have a full beer.’
Dornhoefer called it a “sad day” when hearing the news, but had nothing but fond memories of his old linemate.
“We complimented each other so well. We stayed together, what six years? How often does that happen? Ross could score, but he wanted to win. He wasn’t interested in stats. He could kill penalties; do whatever Freddie wanted him to do. He was so consistent. He never took a night off.” recalled Dornhoefer.
I leave the last words to Kindrachuk. “Salt of the earth. A true friend if you needed help. Nothing phony about Ross.”
Every team could use a few Ross Lonsberrys.
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