This Week in Flyers History: Week Ending May 17

Flyers history 

May 12, 1977

We celebrate the life of a Flyers legend, Barry Ashbee, who passed this week in 1977. Ashbee was a solid, rugged defenseman for the Flyers who left the world far too soon, however he left a legacy to all Flyers and their fans with his will to compete, unwavering courage and undeniable spirit.

Born in 1939, Ashbee played seven seasons for the AHL's Hershey Bears starting in 1962 and had a brief stint with the Boston Bruins – 14 games – in the 1966 season before joining the Flyers.

In his first season in Philadelphia as a 31-year-old "rookie" in 1970-71, he played in 64 games, compiling 27 points. His solid "stay-at-home" defense was a big reason why the team improved each season, culminating with the 1973-74 campaign. That season, Ashbee played in 69 games with 17 points and a plus/minus of 52, for which he was named to the NHL's second All-Star team.

In the 1973-74 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Ashbee took a puck to the eye from the stick of Dale Rolfe of the New York Rangers in Game 4. The extent of the injury and subsequent bleeding cost Ashbee his sight in the eye and ultimately his career.

Although his injury forced him to watch the rest of the playoffs from the sidelines, he took pleasure in drinking from Lord Stanley's Cup later that May with his beloved teammates.

The following season, Ashbee took a job as an assistant coach with the Flyers. At first, he was reluctant to sign on as he felt that he was only being offered the job out of sympathy, but that was not the case. As the Flyers went on to win their second Stanley Cup, Ashbee was a key contributor behind the bench to coach Fred Shero and was thought of as the "heir apparent" to Shero someday.

In Ashbee’s honor, the Flyers decided to present an award  in recognition of the best defenseman for the Flyers that season. Since 1975, the Barry Ashbee Award has been presented to numerous players, including Eric Desjardins seven times. 

In April of 1977, misfortune would hit Ashbee once again as he was diagnosed with leukemia after complaining of bruising that did not seem to go away. In true Ashbee fashion, he was determined to win the battle, like so many others on the ice. Just a month later, Ashbee succumbed to the dreaded disease and passed at the age of 37.

In a ceremony on opening night, October 13, 1977, the Flyers retired their first number as an organization as Ashbee’s No. 4 would never be worn again.

In addition, the Flyers Wives Carnival, which started in February of 1977, was renamed the "Fight for Lives Carnival" starting in 1978 after Ashbee's death and remained that way for a number of years. The proceeds of this wonderful charitable event have been contributed to leukemia research along with other various charities. In the 38 years of the event, over $25 million dollars has been raised and donated. 

Mike Watson is a contributing writer for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on twitter @Mwats_99

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