Legends: Bernie Parent Has a Secret

Hall of Fame Flyers goalie Bernie Parent has endured a career-ending injury, ­alcoholism, divorce, and the death of his star pupil. So why is he so happy?

As Parent cuts into a ham-and-cheese omelet at the Palace Diner, not far from the Flyers’ practice rink in Voorhees, he explains how The Secret came into his life. Last year, his son, Bernie Jr., gave him the DVD, knowing he would love it: With testimonials from self-made millionaires, self-help gurus like the Chicken Soup for the Soul guy, and talking heads with titles like “philosopher” and “visionary,” the 90-minute docu-movie explains that the law of attraction is the key to life. With Oprah Winfrey’s seal of approval, The Secret became a cultural phenomenon, prompting the largest second printing in Simon & Schuster’s history. It also came under fire for being, at best, a brilliant bit of New Age marketing, and, much worse, for cultivating a dangerous “blame the victim” ­mentality — The Secret insists that if you think negatively, bad things will come to you. (Sick with cancer? Living in Darfur? It’s kinda your fault!) What spoke to Parent, though, was the reverse: Focus on what you want, believe you can have it, and you will. “It is you just placing your order with the universe,” “metaphysician” Joe Vitale says on the DVD. “It’s really that easy.”

As proof that life is a giant drive-thru window, Parent says he recently loaned his daughter $1,000, and the next day, he took a call for a business opportunity. What was he offered for his time? A thousand bucks, of course. Parent also voices radio ads for hair-replacement specialist Gregory Pistone. (“Hey Doc! Great save!”) Just as Parent was struggling with treatments for his own thinning hair, Pistone called him, unprompted, to be his spokesman. Nothing, Parent says, is coincidence. “I have this unwavering faith that everything works out. Whatever I’m asking for, it’s amazing what happens. But you have to pay attention. You have to live it.”

This sort of Disney-meets-Dr.-Phil mind-set has little place in ice hockey, which has long been the most working-class, no-nonsense professional sport, especially in Parent’s heyday. Men were men, on and off the ice, as evidenced by a snapshot of a young Parent with his goalie pads on, drinking a beer and smoking. Raised in Montreal, Parent and his six siblings were always a warm, affectionate bunch, and he brought that sunny attitude with him to Philadelphia when the Flyers drafted him in 1967. Parent was a solid but not outstanding goalie then, and he was traded to Toronto — a move that left him in tears, questioning his career. But in Canada, Parent was paired up with his idol, the legendary net-minder Jacques Plante. Every goalie has a system, and Plante perfected Parent’s, both physically and mentally: Stay square to the shooter. Cut off the angles. Visualize yourself making saves in every situation — two-on-ones, power plays, penalty shots. Parent eventually returned to Philadelphia as the NHL’s best goaltender, and would soon lead two parades down Broad Street.

With his wife, two young sons, a daughter on the way, and a lifetime contract with the Flyers, it seemed the stars really had aligned for him. Then, in February 1979, as a tussle in front of the goal crease sent a New York Ranger crashing to the ice, a stick swung into the right eyehole of Parent’s old-school Friday the 13th-style face mask. The trauma plunged him into darkness. That night, as he lay in bed at Pennsylvania Hospital, completely blind, wondering if he’d ever see again, he tried to stay upbeat. “This is what happens to old goalies, I guess,” he said. “You forget to duck.”