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?

Like a ribald uncle who breaks up dreary parties with a funny story, Parent finds a shred of humor in the two weeks he spent hospitalized, sightless, wondering where his life was headed. “My glass was half full, although a few times when I was drinking, it was empty,” he says, picking at a slice of wheat toast at the South Jersey diner. “I had the nurses grab my nuts, and I had to guess the right name. One day my ex grabbed my nuts and I said the wrong name. That’s how the light came back!”

Parent gets serious when crediting “The Program” for his 27 years of sobriety, and for preparing him to handle the next slap shot the universe would send his way. Flyers chairman Ed Snider offered him a job as a goaltending coach, and his first star student was a young Swede named Pelle Lindbergh, who, like Parent, struggled before perfecting his technique. When Parent’s understudy won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie in 1985, TV cameras captured Lindbergh embracing the man he considered his second father. Five months later, Lindbergh lost control of his Porsche, slammed into the wall of a schoolhouse, and was killed. Parent delivered his eulogy during a ceremony at the Spectrum and flew to Sweden for the funeral. The memory of Lindbergh draws out more emotion than talk of Parent’s own hardships, but he finds a silver lining even in his student’s death. “With Pelle, I focus on the beautiful things,” Parent says, his right eye, which still bears a black mark from his injury, watering. “You could cry forever — nothing will happen. Be grateful to have been part of his life, and to have hugged him in front of 15 million people in Canada.”

Parent left coaching in 1993, and not long after that, his marriage ended. He couldn’t find solace by throwing himself into the business world — Parent didn’t have a Rolodex, couldn’t schmooze with people he didn’t already know. After hopping from one consulting job to the next — never, ever a full-time position; there’s fishing to do, eh! — Parent hooked up with Commerce Bank honcho and South Jersey political power baron George Norcross, who was planning to build a hockey arena in Pennsauken and recruited Parent to be the face of its minor-league team.

The arena deal fell through, but then the universe — or Norcross, if you’re not buying into The Secret — introduced Parent to Jack Tarditi, a Commerce Bank exec who would prove as valuable as Jacques Plante and Alcoholics Anonymous. Tarditi gave Parent a new system for the business game: Take notes. Keep track of all the people you know. When you walk into a room full of suits, they don’t expect you to talk about the Dow or foreign affairs — tell stories! Bernie could simply be himself.

For the first time since his days crouched between the pipes, Parent was in the zone again. Tarditi helped him steer clear of bad deals and make some much-needed money. Business was picking up, and his relationship with Carol and their kids was better than ever. Now he tours the suites as a team ambassador at each Flyers home game, shaking hands and telling tales. “I was once a shy guy as far as the public was concerned,” he remembers. “Now, Christ, you have to throw me out, I have so much fun.” Then one day, while staring down at the bay from his Wildwood condo, Parent decided he needed to live on the water. So that’s what he did. Now, his fishing boat is docked facing his old condo, a constant reminder of the leap from having a dream to living it. “The water kept saying, Come on, come on!” he says. “That’s my passion. The Secret tells you to live your passion. It’s a beautiful thing!”