Don "Big Bird" SALESKI
Taken from Joe Pelletier - WebSite - Greatest Hockey Legends
Blue - added - by Ron "Scoreboard" Johnston -
There was a time when Don Saleski represented all that was wrong in hockey. Boy were we wrong about him.
Saleski was one of the famed Broad Street Bullies. Along with Bob "Hound Dog" Kelly, Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, and "Moose" Dupont, Saleski was one of the noted goons on a team that knew no rule book. Nicknamed "Big Bird" because his wild hair reminded many of the Sesame Street character, Saleski would be sure to enter upon or create any fracas involving another Flyers player, whether it was necessary or not. Any fracas included with fans, which in 1976 got him charged in Toronto, though nothing ever came of the charges.
But Saleski was anything but the cement-head most people made him out to be.
In junior hockey in the late 1960s, (Played with the Regina Pats from 1966-67 to 1968-69). He was one of the few hockey players to attend university, studying at the University of Saskatchewan. He would continue his education while playing in the NHL and after wards, studying at Villanova University and Wharton business school. He also obtained a realtor's license while with the Flyers.
His interest in scholastics and business paid off handsomely after hockey. He went on to become a top salesman and later vice president with ARAMARK sports and entertainment group, and then president and chief operating officer of Club Systems Group, Inc. With sales volumes in the hundreds of millions and personal salary and stock options numbering many times more than what he earned in hockey, Don Saleski life is far beyond hockey. Nowadays he has started his own company, Business Edge Development, a sales training company in the Greater Philadelphia area.
In the 1987 book Life After Hockey by Michael Smith, Saleski talks about both his hockey career and his prosperous business career. You almost get the sense that the man once known as "Big Bird" is far more proud of his business successes than his career on the ice, which included two Stanley Cup rings. He admits to being reluctant to talk about his hockey past, saying that is done and over with and just a stepping stone to where he is now. Even in the text he comes across as much more vibrant when discussing his business ventures.
The author, who first met Saleski back in 1978, says "he struck me almost immediately as a bright, articulate person with a mind of his own. He certainly did not fit the image of the Broad Street Bully as he was often portrayed."
Even on the ice Saleski wasn't nearly as bad as his reputation. He only had 629 PIMs in 543 NHL games, and after his first season or two he curtailed his fighting, largely because he wasn't that good at it. Schultz suggested in his autobiography by calling him " a big sonofagun who couldn't fight very well but would throw his weight around" and "he had this wild-man routine to make himself more scary than he really was."
He was a 20 goal scorer who was utilized as a shutdown winger. Often teamed with center Orest Kindrachuk, he was often assigned the task of controlling top wingers on the other team.
“I never considered myself a tough guy. I was more of an instigator. I caused a lot of problems and Dave Shultz would finish them off. I was competitive and wanted to win, so I did whatever I could to help the team,” he told philadelphiaflyers.com.
Late in his career Saleski was not playing much in Philadelphia and he asked for a trade. He was moved to the Colorado Rockies, which proved to be a difficult transition for him.
“I went from winning close to 50 games (a season) with the Flyers to winning 15 with Colorado. When you are competing every night just trying to keep the score close, it’s a whole different mentality then when you are competing to win. It was tough on me, but I also felt bad for the young guys on the team because they would really get down and demoralized. We had a real poor hockey team.”
Saleski was viewed as a disappointment in Colorado. He had a sound theory as to why he and his former Bully Brothers had trouble once they left Philadelphia:
"One of the problems I experienced in Colorado was similar to the problem that other guys with the Flyers experienced when they were traded to other teams. People associated with other teams viewed us differently. I was skilled at my role and other Flyers also gave a specific strength to the team. But, other people didn't view us as role players. There was a perception we were more complete players than we really were, thereby expecting more out of us. They expected us to be complete leaders for their teams and looked for a greater contribution than we really could provide.
You would think a player of Saleski's ilk would be a perfect fit in Don Cherry's world, but he would never see eye to eye with his coach.
"If Blue (Cherry's beloved bulldog) could have spoken, he could have coached better than Don Cherry," he once said.
"He didn't know how to deal with that team. He didn't know how to motivate them. He motivated them by intimidation. It wasn't so much the way he treated me, I felt terrible the way he treated the younger kids on the team."
Although he has distanced himself somewhat from hockey and his image in it, he still holds a special place for the Broad Street Bullies.
"When I think of memories I think of the team and how we had a common vision. We supported each other and we really had this bond. We still do. I don’t see the guys that often, but when we do see each other there is the feeling of excitement. It is almost like a brotherhood.”