Friday

Orest Kindrachuk

Orest Kindrachuk was one of the more underrated players in the National Hockey League during the 1970's.

Kindrachuk was bypassed in the 1970 amateur draft because all NHL teams thought he wouldn't continue his hockey career when he enrolled at the University of Saskatchewan. He had declared he would pursue a career in optometry instead of hockey.

The Philadelphia Flyers did a little more homework than the rest of the league, and were rewarded when they eventually signed him as a free agent in July, 1971. They were impressed with Orest's stellar junior career with the Saskatoon Blades (WCJHL) where he scored 263 points in 164 games. He led the league in assists (100) his last year there.

"I felt at the time that I really wanted to be a doctor and the odds of making the NHL were slim because there were a lot less teams than there are today," recalls Kindrachuk. "I was playing in the commercial league when I started thinking that I could always go back to school. Chronologically, I would not always be young and in top shape to play hockey so I decided to give it a try. Eventually, the Flyers invited me to their training camp. What is crazy is that if I would have played my draft year I might have been selected fairly high then I may never had the opportunity to play for the Flyers and be on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Things really fell into place for me. Call it destiny."

Kindrachuk began his pro career in 1971-72 playing for the San Diego Gulls (WHL) and then played for the Richmond Robins in the AHL where he chalked up 86 pts in 72 games. By 1973-74 Kindrachuk was given a promotion to the National Hockey League. The timing couldn't have been better, as Orest would spend his first two NHL seasons as a Stanley Cup champion.

Orest played an unspectacular role on the Flyers but was a very important part of their team when they won the Cup in 1974 and 1975. He was not the fastest skater around but he was a tenacious checker who was strong on both ends of the ice. A strong penalty killer, he was mostly a center but occasionally played as a left wing.

His coach in Philadelphia, Fred Shero, liked him a lot.

"He was the kind of player you wanted out there in the tough situations because he had both the brains and guts."

Kindrachuk's most regular linemates were tough guys Dave "Hammer" Schultz and Don "Big Bird" Saleski.

"A lot of times when we would go on the road our line would have to play against our opponent’s top line. The three of us were plus players. We could keep up with anybody. We were actually a very good line," Kindrachuk said.

Orest's best season in the NHL came during the 1975-76 season when he had 75 points including 26 goals, this despite playing on the 3rd line. He played some very solid hockey in Philadelphia even though he was bothered by a chronic back ailment for much of his career.

Orest was eventually traded to Pittsburgh together with Tom Bladon and Ross Lonsberry for Pittsburgh's 1st round draft choice in 1978. He was immediately named the Penguins captain in training camp and held that position for his entire stay in Pittsburgh.

"To be named team captain for an NHL team is something I feel really good about. That was quite an honor."

He had a very fine first season in Steel City, scoring 60 points. Unfortunately he ran into a hip point injury problem in the 1979-80 season, but still managed to score a respectable 46 points in 52 games.

Kindrachuk's back eventually cost him his career. He would only manage to play in 13 games in 1980-81 due to a nasty disc problem in his back. Released from his contract in the summer of 1981, Kindrachuk tried to play on, signing as a free agent with the Washington Capitals on September 4, 1981. Ultimately the injuries won the battle and after appearing in only four games he had to retire.

Orest was definitely one of the unsung heroes of the 1970's who never got the headlines but who always did a very fine job. He scored a total of 379 pts in 508 games as well as 40 points in 76 games.

2 comments:

Anonymous,  7:41 PM  

Orest Kindrachuck would skate onto the ice in Phila. with his line Saleski and Schultz, and it would feel like all would go well for the Flyers, every time. I had the great opportunity to meet Orest at a Flyers family event, and considered myself lucky to tell him how much his playing with heart and determination had meant to the team and his fans. He was one of the unsung greats of the Phila. Flyers.

Anonymous,  5:16 AM  

As a young man growing up in Philly, I really got into watching hockey the year before the Flyers won their first cup. Orest Kindrachuk was always my favorite player, and just as this wonderful article stated, I also believed he was so underrated by the hockey world. However, I do believe his teamates appreciated him along with the fans, and aren't they the people who really matter? Hope he is doing well in life after hockey, especially since they didn't make anywhere near the money of today. God bless you Orest!

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