Hockey Hall of Famer Reggie Leach is perhaps best remembered for his scoring exploits during the 1976 post season.
Known as “The Riverton Rifle,” this Ojibwe winger, who was born in Riverton Manitoba, was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers when during the spring of 1976, he made playoff history.
Following a strong regular season which saw Leach explode for a league leading and franchise best 61 goals, he didn’t slow down. Come playoff time he went on to create some post season magic as he scored 19 goals and 24 playoff points in winning the prestigious Conn Smythe Trophy for Most Valuable Player in the playoffs. Unfortunately, though, the Flyers who were the defending Stanley Cup champions fell short as they were eventually swept in the finals by the Montreal Canadiens.
During that spring, the Flyers found themselves matched against the Toronto Maple Leafs in what turned out to be a momentum swinging quarter finals playoff series which went the full seven games. Leach, who was known for his quick accurate shot, led the team in scoring that series with six goals, 11 points along with a +8 plus/minus statistic. Continuing his scoring prowess Leach, who was playing on one of the NHL’s best line’s with captain Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber continued to be a major storyline that spring as he once again led the team offensively with nine goals and a +6 during the Flyers five game Semi-Finals playoffs series win against the Boston Bruins. Showing a flair for the dramatics, this feared goal scorer, who earlier broke the Flyers franchise record with a 61- goal regular season, once again put his name in the record books. On May 6th in Philadelphia at the Spectrum, Leach tied an NHL playoff record with a five -goal performance during a 6-3 series clinching Game 5 win against the Bruins.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Leach said after that game. “Once you get going, you get all the confidence in the world. I started thinking after the first goal that all I had to do was shoot and I’d score.”
Leach tied Toronto Maple Leafs captain Darryl Sittler’s record who ironically enough had his five- goal game earlier that spring during quarter finals action against Leach’s Philadelphia Flyers. Also holding that record of five goals in a playoff game is Montreal Canadiens players Maurice Rocket Richard, Newsy Lalonde and much later on, Pittsburgh Penguins captain Mario Lemieux. Advancing to the 1976 Stanley Cup finals, Leach added to his playoff scoring statistics as he once again led the team offensively with four goals, but it wasn’t enough as the defending Stanley Cup champs were officially swept by the Montreal Canadiens. In that playoff run, Leach also wrote history by scoring the most goals 19 in only 16 games. The record previously belonged to Lalonde who way back in 1919 scored 17 post season goals.
Following the playoffs, Leach became the first Flyer and only one of five players to ever win the Conn Smythe Trophy on a team which lost in the finals. The other five were Roger Crozier (1966 Detroit Red Wings), Glenn Hall (1968 St. Louis Blues), Ron Hextall (1987 Philadelphia Flyers) and most recently Mighty Ducks of Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2003.
In September, Leach scored a goal and had two points as he helped Team Canada win the 1976 Canada Cup. Without question, 1976 was a magical hockey season for “The Riverton Rifle” who made a real name for himself in the NHL in what was an eventual Hall of Fame 13 year career which was spent with the Boston Bruins, California Golden Seals, Philadelphia Flyers and Detroit Red Wings.