Condolences go out to the family and friends of Flyers alumnus Don Blackburn, who passed away on Feb. 17 at the age of 84. A member of the inaugural 1967-68 Flyers team. Blackburn had both playing and head coaching careers in the National Hockey League and the World Hockey Association.
In a professional career that started in 1959-1960 and ended 1975-76, the well-traveled forward played for 17 different teams at various levels.
“Don was a good man and a good teammate,” recalls Flyers Hall of Fame defenseman Joe Watson. ‘We had a lot of fun the first season with the Flyers. He had a great sense of humor. He didn’t take himself too seriously but he was a competitor on the ice.”
Blackburn played 185 regular season games in the National Hockey League (23 goals, 44 assists, 67 points, 87 penalty minutes), 146 regular season games in the rival World Hockey Association (40 goals, 74 assists, 114 points, 34 penalty minutes) and 12 postseason games apiece in the NHL and WHA. In the NHL, Blackburn played for the Boston Bruins, Flyers, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Minnesota North Stars. In the WHA, he spent parts of three seasons with the New England (later Hartford) Whalers.
The Flyers selected Blackburn away from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization with the 45th overall pick of the 1967 NHL Expansion Draft.
“Blackburn was the kind of player that Bud [Poile], Keith [Allen] and I were looking for when we were scouting for the Expansion Draft. He was a responsible and smart player. Scored a lot in the AHL but he understood his role and he worked hard,” the late Marcel Pelletier recalled in a 1995 interview with Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jay Greenberg.
During the Flyers’ inaugural 1967-68 season, Blackburn dressed in 67 games, posting nine goals, 20 assists, 29 points and 23 penalty minutes. Two of his goals were game-winners and two others enabled the Flyers to salvage ties.
Blackburn saved his best games for the 1968 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals, as he scored three goals in Philly’s seven-game loss. His most famous goal as a Flyer was the double-overtime game-winner in Game Six in St. Louis.
In 1968-69, Blackburn posted seven goals and 16 points in 47 regular season games, including the game winner in a key late season game on March 27 against the LA Kings. He did not record a point as the Flyers got swept by St. Louis in the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals.
As with many NHL role players, Blackburn was a much more prominent offensive producer in minor league stops than in the world’s top league. In 1971-71, as a member of the American Hockey League’s Providence Reds, he won the league scoring championship with 99 points (34 goals, 65 assists) in 77 games.
After his playing days ended, Blackburn began a coaching career. Most notably, he was the first head coach of the Hartford Whalers after the former WHA team was absorbed into the NHL following the merger of the two leagues in 1979.
Through the years, Blackburn stayed in touch with former Flyers teammates. He attended both the 25th and the 50th reunions of the inaugural season team and was among the special guests who gathered at center ice before the 50th Anniversary Alumni Game at the Wells Fargo Center on January 14, 2017.