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Following ‘The Fog’ : Ray Shero Knows How Tough the NHL Is; He Learned It at His Father’s Side

Times Staff Writer

Ray Shero has some big skates to fill.

Shero, 23, is the youngest son of Fred (the Fog) Shero, who spent 15 years in the National Hockey League as a defenseman and later coached the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers.

He’s a longshot trying to earn a contract with the Los Angeles Kings. A 5-8, 185-pound center, he was drafted by the Kings in the 11th round in 1982 but chose to remain at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. He graduated last June.

“Tiger Williams calls me Freddie,” Ray Shero said.

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Fred Shero coached the Philadelphia Flyers to consecutive Stanley Cup championships in 1974-75. His teams were known as the Broad Street Bullies because they intimidated other teams.

But Shero is credited with being an innovative coach who brought many changes to hockey.

“They called Fred ‘the Fog’ because he was a deep thinker,” Pat Quinn, coach of the Kings, said. “He was so consumed with hockey that he seemed to be in a fog.”

Quinn worked as an assistant coach under Shero in Philadelphia for a year. “He was responsible for a lot of changes in the game,” Quinn said. “He was the first coach to have a system for each area of the ice. He was really a leader in the profession. He was known for his eccentricity as much as his brilliance.

“I feel the year that I spent with him was more valuable in developing my coaching philosophy than anything else.”

Shero left the Flyers in 1978 to become head coach and general manager of the New York Rangers, where he lasted three seasons. He now works as a color commentator on telecasts of the New Jersey Devils’ games, and his nickname has changed. Because of his gravel-voiced delivery, he now is known as “the Frog.”

“Ray doesn’t remind me that much of his dad,” said King defenseman Rick Lapointe, who played for Shero’s father in Philadelphia. “His dad always looked like he was in a fog all the time.”

Because of his father’s job, however, Ray Shero got to do things that most kids only dream about.

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While other kids who idolized hockey players hung around the rink, begging for autographs and broken sticks, Ray got to skate with the Flyers and go on trips with the Rangers.

He considered it normal for a teen-age kid to tag along with NHL stars. In fact, he said, he took it for granted. He was 4 years old when he started skating, and 6 when he began playing hockey.

His father was a hockey nomad who said that he moved his family 20 times in his quest for the perfect hockey coaching job.

“I went to practices with my father, but he never dragged me,” Ray said. “I was 12-13 when the Flyers won the (Stanley) cups. I remember taking the day off from school and riding in the parade after we won the cup the first time. There were 2 million people downtown (along the parade route). We were riding in convertibles, and half of the players couldn’t make it through the crowd.

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“Bobby Clarke was my favorite player on the Flyers. I liked the way he played all out. He gave our family a beautiful Samoyed dog for Christmas one year.”

But being the coach’s son also presented problems for Shero. “In Philly,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure on me because they’d say, ‘You’re Shero’s kid. You’re supposed to be really good.’ ”

Ray Shero’s real name is Rejean. His father said he named him after former Montreal Canadien star Rejean Houle.

Fred Shero still remembers the first time he skated with Ray.

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“The first time I put him on the ice was when I was coaching in Omaha in 1964, when he was just 2,” the elder Shero said from his home in Hartsdale, N.Y. “I bought him a brand new pair of skates and we went out to the rink. I skated the length of the ice and he wouldn’t skate with me. He stood there crying.

“I turned my back on him. He skated to the other end and he hit me with a stick because I wouldn’t help him. That was the first time he realized he could skate.

“He was a better baseball player than a hockey player. He played shortstop on the same Little League team as Orel Hershiser when we lived in Cherry Hills (N.J.). They also played on the hockey team together. But I think Orel made the right choice when he went into baseball.”

(Hershiser, reached in Houston, where the Dodgers were playing the Astros, said he doesn’t remember Ray Shero.)

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But Fred Shero said he didn’t push his son into hockey.

In fact, he said that he hasn’t seen Ray play more than six times in the last three years. “And I don’t particularly like watching him play,” he added.

“I didn’t think a parent should coach his son in any sport. It’s most embarrassing to some kids to have their parents around all the time. He has a right to live his own life. You can’t live through him.

“I was a boxer before I became a hockey player and I still remember the night when I fought for the Canadian title and my father came to watch me.”

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Fred Shero said his son is a better player than he was.

“He has so much confidence in himself,” Fred said. “I was so shy when I was a kid that I was afraid to speak. But Rejean has my wife’s personality. He’s much more outgoing than I am.

“He reminds me of Bobby Clarke, and I think Bobby Clarke was the best hockey player in his day. I think Rejean got it from following Bobby around. He forechecks like Bobby Clarke, and he’s very intelligent on the faceoff.

“A lot of the kids Rejean played with are in the big leagues now, and he’s better than they are. He can play in the National League (NHL). I know he’s got the ability. I just hope he doesn’t give up easily.

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“He has more experience than any Canadian hockey player coming up today. (Ray was born in St. Paul, Minn.) Everywhere he’s been, he’s played with my teams and trained with them. The first time I met a pro hockey player was when I turned pro. But he’s been around them all his life.”

Even so, Ray Shero may have a hard time making the Kings because the team has a surplus of quality centers.

Shero, called a good defensive center by coaches, is battling for a spot on a team laden with such high-scoring centers as Marcel Dionne and Bernie Nicholls. Shero said he’d probably settle for going to the Kings’ minor league team in New Haven, Conn.

Shero survived the first cut at training camp because he impressed the coaches with his hard work.

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“He’s a very good player defensively,” Quinn said. “He might be a chip off the old block.”

Said Dionne of Shero: “He’s pretty good. So far he’s been playing all right.”

But Ray Shero is used to being a longshot. He was the fifth-line center when he switched schools in the middle of high school after his family moved to New York. The next year he was starting for the team.

One of the common routes followed by serious hockey players is to drop out of high school and play junior hockey in Canada. Ray Shero chose another route. He graduated from an exclusive prep school in New Hampshire, went on to get his degree at St. Lawrence, and is working on a master’s degree in education there.

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“I really think the trend is for hockey players to go to college,” he said. “You have to plan for when you’re not going to be able to play hockey anymore. Marcel (Dionne) was saying the other day that if he had it to do over again, he’d take college over juniors.”

Shero followed his high school coach to St. Lawrence, where he was the team’s leading scorer for two of his four years.

The team had a 6-26 record before Shero enrolled but hit the .500 mark during his freshman year and reached the NCAA quarterfinals during his junior season, losing to Wisconsin, which went on to win the championship.

By then, though, Shero already had been drafted by the Kings, a development that surprised him.

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“I was pretty surprised when they drafted me because I tore up my knee pretty bad and I didn’t think I’d be able to play. I sat out a year (after his sophomore season) and was able to come back.”

But what will happen if Shero doesn’t cut it in hockey? Will he go into coaching?

“A lot of people have asked me that,” he said. “But I don’t think I’d want to get into coaching. I want something that lasts longer.

“I have a friend who is working on Wall Street and he said that he would have a job for me.”

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King Note The Kings, who have lost their first three exhibition games, will play the Calgary Flames tonight at 6:30 (KLAC) at the Olympic Saddledome.


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