Immovable Kerr a power-play scoring ace for hockey's Flyers

Tim Kerr puts the power in hockey's power play. The hulking Philadelphia forward set a National Hockey League record recently by scoring his 29th goal of the season with the Flyers up a man.

The New Jersey Devils incurred the fateful penalty and then ``inKerred'' the milestone goal, which came when Kerr double-parked as usual in front of the net and banged home a crisp pass.

Yet another well-prepared defense had met the immovable force and lost. At 6 ft. 3 in. and 225 rocky pounds, Kerr can be harder to budge than the Liberty Bell, and cracks less under pressure.

Most of his power-play goals come from handshaking distance. He can see the whites of the goaltenders' eyes even behind their colorful masks.

``Trying to keep him out of the crease,'' says New York Ranger defenseman Ron Greschner, ``is like trying to tackle a jaguar. Not the animal -- the car.''

Kerr is quite often outnumbered in these combative situations, but almost never outmuscled. On such occasions he resembles a wrestler in a tag-team match without a partner. He's the Andre the Giant of his sport.

``He holds his ground better than anybody in the league,'' says Phil Esposito, who played a similar style and shared the power-play goals record with Mike Bossy until Kerr caught and passed them.

``He's tremendously big and strong,'' Esposito continued, ``but he also has soft hands and a quick, accurate shot. He scores on a lot of rebounds, including his own, because he has such quick hands. He gets as many shots off as Wayne Gretzky.''

In this Age of Gretzky it is a remarkable feat to keep any scoring record away from him. For Kerr's part, he is happy to have the latest chase behind him.

``I didn't get the record for several games and it was becoming a monkey on my back,'' he says. ``Every night I'd come into the rink and people would ask me if I was going to get it in that game. The media hype was bothering me. Too many guys on both teams were looking for me twice as much.''

Kerr speaks quietly and is quick to deflect credit toward his teammates.

``They're the ones who get me the puck all the time. On the record goal, Pelle Eklund set me up perfectly from behind the net. All I had to do was slam it in.''

That's after he shrugged off a couple of defensemen whose job it was to keep him from getting the puck, of course.

``I can make it tough for a defenseman,'' concedes Kerr. ``He has to try to move me out, which he probably can't do anyway, and if he worries too much about me it will just free up somebody else on our team.

``Playing 4-on-3 is much harder for the defense than playing 5-on-4. We have shooters like Dave Poulin and Brian Propp who can put the puck in the net before you can blink.''

Propp points out that Kerr, for all his looming bulk, takes a deceivingly quick first stride that fools defensemen. ``Once he gets moving and gets the puck on his forehand side, he's almost unstoppable,'' says Brian.

Kerr, a six-year veteran from Windsor, Ontario, has scored 54 goals each of the past two seasons to establish himself as the primary offensive weapon of the rebuilt Flyers.

In Philadelphia the fans like to think that their favorites would have beaten Edmonton last spring in the Stanley Cup finals had Kerr not been injured.

``Everybody on a good hockey team has a role,'' he says. ``My role is to score. When I do, I feel great. You go through streaks. I hope I finish the season with a hot streak.''

The Flyers collectively have hit a cool streak recently. They have dropped from battling Edmonton for the overall NHL lead (and a home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs) to dueling the Washington Capitals for first place in the Patrick Division.

``Last season, when everybody thought we were an accident, we had a little slump at about the same stage,'' remembers Kerr. ``It's a long schedule. That's why [coach] Mike Keenen breaks it down into 10-game segments for team objectives and bonuses. It doesn't seem so long.''

Although their wonderful goaltender Pelle Lindbergh lost his life in an automobile accident early in the season, the Flyers are performing ahead of their 1984-85 pace. They wear Lindbergh's number 31 in black on their jersey sleeves in his memory.

``It was a terrible thing,'' says Kerr, ``but it brought us closer together as a team. The other goalies have responded to the challenge, and we all have a very special incentive.''

Kerr has seldom needed one, particularly on the power play.

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