Van Impe, the second captain of the Broad Street Bullies, helped set the Flyer's bruising standards through his unrelenting play. He was known for his heavy open ice hits and his liberal stick work, but he never considered himself to be a goon.
"I don't want a tough guy reputation. I'd rather be known as a tough, hard working defenseman. I'd like to cut down the penalties. Some of them hurt the team," he said. In fact, that quote came in the early 1970s, prior to the arrival of the likes of Dave "The Hammer" Schultz.
While he never put up many points, Van Impe was respected for his defensive play. He was a left handed shot who was comfortable playing on the right side. He was steady defensively, sacrificing his body regularly to take out his man or block a shot. He was not in anyways flashy.
Yet Van Impe's reputation as a goon was, unfairly, cemented after his infamous hit on Soviet superstar Valeri Kharlamov. The Russian wizard was knocked out after smacking his face against Van Impe's big elbow, as the Flyers' dman would explain it.
Born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada on May 27, 1940, Van Impe grew up idolizing Montreal Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey. After three years in junior hockey, the Chicago Blackhawks invited Van Impe to training camp in 1960. He would spend a season playing minor pro in Calgary before relocating to Buffalo of the AHL for the next five seasons.
Van Impe finally cracked the Blackhawks lineup in 1966-67, the final season of Original Six hockey. He did very well, finishing as the runner up to some kid named Bobby Orr for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year.
Despite his strong season, Van Impe found himself unprotected by the Hawks for the expansion draft. The Flyers quickly snapped up the tough defenseman and a year later named him team captain.
"It’s been said before but I’ll say it again, it’s a big thrill just to play in the NHL but being named captain of an NHL team is quite and honor. I’m not a holler guy. The best way I can lead this team is to go out on the ice and help win some games."
During the 1971-72 season he handed the captaincy to a young Bobby Clarke. He recognized that it was the young guys who were leading the way.
"Our team was kind of young. We didn't believe that anybody could beat us. The young guys made the older guys like me believe."
Believe they did, all the way to back to back Stanley Cup championships in 1974 and 1975.Van Impe was very much a big part of those two NHL titles.
Coach Fred Shero praised Van Impe and his decision to relinquish the C.
"His defense was never better after he gave up the captain’s role. He was right up there with the most valuable players on the team."
Hernia surgery in 1975 hurt Van Impe's already average mobility so the Flyers traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins in March 1976. Later a shoulder injury suffered during training camp in 1976 forced him to retire.
Van Impe and his wife would later move to Nanoose Bay on beautiful Vancouver Island.