John Brophy spent just one year in the North American Hockey League and that came a year after his long playing career was over. Brophy was the head coach of the Long Island Cougars for the 1973-74 inaugural NAHL season.
The Cougars finished third overall in the seven team league, 20 points behind the second place Maine Nordiques and 39 behind the first place Syracuse Blazers.
The opening round of the 1973-74 playoffs featured a round robin with the top five finishing teams. Each team played the other four twice. The Cougars came out with 4-3 record, third among the five. Only one team was eliminated from the group and, ironically, it was the Maine Nordiques. Maine went a dreadful 1-7 after such a great regular season.
In the 1973-74 semi-finals, Long Island took out the Cape Cod Cubs in six games to earn a shot at the Syracuse Blazers in the Lockhart Cup finals. It was no contest. Syracuse swept the Cougars and outscored Long Island 27-5 over the four games.
John Brophy’s NAHL career ended with that series but a lengthy and successful coaching career had begun. It is suggested that his NAHL legacy lives on in theatre. Brophy is reported to be the model for the character Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, in the movie Slapshot.
John Brophy played 1,142 regular season games in the Eastern Hockey League from 1952-53 to 1972-73. The tough defenseman accumulated and astronomical 3,825 penalty minutes over that time. That number equates to nearly 64 hours or more than two and a half days.
He was EHL PIM leader in the following years:
· 1959-60. 190 PIM with the Charlotte Clippers.
· 1960-61. 290 PIM with the New Haven Blades.
· 1961-62. 281 PIM with the Long Island Ducks.
· 1964-65. 241 PIM with the Long Island Ducks.
Over his EHL career he played for the Troy Uncle Sam Trojans, Baltimore Clippers, Charlotte Rebels, Charlotte Clippers, New Haven Blades, Long Island Ducks, Philadelphia Ramblers and Jersey Devils. He was on one championship team during that time and two other teams that were finalists.
The 1956-57 Charlotte Clippers were first overall with a whopping 30 point lead over the second place Philadelphia Ramblers. In the semi-finals, the Clippers beat the New Haven Blades 4-2 in the semi-finals before facing the Ramblers in the finals. Philadelphia did all they could but fell to Charlotte in seven games.
The Clippers toned it down a bit the following season but still found success. The team finished first overall but just one point ahead of the Washington Presidents. Charlotte once again met New Haven in the semis with the Blades pushing the Clippers to the limit before succumbing. Charlotte then met the Presidents in the final series and fell to Washington in another series that went the limit.
In 1960-61, Brophy was with the New Haven Blades. The team finished first in the Northern Division and third overall. In the first round of the playoffs, New Haven beat the Greensboro Generals 5-4 in an unorthodox nine game series. The Blades earned a bye through the second round and landed directly in the finals against the Johnstown Jets. Johnstown took out the Blades 4-2.
Brophy found himself behind one hockey bench or another from 1973-74 to 2006-07 and even found himself as head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1986-87 to 1988-89.
John coached his first major league hockey in 1978-79 as head of the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association. The ‘Baby Bulls’ had an outstanding lineup of teenagers playing their first professional hockey. Rick Vaive, Michel Goulet, Craig Hartsburg, Rob Ramage, Gaston Gingras and Pat Riggin mixed with former NHL veterans like Paul Henderson and Ernie Wakely. If the WHA had survived past the 1978-79 season, this team had the makings of a powerhouse.
Birmingham finished the regular season sixth in the seven team league and did not qualify for the post season. The seventh team was the Indianapolis Racers, a team that folded after 25 games. Still, Brophy was the final recipient of the Robert Schmertz Memorial Trophy as the WHA’s coach of the year.
His true claim to fame, however, came after the WHA and after his tumultuous times in Toronto under Harold Ballard. John Brophy is an ECHL coaching legend. In the league that began play in 1988-89, no other head coach has won three Kelly Cup championships. All John’s post season success came behind the bench of the Hampton Roads Admirals.
In 1990-91, the Admirals took out the Greensboro Monarchs in five games to win the Kelly Cup. The following year, they swept the Louisville IceHawks for the repeat. In 1997-98, Brophy completed his triple as the Admirals shot down the Pensacola Ice Pilots in six games.
In 2003, the ECHL changed the name of the trophy for coach of the year to the John Brophy Memorial Award. Ironically, Brophy was never name ECHL coach of the year despite all his success. In 2009, he was inducted into the ECHL Hall of Fame.