Chris McMahon has become MLB attraction at West Chester Rustin High School

Chris McMahon has become MLB attraction at West Chester Rustin High School

Across the front of West Chester Rustin's uniform reads the word Knights, a close resemblance to the fictional team from the movie "The Natural."

And senior pitcher Chris McMahon could very well be Rustin's version of Roy Hobbs, Robert Redford's character in the legendary movie based on a ballplayer's remarkable natural talents.

"He's unique," Rustin High School head coach Bradley Harkins said this week. "He's just a tremendous athlete, and to see him excel in soccer, basketball and baseball — his parents have been phenomenal to allow him to play other sports. He could have chosen lacrosse and he'd be one of the best players on the team. I think that has helped him rise the way he has."

McMahon is unquestionably the best baseball player to come out of Rustin High School, which hasn't had a player drafted by a big-league team since the school opened its doors in 2006. But it wasn't until last season when baseball became McMahon's full-time extracurricular activity.

"Just playing three sports really helped with athleticism," McMahon said. "Using all types of muscles in your body. Specializing in one sport — some people have their reasons why they think it's good — I think playing all three, you're not missing out on anything. I tell people to play whatever you can until you can't."

In fact, McMahon wasn't even on a major-league scout's radar until his junior year at Rustin when he hit a four-inch growth spurt, climbing from 5-foot-10 to a lanky 6-2. The velocity on his fastball increased from mid-70s as a freshman to low-90s entering his senior season, and his control is equally as impressive, having surrendered only four walks in more than 53 innings.

"I wouldn't say we could see it get to this point," Harkins said. "We knew he was a good player. We knew he had a ton of potential. His sophomore year, he really turned it up. You could see his competitive nature on the mound. He continued to grow and get stronger. Really, every year he has grown by leaps and bounds. It's been pretty amazing."

And now those scouts' radar guns have been pointed squarely this season at McMahon, who is considered the top-ranked prospect in Pennsylvania and projected to be taken during the second round of next month's MLB draft. As many as 25 to 30 scouts have routinely showed up at Rustin, where they've had to install a pair of metal benches this season for scouts to stand on.

"It started pretty full throttle," Harkins said. "At the beginning of the season, we have typical southeast Pennsylvania weather. We were indoors at the All-Star Baseball Academy, and he was throwing a live bullpen to hitters. I walk into the door of a dozen guys waiting for us to get practice started.

"That was pretty eye-opening to see a dozen middle-aged men walking around our practice. Once the games started, they have been there in full force."

Last Wednesday, McMahon and the Knights saw their season come to an end, losing to Upper Merion in the quarterfinals of the District 1 Class 5A playoffs — and McMahon isn't exactly sure where he'll be playing next season. He's committed to the University of Miami next fall, but depending on the results of draft night, McMahon could forgo a collegiate career and jump right to the professional level.

"It's exciting. Only a handful of kids get to go through this," McMahon said. "Me and my family will sit down and talk about draft day and see what's best for me. ... It's fun, it's exciting. It can be overwhelming at times, but it's fun."

Ron Hextall on Flyers moving up in lottery: 'It changes things a lot'

Ron Hextall on Flyers moving up in lottery: 'It changes things a lot'

VOORHEES, N.J. — "It changes things a lot."

Speaking at Flyers Skate Zone for the first time since coming up big at the NHL's draft lottery, that's how general manager Ron Hextall described the organization's lucking into the No. 2 overall pick.

But aside from the quality of the player chosen, how much does it change the Flyers' plan for the 2017-18 season? How much will it change the way Hextall views the team's current roster, and how much should it change the expectation of a franchise that has missed the playoffs in two of the past three years?

Hextall on Monday said the decision to draft Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier will not affect the team's priorities or offseason plan, regardless of whether either player is NHL ready.

"We would like to think we know that, but until the kid comes in and shows you what he can do," Hextall said. "You make an educated judgment and then you go from there. A player has to come in and prove that he's ready and at this age not many are, so we'll wait and see which way [the player] goes from there."

The draft is just one of many items on Hextall's offseason checklist that includes new contracts for RFA Shayne Gostisbehere and UFA Jordan Weal, the expansion draft in June, free agency in July and the search for a new assistant coach to replace Joe Mullen.

When asked if any of these events are connected to his decision-making process, Hextall said, "I guess the expansion draft and free agency possibly. I don't see how any of the other stuff with your entry draft can be intertwined. We're going to take the best available player in the amateur draft. There's a little bit of uncertainty in the expansion draft. Trying to figure out who we're going to lose, what position we're going to lose. We have no control over it."

Hextall has been in contact with former Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who was fired a month ago and three years after winning their second Stanley Cup. The two worked closely together before Hextall left L.A. for Philadelphia. Could they be working together again?

"I don't know," Hextall said. "I talked to Dean a couple of times. He's not doing anything right now as far as I know. I'm actually waiting for a call back from him. It's sobering where we are now in pro sports to win championships in five or six years and lose your job. In today's day and age, that's where we're at."

Hextall was in Finland during last week's lottery, and he's scheduled to leave for France Tuesday to observe the IIHF World Championships, where the Flyers are heavily represented. Since they're not fighting for a Stanley Cup, they may as well fight each other after Radko Gudas stiff-armed captain Claude Giroux in Canada's game against the Czech Republic.

"'G is probably glad he (Gudas) only gave him a little nudge," Hextall said. "That's Radko. That's what we love about him. So you can't pick and choose right? You love Radko because of the way he plays and he plays that way all the time no matter who. I think he fought his best buddy down in Tampa, so that's just the way he is and that's what you love about him."

New to the area, Aston Rebels have quickly become college hockey pipeline

New to the area, Aston Rebels have quickly become college hockey pipeline

Joe Coombs liked the idea of swimming in his pool during the holiday season. He was coaching the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, a team located just a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border in Hidalgo, Texas. But what killed the Bees and their coach were the excruciatingly long bus rides — sometimes eight hours one way — just to play a pair of weekend hockey games.

So two years ago, Coombs and the Bees relocated to the IceWorks Complex in Aston, Pennsylvania, approximately 15 miles south of the Wells Fargo Center, where the team could be more centrally located while remaining competitive in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the only USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier II league in the U.S. 

"We're trying," Coombs said Tuesday morning after his team's practice. "This is the first time the NAHL has been out East. We're trying to get it going and we're trying to get it to where people are coming. It's just taking longer."

Now in his second season in Aston, Coombs and the Rebels' front office have assembled a very impressive team that finished this past season with the league's best record at 46-11-2, 95 points in 60 games, steamrolling its way through the postseason, winning its first five playoff games. Now, the Rebels find themselves just one win shy of advancing to the Robertson Cup Championship tournament later this month in Duluth, Minnesota.

The desire to win a championship has intensified after the Rebels were knocked out of this same tournament a year ago.

"I think it's been the only thing on our minds since we lost last season," assistant captain Drew Blackmun said. "It left a very bad taste in all our mouths. Coming back this year, we were excited about the team we had, and we knew we had another opportunity to do it again. It's been our goal since Day 1 and we've been taking it one day at a time, but we're getting closer. We've just got to take care of business."

"Who doesn't want to win?" Coombs said. "This is our Stanley Cup. This means a lot to everyone involved. They (the players) have been fantastic. The consistency, there's a lot of good teams in this league, but the consistency that you play with is important. Our responsibility is to help them become better young men."

Which is why time spent in the NAHL, celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, has been considered a stepping stone to the next level, whether that's the United States Hockey League (Tier I junior hockey) or the collegiate level.  

"It's been pretty unbelievable," said Rebels captain Dom Garcia, who grew up learning the game in Las Vegas. "Coming off my senior year in high school, I didn't really know what was out there. I wasn't getting a lot of looks. Coombsy talked to me. He talked to my family and from there we just took a leap of faith. It worked out best and I was lucky."

"Hockey is the one sport there's a gap between high school and college," Coombs said. "Hockey is so competitive and developmental where kids need to play it. There's not too many kids that go straight from high school to college."

Instead, the Rebels have become that college pipeline. Right now, their current roster has 11 Division I commitments, and they're better equipped for that next level having left home, completing their courses online, while playing hockey full-time.

"It's on yourself to be very disciplined," said Garcia, who committed to Arizona State University, where he will be a teammate and roommate of Mario Lemieux's son Austin.

"It's making your own breakfast in the morning, making your bed, making sure your room is cleaned. A lot of guys came from places where they didn't have to worry about that. Now, there's a lot more responsibility, but there's a lot more freedom, too. When the guys want to go out to eat, you can go out to eat. I think it's a good independence to have, especially this early, because when you do go to college, you're already set. You know that routine."