Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

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Gagne on return: 'It feels almost like I never left'

Simon Gagne said it almost felt like coming home.

“It feels almost like I never left,” the newest Flyer said after his first game back in Philadelphia. “Just walking in the building before the game, knowing everyone and everybody’s still here. … It definitely helped me tonight to get through the tough travel yesterday, definitely helped me to get through the game and feeling good.”

The Flyers re-acquired Gagne in a surprise move Tuesday (see story), flying him through the night on a red-eye from Los Angeles in time to play in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals.

But Gagne didn’t just fight through fatigue to put in his 16 minutes. His scoring chances started on his very first shift with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot, and he went on to score the Flyers’ third goal of the night, a tap-in beauty on the power play.

He couldn’t have written the script better if he’d tried.

“Not really, I guess,” he said, smiling. “Especially after what happened yesterday, flying late last night from L.A. I tried to sleep a little bit, but at the same time, now I’m excited to be back. It was hard to fall asleep. I tried to get a nice night of sleep, but at the end, coming here and getting a big win, and scoring that tap-in goal, it’s a good scenario for sure.”

Gagne, of course, has a big leg up over most other players who are traded midseason. He is familiar with the area, he knows nine Flyers from his previous stint with the team and he’s already played for coach Peter Laviolette. He even technically still owns a home in Voorhees, N.J., -- he only just found someone to buy it last month.

Fans, too, were ecstatic about his return. Gagne was a crowd favorite during his 10 seasons in Philadelphia, and he was greeted with cheers when he skated on the ice for warm-ups. When a video welcome was played on the Jumbotron in the first period, he received a loud standing ovation.

“I think there’s always a little bit of an adjustment when a player comes to the team,” Laviolette said. “But I think it’s easier when they’ve been there and they’ve played for the coach and know a lot of the players and a lot of the system. I think that does make it a little bit easier.”

Gagne’s new teammates were simply hoping for an emotional boost in his return Wednesday. They got so much more. His goal at 3:54 of the second period was his first since Nov. 17, 2011, and first for the Flyers since March 28, 2010. In his 11 games with the Kings this season, he had five assists but had yet to score.

“Sometimes you just need one to get things rolling,” Gagne said. “And it was good to get that first one in my first game back in Philly.”

The 32-year-old left wing was a casualty of depth with Los Angeles, a healthy scratch for the Kings’ last four games. His injury and concussion struggles over the last couple years were no secret, but Gagne said he’s felt healthy this season and was excited to hit the ice with memories of last season’s struggles (he missed the Kings’ last 47 regular-season games) behind him. He would use only his Stanley Cup victory experience to build on.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to figure out where he fit in on this season’s L.A. roster.

With the Flyers, though, his experience makes his role here obvious.

“Right away, I got a call from Homer (general manager Paul Holmgren) yesterday, and talking to Lavy (Laviolette) on the phone yesterday, they told me what my role’s going to be,” Gagne said. “… As a player, you need that. It was maybe the tough thing in L.A., I wasn’t sure what my role was and didn’t really understand why I was not playing.”

Gagne, who will turn 33 on Friday, has always kept the thought in the back of his mind that he could return to the Flyers one day. He had hoped it might happen, but couldn’t imagine it would have happened less than three years after he left.

He might not be the player he was during his first stint with the Flyers, but he is a wiser player. And that knowledge should only help him -- and his new team -- during this strange, lockout-shortened season.

“[The Kings] thought it was going to be the best place for me to come back and make things a lot easier to try to get my game back,” Gagne said. “I know exactly what I have to do, I’ve got the experience. I know what it takes to play in Philly.”

And Wednesday night, he said, he’ll definitely sleep well.

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.

It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.

Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.

That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.

Quite the promotion, huh?

“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”

Could anyone?

“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.

Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.

“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’” 

Semborski was confounded.

“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.

“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”

Ten minutes later …

“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.

Who was it?

“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”

How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?

“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”

So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.

“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”

Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.

“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”

Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.

“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.

“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”

What about his big-money contract?

“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.

“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”

Especially taking the net in warmups.

“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.

“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”

As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.

“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.

“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.

“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”

What did Quenneville think?

"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."

So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.

He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …

“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.

“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘Alright, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”

Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”

Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.

“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.

His first will probably be to a special loved one.

“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny fuel Flyers past Blackhawks for season-high 4th straight win

Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny fuel Flyers past Blackhawks for season-high 4th straight win

BOX SCORE

It’s hard to get overly excited by a goal from a player who had scored just once in his previous 17 games.
 
Maybe there’s something to having Travis Konecny out there on the ice force-feeding Brayden Schenn with pucks.
 
Schenn got bounced off another top line recently by coach Dave Hakstol — just as he was bounced around the lineup under Peter Laviolette and Craig Berube. 
 
You never know where "Schenner" is going to land. 
 
Yet Konecny has taken to heart how he might get Schenn going and unleash all those goals in his stick. 
 
Saturday’s splendid pass to his new centerman that made mincemeat out of Blackhawks defensemen Trevor Van Riemsdyk and Michal Kempny was the decisive blow in the Flyers' 3-1 victory over Chicago (see Instant Replay).
 
That’s now four wins in succession for Hakstol’s club.
 
“I watched a lot of video before the game,” Konecny said. “I know that their defense dives in at you, then backs off and give you some space. When I stopped there, the defenseman did exactly what I thought. It opened up a lane to Schenner.”
 
Schenn took his pass in full stride and flipped it over Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling for what was the Flyers’ third goal on just their fourth shot of the second period.
 
“TK sees the ice pretty well, no doubt about that,” Schenn said. “Small guy who can make plays in tight spaces and you could see on that goal. Give him just a little bit of room and he’ll take advantage of it. Nice pass. A great playmaker.”
 
Hakstol has noticed.
 
“That was a good speed play by both of them,” Hakstol said. “Getting up ice and a good play by TK to get him the puck and then a great finish. 
 
“Brayden didn’t have a whole lot of time or space to get that puck away. But he got it away and put it in the one spot where their goaltender couldn’t get a piece of it.”
 
The only thing Darling expected to get a piece of in this game was the bench. He became an unexpected starter in the morning, as Corey Crawford underwent emergency appendectomy surgery during the game.
 
The second period began with the Flyers trailing, 1-0, but quickly turned around with two goals in 31 seconds from another rookie — defenseman Ivan Provorov (see 10 observations)
 
“Score one goal in a game, that’s a pretty good feeling and then score two in one shift, that’s pretty unbelievable,” the 19-year-old said.
 
Recall Provorov had a very forgettable minus-5 game in October against the 'Hawks at United Center. He fared a tad better in this one.
 
“Keep everything in perspective,” Hakstol said. “From a night like that, he’s a guy who has continued to work at his game. He’s built it. He didn’t do a whole lot different tonight from his last 10 games. It was nice to see a couple pucks go in for him.”
 
Provorov also gave goalie Steve Mason an unwitting assist. Later that period, the 'Hawks thought they had scored on a net scrum.
 
The problem was, Provorov’s glove hand was hiding the puck in the net. Therefore on replay, it was inconclusive since the puck wasn’t visible.
 
“I just have to trust they obviously look at it real closely,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “We wanted the goal, but you just have to trust that they are doing everything. They obviously look at is as much as they can, so they know more than I do.”
 
The Flyers did a lot of things right in the opening period and still trailed, 1-0, outshooting the Hawks, 16-6, while outplaying them.  
 
Artemi Panarin scored the lone goal for Chicago at 3:44 during a bizarre sequence in which the Flyers lost a faceoff, cleared the zone, but Duncan Keith sent it back in to Patrick Kane. 
 
Kane threw it down the right boards for Artem Anisimov, who managed to suck all five Flyers to the right side, forcing a collision between Konecny and Michael Del Zotto as Anisimov threw a pass to the opposite circle for Panarin’s one-timer.
 
That was really the last time Mason had to worry about mix-ups or heavy traffic the rest of the game. The Flyers shut things down nicely in the final 10 minutes of the period, too.
 
“When you let an early goal in, the worst thing you can do is get away from your game plan,” Mason said. 
 
“We stuck to ours, which is why we got the result there. Big second period with three goals. Overall, our effort was pretty high.”