Simmonds proud to represent black hockey players

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Simmonds proud to represent black hockey players

Wayne Simmonds had all the ingredients.

He had love. He had support make that a lot of support and he had dedication.

It was those ingredients that helped the 23 year old become what he is today: One of the few black players in the National Hockey League.

Ever since Simmonds was a three year old in Scarborough, Ontario, learning the basics of skating, his eyes were set on hockey. He played basketball, and even dabbled in volleyball. But hockey was always his true passion.

He fell in love with the game watching his older brother, Troy, skate when he was younger.

I remember going to watch him play, Simmonds said. Even when I was like, four or five years old, I still remember some moments. I kind of just wanted to play the same, not follow in his footsteps, but just play.

When he finally pursued the sport on his own, Simmonds said he never encountered anyone who didnt believe he could succeed because of his race.

No one really ever told me that, Simmonds said. I had my family with me every step of the way. They were always telling me that I could do it, that anything I put my mind to, its possible. So, I think that helped me out a lot.

In fact, Simmonds said that race-based negativity in hockey really doesnt happen in Canada. Thats pretty much the way it is.

If you can play the game, Simmonds said, you can play no matter your skin color.

Simmonds was drafted 61st overall by the L.A. Kings in the 2007 draft. He made the team in the 2008-09 season, playing in all 82 games and recording 23 points.

His first season was a thrill, but it was during his second season with the Kings that he had the biggest thrill of his young career.

At a Black History Month event, Simmonds was set to appear in a ceremonial faceoff with his idol, Calgary Flames star Jarome Iginla.

There was Simmonds, a young black player, locking hockey sticks with perhaps the most well-known black player in the league a former MVP. It was the first time he met Iginla, and Simmonds was not about to depart without getting some words of wisdom.

Just keep going. Youre doing well, Simmonds recalled Iginla telling him. He just encouraged me. Hes been a player Ive followed my whole career. I think he could possibly be one of the reasons Im playing in the NHL. I saw that he could do it, and I figured, Why not? Why cant I?

Sometimes the only black player on the ice, Simmonds credited his mother Wanda with giving him the strength to persevere.

I remember my mom saying to me, Youre always going to have to work harder than the next person, Simmonds said. And I kind of took that to heart. I followed that advice ever since I got on the ice, and I work as hard as I possibly can day in and day out.

It doesnt really matter whos beside me. I just try to outwork them.

To this day, that outwork-everyone-else attitude has been the primary component to Simmonds game. Its also what he considered the biggest challenge to being a black hockey player. In his eyes, either he works hard every time, or he gets the ax.

The moment you stop working hard, someone else is probably going to come take your spot, and youre going to get knocked back down so you have to work as hard as you can all the time. One hundred percent of the time, every single time youre out there.

And that could be one of the reasons why the Flyers had their eyes on Simmonds when they completed their summer housecleaning that sent Mike Richards to the Kings and Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I think I bring a certain level of physicality, Simmonds said. I like to finish my checks, go to the net, and Im not afraid to drop the gloves for my teammates, either.

In the Flyers locker room, the most common word used when talking about Simmonds was grit. Ian Laperriere used it. So did newly appointed team captain Chris Pronger, who was said to be a fan of Simmonds dating back to his own west coast days playing with Anaheim.

He plays with a physical edge, said Pronger. Thats something that I know they were looking for when they picked him up. Its a welcomed addition.

Coach Peter Laviolette concurred. Laviolette had dinner with Simmonds recently and told him that he hadnt seen him play due to the time zone difference (When 10:30 p.m. rolls around, Im pretty much asleep, said Laviolette), but what he has seen from Simmonds, he likes.

Youre talking about a big, strong forward, capable of offense, capable of physical play, and he brings a lot of speed and power to the game, said Laviolette. Were looking to get younger and bigger and stronger and faster. He brings all those elements to the game.

In a way, Simmonds has Flyers roots. He was mentored by former Flyer Michal Handzus for three seasons in L.A. At times, the two played on the same line, which Simmonds pointed out as key to his development.

Simmonds numbers improved after his first season, as he went from 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists), to 40 in 2009-10 (16 goals, 24 assists). Last season, Simmonds did see a decline in points (30), but his effort remained the same.

Laviolette said he wont get creative when using Simmonds, electing to stay with the role of power forward.

I know he can go up and down the wing. He skates well and hes physical, Laviolette said. You dont want to put people in situations that theyre not comfortable with, and I would say his comfort level is in the role of a power forward.

As one of the few black players in the NHL, Simmonds hopes he will be able to draw more black fans to the league. He said he wants to be a role model to those looking to follow the sport, and he will likely get involved in the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which reaches out to black youth looking to learn and play hockey.

Hopefully it brings a lot more African-Americans to watch the game of hockey, he said of his arrival to the Flyers, adding that the sport has grown in the diversity department.

In cities like Harlem and Toronto, where he played junior hockey, Simmonds said he has seen an increase in blacks playing the game.

Anything I can do to help spread this game, it will be an honor.
E-mail Jabari Young at jyoung@comcastsportsnet.com

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."

Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

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Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov named CHL Defenseman of the Year

Flyers prospect and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov on Saturday afternoon was named the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year.

Provorov, who the Flyers drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2015, recorded 21 markers, 73 points and was a plus-64 in 62 games with Brandon during the regular season.

The 19-year-old beat out Windsor's Mikhail Sergachev and Shawinigan's Samuel Girard for the honor. Both Sergachev and Girard are eligible for this year's draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.

In 21 playoff games with the Wheat Kings, Provorov added three goals and 10 assists. Brandon beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Championship Series to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup. However, in the Memorial Cup, Brandon lost to the Red Deer Rebels on May 25.

What's next for Provorov?

The defenseman will come to Flyers training camp in September with his eye on making the roster. Many believe Provorov is ready to make the jump to the NHL, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has built a reputation of being patient, especially with his defensive prospects.

Provorov is one of five prospects in the Flyers' system that has created excitement, joining Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, an undrafted free-agent signing who made noise this season. Could Provorov — or any of the other prospects — join Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers' blue line in 2016-17?

After the Flyers' season ended with a playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, Hextall hinted he'll continue to be patient with his prospects (see story).

“What we're building towards remains the same,” Hextall said after the season. “I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago — our vision is the same and we're on a path.

“And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."

But all eyes will be on Provorov come training camp. Can he force Hextall's hand?

End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

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End to End: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.

The question: Which Flyer has the most to prove in 2016-17?

Dougherty
Scott Laughton will be given every opportunity to prove himself, and if there is any single player under contract on this Flyers roster with the most to prove, it's Laughton.

Laughton, the 20th overall pick in 2012, is coming off his first full season with the Flyers and he left much to be desired. He struggled to stay in the top nine and found himself a healthy scratch for seven games during the most crucial stretch of the season.

What concerns me about Laughton is Dave Hakstol struggled to find a position for him. Laughton is a natural center and the original thought process was he would play center in the NHL, which he still very well may. But Laughton ended up playing some wing this season, too. It was similar to what the Flyers were doing with Brayden Schenn in 2014-15.

Still, Laughton, who turns 22 on Monday, failed to show much at either position. He finished with seven goals and 21 points in 71 games. He found his way into the lineup for three games in the playoffs because of Sean Couturier's shoulder injury and showed little before suffering a scary injury that left him motionless on the ice for a few minutes.

We've said it before — Laughton will have every chance to earn his spot on the opening night roster in training camp. The Flyers won't give up on him after one disappointing season, but Laughton has to come to camp in shape and with an edge we haven't seen yet.

Looking into our crystal ball, the orange and black could have one or two more forwards from outside the organization in camp come September and Travis Konecny will be hungry to crack the lineup. Laughton is going to have competition for his spot on the roster.

And he has to prove to Hakstol, general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers he deserves it.

Hall
There will be no shortage of pressure for Jakub Voracek next season.
 
Not much went his way this past season, the first after signing an eight-year, $66 million extension following his career year in 2014-15.
 
He started slow. He changed positions. He got hurt and then played through it.
 
It all culminated in a taxing and disappointing season.
 
So, if anyone, Voracek has the most to prove in 2016-17. He’ll want to show that his career season was no fluke, that he can produce near that clip and is worth the hefty deal doled out by the Flyers.
 
Voracek’s health/production will be one of the hottest storylines to start the season.

Paone
No player on the Flyers’ roster has more to prove next season than Voracek.
 
Remember how great he was in 2014-15 when he finished fourth in the NHL with 81 points after leading the league for much of the year in that category, was named an All-Star for the first time in his career and earned a massive eight-year, $66 million extension shortly thereafter?
 
Those contract numbers are important because what Voracek has to prove this season lies in those numbers. His play last season wasn’t necessarily befitting of someone with that type of contract.
 
Voracek put up solid numbers last season with 11 goals and 44 assists in 73 games, but he just didn’t have the same effectiveness that he did in the prior season. If you recall, it took him 17 games to net his first goal of the season, an overtime winner in Carolina on Nov. 14. His ineffectiveness caused Dave Hakstol to move Voracek up and down the lineup and even send him over to the opposite wing, a position Voracek had rarely ever played before.
 
It just so happens that contract extension kicks in this season.
 
The soon-to-be 27-year-old forward holds himself to incredibly high standards. He’ll be out to prove to himself this season was an anomaly and make sure people know he’s a star worthy of those contract numbers.