What boycott? Flyers fans flock to camp

981533.jpg

What boycott? Flyers fans flock to camp

VOORHEES, N.J. It was madness. People stood shoulder to shoulder, their hockey sweaters bleeding into each other to form a seamless orange and black tableau that ringed the rink. That was more than an hour before the Flyers took the ice.

On an otherwise sleepy, foggy, Sunday morning, countless fans filled the Skate Zone to watch the Flyers open training camp. One of the employees at the front desk said the parking lots in the front, side and back of the building were full by 9:30 a.m. Several longtime beat reporters swore it was the biggest turnout theyd ever seen.

It wasnt hyperbole. There were so many people wedged around the rink that they spilled out into the lobby area and had to stand on their toes to get a glimpse of their team from a distance. At one point, they stopped letting people inside because it was too crowded. It was essentially the sports equivalent of a popular nightclub. The only things missing were a bouncer and a red velvet rope at the entrance.

It was the kind of scene that would have made an agoraphobic melt down and tear up, and the fire marshal couldnt have been happy. The Flyers were thrilled, though.

Its pretty overwhelming, Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko said. I think its overwhelming, not just for all of us up here watching, but for the players and the coaches. Its just been fantastic. The fans, they want to see you playing. They dont want to see us in the business page and worry about labor disputes. Really, what it says today is, were moving forward. Its time to get playing."

So much for a potential boycott.

While the lockout droned on for 113 days, fan frustration built. It was expected. The NHL lost an entire season back in 2004-05 because of a protracted and messy labor negotiation. Some people the passionate ones who sleep in bright orange footie pajamas with fuzzy Flyers logos all over were rightly upset that the league would make them suffer through something like that again, even if it was only a dim approximation by comparison.

The predictable backlash featured angry customers that swore they wouldnt return. And maybe they wont. Maybe theyll stay away. But it will be impossible to tell. Whatever physical space the disenfranchised fans would have occupied on Sunday was filled in by countless hardcore hockey heads that couldnt have appeared happier. When the Flyers took the ice, they screamed. The ones who were close enough to the glass pounded on it with excitement. As Scott Hartnell said, the crowd basically went bananas.

I think today proved that its all about the Flyers, Luukko said. Theyre Phillys team.

The turnout made for some serious symbolism. The NHL has various concerns for various reasons, but Philly isnt one of them. There are cities where hockey doesnt matter nearly as much. Phoenix. Columbus. Dallas. Its unlikely that the turnout in those and other outposts was even remotely as robust as the one the Flyers enjoyed on Sunday.

In a statement before camp opened, Chairman Ed Snider thanked the fans for staying with us and for waiting a long time, while Luukko lauded our loyal and dedicated fans who continue to show their undying support as well as their incredible amount of patience during this process." The support isnt all that surprising. Thats how Flyers supporters have always operated. No matter how many PR blunders the NHL makes, area fans always back their team. The patience part is another matter, though.

Less than a week from now, the Flyers will open their condensed 48-game season at the Wells Fargo Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The next day they have a game against the Sabres in Buffalo. After that its more games and more cities in what will no doubt be a blur of a season. But how will it go?

Weve had some talks about what were doing, Hartnell said when asked about the teams system. Its pretty much the same as last year. We play an up-tempo, quick game.

The Flyers are currently listed at 121 to win the Stanley Cup according to Bovada.com. That ties them with the defending champion Los Angeles Kings for the fourth best odds to host a parade. Only the Penguins (81), Rangers (172) and Canucks (91) are installed ahead of the Flyers.

After thumping the Penguins in the playoffs last year, the Flyers looked like they had a pretty good shot to win it all. The entire city seemed pretty excited after that series. Then the Flyers played the New Jersey Devils in the second round. Then people werent so excited anymore.

Thats the thing. The fans will show up. They always do. Their mood swings are less predictable.

E-mail John Gonzalez at jgonzalez@comcastsportsnet.com

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

052716-wch-rosterbestvideo3_1280x720_694622787541.jpg

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.

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

052716-wch-rosterbestvideo3_1280x720_694622787541.jpg

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere excited to represent Canada, North America in World Cup

Flyers captain Claude Giroux has a word of advice for rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere when the two meet each other as opponents in this fall's World Cup of Hockey.

"The last few weeks, I told him to keep his head up," Giroux said Friday night on a conference call after both players were added to World Cup rosters.

"I'm pretty excited to go on the forecheck against him. It's pretty impressive what this kid has been able to do this year. To see it right beside him, he's got so much potential.
 
"To be on this team will only help him be better."
 
Giroux was named to Team Canada's roster, while Gostisbehere, the NHL's top rookie defenseman, was penciled in on Team North America (see story).

You may recall Giroux was overlooked by Team Canada for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
 
"That was a little disappointing," Giroux said. "Any time you have a chance to represent your country and go play for them, you hope to get the call. I was a little disappointed for that. To be able to be on this team, I'm excited and I"m ready for the challenge."

Team North America is a unique blend of age 23-and-under players who will compete in the eight-team tournament starting in mid-September.

Whether the veteran athletes competing for other countries take this young stars contingent seriously on the international stage is subject to debate.

"I hope some teams would take us seriously," Gostisbehere said, "because I think we're pretty darn good. It's a different dynamic.
  
“You don’t have the veteran presence per say, but some of the guys on the team have been playing in the NHL for three years already. It’s definitely going to be a fun experience.”
 
Pierre-Edouard Bellemare was also named to the tournament, playing for Team Europe.
 
“I am really surprised and excited,” Bellemare said in a statement. “I am happy that the way I played with the Flyers has helped me get a chance to play in the World Cup for Team Europe. I think this is going to be a celebration of hockey and it is surreal that I get to be in the middle of it.”
 
Both Giroux and Gostisbehere have been rehabbing at Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, New Jersey, since their hip and abdominal surgeries on May 17.

Bellemare will go into the tournament fully healthy, while Giroux and Gostisbehere will not. Giroux had reservations about undergoing surgery if it meant his exclusion from the tournament, sources said.
 
“The surgery was a little question mark,” Giroux said. “Maybe not so much for me, but for them. I don’t know what they were thinking. The rehab has gone very well right now. There’s no issue as to why I wouldn’t be ready for that tournament.”
 
Gostisbehere is no stranger to serious rehab from surgery. He missed nearly all of the 2014-15 season as a Phantom with a torn ACL in his left knee.
 
“It’s the same sort of rehab I did with my knee,” Gostisbehere said of his current rehab.  “We’re going to keep going down the line knowing something is at the end of the line for us. We gotta really focus.”
 
The 23-year-old Gostisbehere, who is a finalist for the Calder Trophy, which will be announced in late June, said he was humbled by the selection.
 
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “The whole format of the tournament is pretty cool to see. … It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
 
The Flyers have eight players competing. Chicago has an NHL-high of 12.

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

panaccio_720x405_693409347859.jpg

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

Turns out the hip and abdominal surgeries for both Flyers captain Claude Giroux and rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere weren’t a deterrent from making their countries’ respective World Cup of Hockey rosters.
 
Also going will be center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was added to Team Europe’s roster.
 
All three Flyers were “add-ons” to Team Canada, Team North America and Team Europe as the final rosters were announced on Friday night.
 
The World Cup of Hockey tournament begins in September 17 and ends on Oct. 1.

Giroux, 28, has twice represented Canada at the World Championships and once in World Junior competition.
 
Gostisbehere, 23,  represented the U.S. internationally once the World Juniors. Team North America is all players 23-and-under or “Young Stars” as some refer to them.
 
Despite his poorest offensive output in three years, Giroux still led the Flyers with 67 points this season, playing in his 500th career game and scoring his 500th point. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP.
 
Gostisbehere took the NHL by storm as a November fill-in for the injured Mark Streit and ended up becoming a Calder Trophy finalist. That award will be announced in late June. 
 
He quickly ended up as the team’s first unit power play quarterback, and led all rookie defensemen in points (46), while establishing several club rookie records, including goals by a Flyers defenseman (17).
 
Gostisbehere was voted the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s best defenseman and the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given by the Flyers’ fan club to the players possessing the most “heart.”
 
Bellemare, 32, had 14 points this season as a valuable fourth line checking center and penalty killer. He also celebrated his 100th game as a Flyer. He figures to be a role player for Team Europe.
 
Ghost and Giroux both had off-season surgery on May 17. Their recovery is approximately 10-12 weeks. Both are expected at Flyers’ training camp in September.
 
Incidentally, the Flyers had just 167 man-games lost due to injury this past season. That’s the fewest number of injuries since 1998-99 when they had 120.
 
In all, the Flyers will send eight players – Bellemare, Giroux, Gostisbehere, center Sean Couturier (North America), defenseman Mark Streit (Team Europe), and three players from the Czech Republic – defenseman Radko Gudas, goalie Michal Neuvirth and forward Jakub Voracek.
 
Eight teams will compete in the tournament with every game being played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
 
Philadelphia was one of the host cities for the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 when the Wells Fargo Center first opened as the CoreStates Center.