How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

How a Kings Cup Win Changes the Flyers' Season Narrative

There used to be a little derision in references to
the Los Angeles Kings being "Flyers West." We've always said there
wasn't, that it was a term of endearment. We respected the particular
group of Philadelphia expatriates who wound up together in Hollywood.
While those sentiments were and are still true, they came with a smirk
and an attempt to conceal undeserved condescension.  

With former Philly bench bosses and front office
folks in positions of power and a small rotation of former Flyers
wearing a small rotation of Kings uniform variations, the club had
certainly earned the nickname. Failing to sustain any real momentum
toward postseason glory is probably what garnered the seldom spoken
derision, even if the Flyers' own successes, while consistent, also
consistently fell short. 

That was before Mike Richards was traded to LA
though. Before Simon Gagne signed up to be his teammate again nine days
later. With former captain Richards and decade-long fan-favorite Gagne,
the Kings had undeniably were "Flyers West," but the derision began to
disappear. When Jeff Carter moved in with Richards in Manhattan Beach,
the reference was set in stone and the derision gone entirely, replaced
by a quickly rooted sapling of fear. 

Fear? Of a struggling, limping forward joining a
chemistry-challenged team that might not even make the playoffs? A team
that had jettisoned its head coach and endured Richards' weakest ever
regular season and a long-term injury to Gagne?

No, this fear was for what in retrospect now feels
to have been inevitable—that the exiled former Flyers would unite like
Voltron elsewhere and raise Lord Stanley's gift to the league less than
one year after being sent out of Philadelphia against their wishes. 

Melodramatic? Maybe. But it could happen tonight, or later this week, and it will be painful. It is already painful.

As
we said when Carter was dealt to LA, we are happy for the two players
who were drafted together and were once proud to be Flyers "for life."
Same goes for Gagne and Williams, though the latter already has a Cup
and will be known in passing as one of the franchise's "what if…?"
stories. Same goes for Ron Hextall, who was so close in 1987, a force
for the league to reckon with. Ten years later, Hexy was back in the
Finals for the Flyers, but as part of an all too familiar goalie
carousel. Now he's Assistant GM under Dean Lombardi, a man who flew
under most fans' radars during his time with the Flyers. We see you now,
Dean.  

The trades were much safer on June 23rd, 2011—both
to execute as the Flyers GM, and to accept as fans. Carter seemed
destined to live out a purgatorial existence in Columbus, and that's
being generous. Richards might do well in LA, but that was fine. They
weren't traded by a vindictive man hoping to ruin them. Paul Holmgren
had tears in his eyes in the wake of the deals, knowing full well
neither player wanted to go at all, much less be separated. Maybe Scott
Howson's need to move the publicly disgruntled Carter and Lombardi's
need for more scoring combined to alleviate Homer's guilt.  

But their reunion immediately reopened the dialog
of, what if the Flyers and Kings play in the Finals? It seemed unlikely,
with the Kings an 8 seed and the Flyers facing a treacherous path
through the East. But after the Flyers beat the Penguins, the way they
did, and the Kings marched through the top-seeded Canucks, we (and
probably the league) were a little closer to believing that pipe dream
matchup might just happen. 

Only for a moment though. And that's where it starts to get painful.

The
series against the Devils went so astonishingly bad, knocking us all
down a peg after we uncharacteristically assumed the Flyers' next real
challenge after the Penguins awaited in the Conference Finals. The
Kings, meanwhile, had clearly found their stride and continued on a
historic tear through the West
. They were the group catching fire at just the right time, as well as the team with the hot, dominant goalie. 

While our rival fans toasted another early tee time
for the Orange & Black—even those who'd met their end too—they had a
new mocking line to trot out, and we'd better get used to it. Just
after the traditional goaltending comments, be prepared to hear a chorus
of Richards and Carter digs. They came in waves as Carter scored his
second goal of the Finals on Monday night, a perfect lift of a pass from
Richards to beat Martin Brodeur and seal what now appears to be a
certain fate.  

It began to truly feel like our club is cursed. In
just one season, barring a miraculous Devils comeback, Richards and
Carter in all their bearded glory will do what many of us have never
seen the Flyers accomplish outside of the grainy footage from before our
time. They're gonna drink from that Cup this summer. 

Let's Make ExcusesWhat may or may not be
lost in all of this is that the Flyers weren't expected to contend
immediately after the summer 2011 shakeup saw their forward lines
replaced en masse. Many young faces were added, and their greatest
veteran leader was lost for the season, probably longer. I can't
remember a team with more rookies contributing key minutes up and down
the lines. The Kings' end of the Richards trade was the more "win now"
move, exchanging a top prospect and a valuable young winger for a team
captain with playoff experience. 

There is also the line of thought that the
departures also allowed a superstar to emerge. Claude Giroux became an
MVP candidate and had Conn Smythe chatter after a first series showdown
with Sidney Crosby. But perhaps in large part due to injury, he faded
along with the rest of the Flyers to a reality that we probably wouldn't
have been too upset over if you offered it last October. And, there's
no way of knowing how his development would have been effected if 18
and/or 17 had stayed. 

Doesn't Ease the PainIf the Kings
continue on this path, and it appears they will, it will be a lot harder
to shrug off the rebuilding/reloading season. The two biggest stones
the builder removed became valuable pieces of someone else's castle.
That someone already had the most valuable piece when he started making
deals, as well as high-line forward talent and defense. Despite the
excellent efforts of the Flyers' rookie corps and other newcomers, we
still don't know whether the Flyers have a championship-caliber goalie
or a long-term road block, and . 

We may never know the full extent of the reasons
that Richards and Carter were dealt. Opinions will always vary. The need
for a new direction. The need for the elusive (and expensive) #1
goalie. A different look from the forward lines. Dry Island violations,
the stuff that made the papers and the stuff that didn't. 

Whatever the reason, they were deemed the players
who needed to go in order to make the Flyers into a Cup winner. For Los
Angeles, they were the pieces that needed to be added. That stirs some
worthwhile considerations about how both teams were built with and
without Richards and Carter, what their ideal roles are and were. 

I'm trying hard not to blame or second-guess Homer's
decision because again, we don't know exactly what led to it. And, if
the Kings lost last round, we wouldn't even be having this discussion,
instead focusing on whether one off-season will be enough to get the
Flyers over the hurdle they crotched up on while running at full speed. 

What Comes Next?Last season, the Flyers'
playoff run ended in embarrassment, and Ed Snider publicly decreed that
the goaltending carousel would end. At least in part, that set the
course for the summer's surprising moves. This year's departure was
frustrating, though I wouldn't say it was quite as embarrassing on its
own. But what happens after Richards and Carter win the Cup in an
emphatically short series during which the Flyers are painted as the
long-term ex who cheated on and then broke up with them, then in the end
was the one left behind while the jilted party moved on to better
things?

Will that be an additional motivator toward
off-season moves (ie, the rebound), or will the Flyers primarily stay
the course and let a new, young core develop, tweaking only a few
areas? 
One final question. Seeing what short work the Kings are
making of every team they face… If they were going to win the Cup, are
you glad the Flyers were eliminated early, rather than have to be
another stop on LA's parade route?

Temple great Tyler Matakevich soaks in rookie return to Philadelphia with Steelers

Temple great Tyler Matakevich soaks in rookie return to Philadelphia with Steelers

It’s a picturesque early autumn Thursday evening in the Delaware Valley. One of those nights when swaths of orange from the sunset to the west pierce the high sky like shards of broken glass.

Weather reports say it’s a similar type of evening all the way across the other side of the commonwealth in Pittsburgh, where Tyler Matakevich now makes his seasonal home. There could have been monsoon-like rains or gale-force winds or any type of terrible weather outside and it still couldn’t hush the excitement in Matakevich’s voice that torqued its way through the phone.

That’s because the former Temple Owl linebacker is less than 72 hours away from returning to play at the same field where he plied his trade for four years and left a program legend. And he’s coming back living his dream as a Pittsburgh Steeler. On Temple’s homecoming weekend, no less.

“I’m definitely excited for this and to come back to Philly,” the 22-year-old rookie told CSNPhilly.com prior to Week 3’s Steelers-Eagles game. “I talk to a lot of the guys still on the team like (senior quarterback) P.J. (Walker), (senior linebacker) Jarred Alwan, (senior linebacker) Stephaun Marshall. I know all those guys are looking forward to me coming back and spending time with them. … I hope to see those guys for a little bit. A good amount of them are coming to the game, too, so I’m excited about that.”

The anticipation in the young linebacker is evident. He’s coming back to his “home away from home.”


Matakevich is arguably the greatest football player in Temple history. For four years, he was the leader of a defense that grew to become one of the fiercest in the nation.  He recorded over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons on North Broad Street and added seven sacks and seven interceptions.

Not too shabby for a guy who had only one FBS-level scholarship offer and only got a shot to play as a freshman when the upperclassman above him on the 2012 depth chart was injured before the fourth game of the season. In what was supposed to be a spot start, Matakevich, then a fresh-faced 18-year-old, recorded 15 total tackles after playing sparingly on special teams the prior three games.

Incredibly, Matakevich wasn’t even the player Temple was recruiting when Matt Rhule, Temple’s current head coach who was then the recruiting coordinator under former head man Steve Addazio, went to Milford Academy Prep School in Matakevich’s native Connecticut on a scouting trip. Milford’s coach wouldn’t let Rhule leave without watching film of Matakevich.

“We watched his highlight DVD and he just kinda had it,” Rhule told CSNPhilly.com last December. “We went out and watched him play and he had it. (Former Temple offensive line coach) Justin (Frye) and I just kind of had a feeling this guy was special. I like to think I’ve always had a feel for linebackers. So we called Steve and he said if you guys think he’s that good, offer him.”

Rhule’s gut feeling turned out to be more correct than he ever imagined.

Matakevich put an exclamation point on his excellent college career with a monster 2015 season when he recorded 138 total tackles, five interceptions and 4½ sacks en route to being the first Temple defensive player to earn first-team All-American honors and the first Owl to do so at any position since 1986. He also brought home some impressive hardware as he won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy, both annually given to the best defensive player in all of college football.

Simply put, he is this generation’s Owl. Revered on North Broad Street, he is the player this crop of Temple fans will tell tales of watching play to future generations.

Matakevich accomplished all that during a season in which Temple shed its downtrodden, sad-sack label to the national eye by busting into and staying in the top 25 for the first time since the end of the 1979 season, beating Penn State for the first time since 1941 and, most notably, hosting Notre Dame in a primetime instant classic that was preceded earlier in the day by ESPN’s College Gameday broadcasting from Independence Hall in front of a massive live audience.

Those who’ve followed the program, intently or casually, would have thought there would be confirmation of human life on Mars before those last two things ever happened.

But they happened. It all happened and Matakevich was the freckled face of the revolution.

“It was something special and something I’ll always remember,” Temple’s all-time leading tackler (493) said of last season. “Our senior class, what we went through, going 2-10 in 2013, coaching changes, 6-6 and not going to a bowl to the season we had last year, it was just relieving, really. Such an awesome feeling that I was just able to sit and reflect on it. I was actually doing it the other day with (Redskins defensive lineman and former Temple teammate) Matt Ioannidis. I’ve got to pinch myself a little bit. When people are telling me all these things we accomplished, I’m sort of like, ‘Wow, we did do that.’”

Despite the accolades, Matakevich wasn’t seen as a great NFL prospect in large part because of a perceived lack of athleticism.

He was too slow. He couldn’t jump high enough. He wasn’t strong enough. The list of knocks can keep going.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound tackling machine slipped down draft boards, and watched teammates corner Tavon Young (Ravens) and Ioannidis get selected. But he didn’t fall all the way off the board. In the seventh round, the Steelers used pick No. 246, eighth from last, to take a flier on the Temple linebacker.

Matakevich was left virtually unwanted by the big boys. Sounds familiar, huh?

“Once I finally got that phone call, I was just so excited,” Matakevich said. “That’s been my dream since I was a little kid. And to finally actually get that phone call, it made it feel like everything was worth it. All those long days I put in. I told the coaches, ‘This is just the beginning.’”

Matakevich earned his keep during training camp and was rewarded with a spot on the Steelers as a special teamer.

“He’s doing some of the things here that he did in Philadelphia,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week. “He’s displayed great instincts and urgency. He gets to the ball and he’s always around the ball. He makes a lot of plays. He’s acclimating himself right now in terms of being one of our core special teams contributors. I don’t see why he can’t be great in that area while he continues to grow as a young linebacker. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”


Fast forward to a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia. Earlier in the day, Young recorded his first career interception with the Ravens and Ioannidis suited up for the first time with the Redskins in a regular-season game after he was activated from the practice squad.

But here is Matakevich, standing in a familiar tunnel, staring out at a familiar swatch of grass. He’s standing in the tunnel the Owls come out of and staring out toward the grass he tackled so many foes on.

But he’s not wearing cherry and not coming out to the sounds of Temple’s band and a screaming student section. He’s wearing Steelers black and gold and he’s standing in enemy territory, surrended by a sea of Eagles midnight green.

“It was awesome being back on that field again,” Matakevich said after Carson Wentz and the Eagles pummeled his Steelers, 34-3. The rookie saw kickoff and punt return snaps, but did not record a tackle.

“It didn't go the way we wanted it to, obviously. But I was so excited and so amped up. I played a lot of football here. Just to have the opportunity to come back and play here. I couldn’t be anymore excited and happy. I just tried to enjoy it. I get to keep playing football for a living. Not many guys get to move on after TU. So I’m just thankful and enjoying it and having fun.”

“I was just so happy to see him get out there and play and come back to his old stadium,” Rhule said of his former pupil after Sunday’s game. “For me, it’s always gratifying any time I see any of the guys that played for me being successful in anything, whether it’s their personal lives, their business lives, their football lives. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s pretty cool for me to turn on the TV and see Tavon making big plays for the Ravens or to see Tyler out there playing and see Matt get activated and make the Redskins.

“I was really happy for Tyler. I’m proud of him and I’m excited he got the chance to come back and play in Philly.”

Matakevich still keeps a keen eye on the Owls and tries not to miss a game, even though professional responsibilities sometimes get in the way. He wasn’t able to catch Temple’s 48-20 homecoming win over Charlotte and had to later settle for highlights because the Steelers were traveling to Philadelphia, but he watched all of the narrow 34-27 defeat at Penn State two weeks ago.

“Let me tell you, it’s been frustrating,” Matakevich said with a chuckle. “I’ve never had to watch those guys play from so far away and now I’ve started doing that. At first, it took a little adjusting getting used to it. But I watch. I thought we had it. I really thought we had that win at Penn State.”

Matakevich mentioned he was able to spend time on Saturday night with former teammate and Temple star running back Jahad Thomas after the Owls’ victory. He and Thomas remain close and Matakevich is always there to provide a listening ear when needed.

That’s the thing about Matakevich and his relationship with Philadelphia, a place he gleefully calls his adopted hometown. Though he’s a Connecticut guy through and through and always will be, there will always be people and places here that will be a part of him forever.

“I love it here,” he said of Philadelphia. “I have some unbelievable memories here, especially on this field. It’s always been good to me. It’s always going to be my home away from home.”

- CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zangaro contributed to this story.

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Dario Saric wanted to come to the NBA. He just didn’t feel ready when he was drafted in 2014.

Saric spent the past two years furthering his basketball career in Europe after being selected 12th by the Magic and traded to the Sixers. Now 22, he is confident in his decision to start his NBA career in Philadelphia. 

“I grew up like a person first. After that, I grew up like a player to play against the best players in the world,” Saric said Monday at Sixers media day. “I think now I feel I’m ready. I feel I can give something to this team.”

Basketball itself wasn’t the issue — Saric has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has competed against top European competition, won numerous accolades, and was a member of the Croatian Olympic team this summer. 

Saric knew he could play in the NBA, but there is so much more involved in it for him. Joining the Sixers meant leaving Europe, moving to a new place to play in a new league, all at the young age of 20. 

“After NBA draft, I wasn’t ready to come here,” the forward said. “Not like a basketball player, like a man. I wasn’t ready because to take a big step, to go out of the family, to go to another country. For me it was so hard. ... I decide[d] during last season I would come here, I would try to play with the best players in the world.”

From season to season, the anticipation of Saric’s arrival grew. The Sixers' front office and staff kept in frequent contact. Saric often was in communication with head coach Brett Brown, former general manager Sam Hinkie and current president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. Assistant director of player development Chris Babcock also made trips to Istanbul to spend time with Saric.

All the while, Sixers fans eagerly awaited his decision. When he agreed to sign in July, he was taken aback by the reception. 

“I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be something like that,” Saric said. “I know people waited for me like two years to come here. I know there’s, I can say, some kind of pressure on me.” 

With that pressure, Saric hopes to bring a winning mentality from his successes overseas. Colangelo has been impressed by the sampling he has observed of Saric during informal preseason team scrimmages. He grouped Saric with 6-foot-10 rookie Ben Simmons when discussing the Sixers’ bigs with diverse skillsets.

“What I see is a versatile player, a skilled big man that can do a number of things,” Colangelo said. “When you’re talking about 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11 players that are skilled and adept at ball handling, passing, driving, kicking out, thinking team-first — it seems both players — I think that’s a tremendous asset to have.” 

Saric understands, though, there will be a transition period as he adapts to the NBA. In the short time he has been around the Sixers, he has already noticed differences in the style of play. 

“What I can see is faster,” he said. “Everybody said the first couple of months will be like that. After that you will catch that rhythm, or that speed for your eyes and you will be faster. That’s the first thing I recognized, that I saw.”

Saric also noted the difference in format of the seasons, pointing out the tightly-packed 82-game NBA schedule. With so many adjustments, he plans to lean on his network of European players in the league, past and present. This summer, he received advice from former Sixer Toni Kukoc when he worked on the Croation National Team coaching staff. Even the smallest suggestion like stretching after practice is resonating with Saric.

“Toni, he told me for sure it will be hard for you when you come, but you must try to keep work[ing] day-by-day,” Saric said. 

For the player who once didn't feel ready for the NBA, Saric quickly has been pleased with his decision to play for the Sixers this season. 

“Everything is better than what I expect,” he said.