John Boruk goes one-on-one with Scott Hartnell
Peter Laviolette's Flyers will practice and do team-bonding activities in Lake Placid, N.Y. for the next four days. (AP)
The list of Flyers fall getaways during this decade is impressive.
West Point, N.Y., Annapolis, Md., Banff, Alberta. Those were under coach Ken Hitchcock.
Whistler, B.C. That was John Stevens’ team.
Today, it’s Peter Laviolette’s turn to take the Flyers' training camp on the road for team-bonding exercises and further camp development.
Laviolette chose tiny Lake Placid, N.Y., where history was made in 1980 when the U.S. beat the Soviet Union in ice hockey, then went on to capture the gold medal against Finland.
Had Laviolette had his way, the Flyers would have trained there last year, but general manager Paul Holmgren couldn’t swing it. Circumstances broke just the right way this fall with the ongoing renovation of Skate Zone.
“Paul and I talked a couple of times but schedule-wise, it was hard to put together,” Laviolette said. “This seems the perfect spot with Skate Zone remodeled and the break in the schedule.”
The Flyers don’t play another exhibition game until next week, allowing for these four days away. The team will arrive Thursday morning, then return home Sunday afternoon.
“This year it just worked out with what's going on at the Skate Zone, the renovation, and the way that training camp broke,” Holmgren said.
The split-squad games allowed the Flyers to play four games in three days in two countries.
“I wouldn't mind moving two of those games next year, to play two doubleheaders with two split squads,” Holmgren said.
“Peter and the coaches have some interesting things planned for the players [in Lake Placid]. They'll not only put them through the paces on the ice, but some off-ice stuff they can do, which is very important as you prepare for an 82-game season, and hopefully, playoffs.”
With the exceptions Hal Gill and Kimmo Timonen, no active player attending the Lake Placid retreat was alive to see the “Miracle on Ice.”
Even Laviolette admits he has no idea if his younger players are fully tuned-in to what Lake Placid means to Americans, let alone USA Hockey.
It means a world to Flyers assistant coach Joey Mullen. He likely had a spot locked up on Herb Brooks’ Olympic squad before doing something so unselfish, so caring, few people ever knew what was behind it.
Mullen turned pro with the St. Louis Blues the summer prior to the Olympics. He needed his signing bonus to help support his family back home in the Hell’s Kitchen section of New York City because his father had become ill.
“I did try out for that team,” Mullen said. “My dad got sick and I had to make a decision and I think I made the right one for me.”
He never got an Olympic medal, but Mullen was later rewarded with two Stanley Cups as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Mullen still remembers the feeling of practicing and playing in Lake Placid.
“It’s a good way to bond,” he said. “It’s a good way to get in a place where we’re all together and go right to work. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got things to accomplish this year and it starts when we get in.”
Much of what the Flyers do in Lake Placid will be behind closed doors. The bonding exercises strengthen “trust” within players. Some of them are mental exercises, some physical. Saturday is an off-day when players can choose from a variety of activities.
“Team-building stuff is phenomenal. I really enjoy it,” said center Vinny Lecavalier, one of several newcomers on the Flyers.
When Lecavalier captained the Lightning in Tampa Bay, they went to Mont Tremblant, Quebec for their team-bonding experience.
“It’s a great idea,” he said. “For me, I’m the new guy. You get to know the guys a lot more. You come into the locker room every day. Everybody is doing their thing when they step on the ice.
“When you go away three, four days, it’s like you never get to know somebody unless you go on vacation with them.
“It’s not a vacation, but you get to know your teammates on the ice, off the ice. It’s kinda of a four-day thing. For me, especially, getting to know the guys, it’s a great thing.”
The NHL has asked the Flyers several times about training in Europe and starting the season over there. The organization has always been intrigued by the idea, yet team owner Ed Snider has never been convinced it doesn’t hurt the club at the start of the season with the travel, time difference, etc.
In 2009, the Penguins trained 10 days in Europe, opened the season there, and won the Stanley Cup. Max Talbot, who scored the winning goal that spring in Game 7 against Detroit, said it was a unique bonding experience.
“I think it is necessary and I did it quite a bit of it in Pittsburgh,” Talbot said. “I always enjoyed it. What is kinda related is the year we started in [Sweden]. It’s not exactly the same kind of training camp concept, being in another country, but it was great for team bonding and we won the Cup.”
Defenseman Mark Streit, another newcomer, also believes in getting away.
“We did it in Montreal every year and I felt it was good for us,” Streit said. “Team bonding is important, but it is also a good time to practice up there. We have not had enough time here to work on a few things and this will help. It will be fun to hang with guys and be on the road a bit.”
Not every NHL team goes to some place special for bonding. Sometimes, they go to ordinary places.
When he was playing goal in Columbus, Steve Mason, beginning his first full season as a Flyer, said the Blue Jackets went away to … Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
“We didn’t necessarily go and take a plane and fly to a different city, but we had team-building things outside the city limits,” Mason recalled. “We got away from the families and distraction of camp in your own building. Have that bonding experience in a more intimate setting.
“Any time you can go away and isolate the team as a whole, it’s great moving forward. With all the new people we have this season it will be great to build new relationships with them.”