The Flyers' four-day trip to Lake Placid was their first preseason trip away from their practice facility since 2008. (AP)
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – As coach Peter Laviolette said after the Flyers’ final practice at Herb Brooks Arena, the team could work on systems and practice drills on any ice surface, regardless of location.
Coming to Lake Placid, then, had a lot more to do with the team’s off-ice activities than anything it needed skates or sticks to work on.
“It comes down to the players and how they play and how hard they play for each other,” Laviolette said. “A lot of that factors in off the ice and the bonds that you build. It’s early and we’re just starting this process, but that’s a difference maker for me. There’s a lot of good things both on the ice and off the ice.”
The Flyers’ four-day trip, which came to a close Sunday, marked the first time the team spent parts of preseason on the road since 2008, which meant it was the first getaway of this kind for many of the now-key players on the roster.
The benefits of taking camp on the road weren’t lost on them.
“We’re with each other pretty much all parts of the day, where if we had been home, guys would have been at the rink for three hours, and then go home with their kids, stuff like that,” Brayden Schenn said. “When you’re out here, everyone’s together pretty much the whole day, and you get to know one another better, especially the new faces on the team. I think it’s going to really help our team.”
For those new faces, spending so much time away from Philadelphia and their typical day-to-day responsibilities was a perfect opportunity to really feel at home with their new teammates.
“When you room with a guy, you get to know him a little bit better,” Mark Streit said. “You eat with him, and then we had a team-building day, and you get the chance to chat with the guys.”
Thursday, Friday and Sunday, the Flyers practiced at the Lake Placid Olympic Center, an experience that resonated with all the players, not just the Americans. Andrej Meszaros, for example, stole some time away after a skate to take photos of the historic arena.
On Saturday, the entire team took a day away from the rink, and participated in Operation: Warrior Forge (see story), a military-themed leadership development program, during which the players learned to better trust and communicate with each other.
“I think getting together, getting away and spending time is always a plus for your team,” Laviolette said. “We worked on a lot of things here, spent a lot of time, did a lot of team events, and now we move back home.
“We’ve got to play some exhibition games. It’s still a camp. We’re still looking at things, and I think the best way to evaluate that is in a game.”
Three games remain in preseason, and if Laviolette’s theory proves true, the energy in all of them will be a level above those during the first half of the preseason. Rosters are smaller, and the lineups that the Flyers face will look a lot more like what we’ll see once the regular season is underway.
“You can tell the guys are starting to ramp up a little bit, too,” he said. “The beginning of camp you get those aches in the hips and the backs and the groins and that sort of thing. That first 45 minutes [Sunday] morning was the best that we’ve moved going up and down the ice. It was real quick. Guys really pushed the pace. That was the sharpest we’ve looked as a group.”
Now, it’s up to the team to carry that acumen back to Philadelphia, where they’ll practice once before hosting the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, their final home game of preseason. That game will be a good chance for Flyers brass to keep a close eye on roster hopefuls like Michael Raffl, Chris VandeVelde and Scott Laughton (see story).
It will also be a much-needed opportunity for the team's veterans to get in the right mindset for the regular season.
“I think it’s very important for us to focus here, especially [this week] back at Wells Fargo Center,” Scott Hartnell said, “and get used to that again.
“It’s a big week for us to get everything sharp again, to get everything together, playing hard playing the system for game No. 1.”