Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Flyers' tandem of the future? Count on it

Felix Sandstrom, Carter Hart, Flyers' tandem of the future? Count on it

VOORHEES, N.J. — When Flyers general manager Ron Hextall played, the former goaltender always viewed his partner and himself as a part of a tandem. Or so he says 18 years later.

By studying Hextall’s goaltending decisions during his time in his current post, his philosophy has become indisputable: draft a ton of goalies and tandems are imperative.

Hextall has drafted five goalies in the four drafts he’s been in charge, signed a college free agent (Alex Lyon) and the Flyers currently have nine netminders in their organization.

The effectiveness of platoons played a factor in the Flyers’ biggest free-agent move of the summer and immediate future in net. Brian Elliott welcomes tandems. Steve Mason didn’t.

Elliott will partner with Michal Neuvirth for the next two seasons in Philadelphia, but then what? We all expect one of the Flyers’ highly-touted prospects to be here in three years.

Whether that’s either Carter Hart or Felix Sandstrom, two goalies drafted by Hextall with bright futures, or either Lyon or Anthony Stolarz will be determined in the next two years.

Hart and Sandstrom are the two prospects everyone expects to compete for the No. 1 job when they’re seasoned enough to be in the NHL, but the question turns to their role.

Does Hextall envision either Hart or Sandstrom taking a stranglehold of the No. 1 job, while the other either serves as the backup or gets squeezed out of the equation?

You can bet on that being the case.

“The goalie dictates that,” Hextall said last Friday during development camp at Flyers Skate Zone. “You still need two goalies. I never want to have a backup that you say, ‘OK, he’s a 10- or 15-game guy.’ What if your guy gets hurt, where do you go? It’s always a tandem.

“You need someone capable of playing 30 games. Fifty-thirty, that’s a tandem. Fifty-five-twenty-five, that’s a tandem. The goaltender will dictate the games to some degree.”
 
On Day 1 of development camp last Friday, Hart and Sandstrom were paired together during the first goalie session at 8 a.m. and the second in the afternoon.
 
If the vision going forward includes them splitting time between the pipes, it doesn’t hurt that the goalies were positioned two stalls from each other at camp.
 
It also doesn’t hurt that they were at development camp last summer and they’ll likely be together again next summer. Building a rapport now should pay off in the long run.
 
“I was here last year with [Sandstrom],” Hart said, “so I got to know him pretty well. We were on the same volleyball team for the Trial on the Isle. We didn’t have great partners.

“I don’t know who they were. I don’t want to say any names. I think we finished last.”

Hart, who turns 19 next month, received a taste of pro life at the end of last season, when he joined the Lehigh Valley Phantoms largely as a spectator in the AHL playoffs, though he did back up once.
 
The 2016 second-round pick will spend the 2017-18 season in the WHL with Everett before making the jump full-time professionally in 2018-19 when he’s 20 (see story).
 
As for Sandstrom, the 20-year-old had the option to jump overseas this season to play at Lehigh Valley with his contract with Brynäs IF expiring after last season.
 
Instead, the Swede decided to re-up for one more year with Brynäs, while his teammate, winger Oskar Lindblom, opted to come to North America full-time. Lindblom is expected to make the Flyers’ roster in training camp, but beginning the year in the AHL is an option too.

“I’m in a good position at home in Sweden,” Sandstrom said. “I get to play a lot. Really like my goalie coach there, too. I’m in a good position at home. No reason to rush. I think I need one more year to develop more and be even more ready to come over here.”

Leaving Sweden didn’t really compute much for Sandstrom, a 2015 third-round pick who in 2016-17 posted respectable numbers for Brynäs in his second full season in the SHL.

There is a numbers game in Lehigh Valley with Lyon and Stolarz, both restricted free agents. There wasn’t much playing time available with the Phantoms.

In 46 regular-season games last season, Sandstrom compiled a 14-7 record, 2.25 goals-against average and .908 save percentage with two shutouts. During the postseason, he had a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage in 13 games as Brynäs lost in the finals.

Sandstrom reiterated his desire to play in the NHL and “be a reason why the Flyers win games” at development camp. With the logistics, it just didn’t make sense this year.

When he does come over — as it is with all European players — the rink will be his biggest adjustment. The smaller rink creates for different angles for goalies. It takes time to adjust.

“It’s a different type of game with the rinks,” Sandstrom said. “More shots, more straight to the net. I like that. I think I can handle that. It’s pretty good. I’m a pretty good skater, too.

“It’s more often that they shoot from places [here], where, in Sweden, they often don’t shoot. Because when you go on the boards here, it’s a scoring chance. If you shoot from there in Sweden, it’s not as dangerous.”

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.  

NHL Notes: Penguins sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin to 6-year contract

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Penguins sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin to 6-year contract

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin has turned his steady play for the Stanley Cup champions into a new contract.

Dumoulin and the team agreed to a six-year deal on Monday that will run through the 2022-23 season and will pay him an average of $4.1 million per year.

The 25-year-old Dumoulin had three goals and 11 assists during Pittsburgh's run to the Cup this spring and hasn't missed a playoff game during the team's sprint to back-to-back titles.

Dumoulin averaged a team-high 21:59 of ice time this postseason, and his plus-9 rating was best among Penguins defensemen. Dumoulin was forced to take on a larger roll this spring after injuries forced Kris Letang to miss the playoffs.

Predators: Watson signs 3-year, $3.3 million deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year $3.3 million deal keeping him under contract through 2019-20.

The Predators announced the deal Monday.

Watson will earn $1 million this season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in the third year.

The 25-year-old forward is coming off his best season yet with Nashville. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound Watson had a career high with five goals and seven assists in 77 games this past season. Watson scored four goals and had nine points in 22 playoff games helping Nashville reach the Stanley Cup Final.

The 18th pick overall in the 2010 draft, Watson had three goals and 10 points in 57 games during the 2015-16 season.

Now, center Ryan Johansen is Nashville's lone restricted free agent awaiting a new deal.

Sabres: Okposo says he’s healthy after concussion
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said he is fully healthy after a concussion led to sleeping trouble, significant weight loss and a trip to intensive care last March.

Okposo missed the final few weeks of Buffalo's season with a previously undisclosed illness. In a letter posted on the team's website Monday, Okposo said a routine hit in practice caused his mood to change and other problems that required hospitalization.

The 29-year-old said he lost his appetite, had a negative reaction to sleep medications and that at one point he weighed less than 200 pounds. He spent time in the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital to be stabilized. Okposo's playing weight is listed at 218 pounds.

Okposo played in a 4-on-4 summer league game in Minnesota with other NHL players last week and reported feeling great. New general manager Jason Botterill said Okposo was on track to be ready for training camp.

"I've worked with a lot of different people -- concussion experts and people who have dealt with concussions themselves -- and I feel confident in the fact that I can play hockey again," Okposo said in the letter. "In fact, I know I can play again. I know I can play and not worry about hitting my head, which is a major hurdle for someone who's dealt with this. If I didn't feel 100 percent right now, that probably wouldn't be the case."

Okposo's last NHL game was March 27 against Florida. He had 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points in 65 games during his first season with Buffalo. He signed a $42 million, seven-year contract with the Sabres last summer.

NHL: Gamble to get back Hall of Fame ring
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A scuba-diving treasure hunter who found an American Hockey League Hall of Fame ring in one of New York's Finger Lakes is returning it to its owner.

Gary Gavurnik, of Auburn, New York, plans to return the prized ring to former AHL star Dick Gamble on Monday. Gavurnik found it with a metal detector in Canandaigua Lake over the Fourth of July weekend.

The 88-year-old Canadian-born Gamble starred for the AHL's Rochester Americans and retired early in the 1969-70 season. He was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2007.

Instead of wearing the ring, though, he gave it to his son, Craig, who wore it every day for seven years before losing it in the lake. He never told his dad and ordered a replacement.