Flyers' camp shifts to Lake Placid for getaway

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Flyers' camp shifts to Lake Placid for getaway

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.”

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

Pressing too hard? Claude Giroux realizes less can be more

NEW YORK — Ron Hextall admitted there’s a bit of a double-edged sword to Claude Giroux.
 
“I think he’s pressing too hard,” Hextall said before Sunday night’s game. “It’s what you like about him; there’s a few guys like that. You like that [competitiveness] about them, but sometimes you become your own worst enemy because they beat themselves up.”
 
The captain was entering the day with a goal drought of 12 games, his longest since Oct. 2-Nov. 7, 2013, when he opened the season goalless in 15 contests.
 
“G wants to be successful at everything,” the general manager said. “Hopefully something good happens for him and he gets rolling. He’s too good of a player to play like this.”
 
Hextall got his wish.
 
Nearly four hours later, Giroux buried the game-winning goal of the Flyers’ 3-2 overtime win against the Islanders at the Barclays Center (see game story). Not only did it relieve Giroux of his funk, but it also did the same for the Flyers, who had lost three straight and 12 of their last 15.
 
"It's been tough the last couple of weeks,” Giroux said. “We know we're a better team. 
 
“Obviously we can still be better but we needed this win tonight.”
 
And Giroux needed that goal. Over the previous 12 games, the Flyers’ second-leading scorer was a minus-13 with seven assists and just one even-strength point. It’s no coincidence the Flyers went 2-8-2 in those 12 games.
 
Giroux didn’t disagree with his boss.
 
“You want to succeed and you want to play the best you can,” he said. “Sometimes you push it a little too much. When you sit back and kind of look at the big picture, sometimes I think that's when you kind of realize you need to relax and just go out there and play.”
 
Before the game, head coach Dave Hakstol made a change that reaped the rewards. He decided to put Jakub Voracek back on the top line with Giroux and Michael Raffl. Giroux finished with six shots, his most since Dec. 21, while Voracek put up four and assisted the overtime winner.
 
“Well, I mean there are a lot of things that go into that,” Hakstol said of the move. “Those guys have success together, but more importantly, you look at some of the combinations as you go through the year when you’ve had success. Sometimes one change gives you a little bit of a jump-start. Those guys did a good job.”
 
Giroux’s goal was emblematic in a way that he simply planted himself in front of the net and tapped in Shayne Gostisbehere’s wraparound pass. There was no highlight-reel deke or miraculous shot.
 
Keeping it simple — as players often say — did the trick.
 
"Sometimes you don't need to try so hard,” Giroux said. “You need to go about your job and make sure you do the right things out there. Make sure you help your teammates and linemates. Just go out there and play hockey. We're supposed to have fun doing it, right? So sometimes you need to relax and kind of look at how you can get better.”
 
Sunday was a start.

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

Flyers Weekly Observations: Snowball effect avoided Sunday

There wasn't any Flyers hockey to talk about during the bye week, but this past weekend’s back-to-back set still left us with plenty of material.

It was an up-and-down weekend for the Flyers. They fell at home, 4-1, to the Devils during an ugly showing on Saturday but rebounded with an exciting 3-2 OT victory over the Islanders Sunday in Brooklyn thanks to Claude Giroux’s game-winning tally that snapped a 13-game goalless drought.

Let’s take a look back at the weekend that was for the Flyers:

• That showing against Jersey on Saturday night? Let’s just say that’s not the way one hoped the Flyers would look coming off an extended break. The Flyers were outplayed again by the Devils, just like they were during a 4-0 loss to New Jersey in late December. I get the theory that they needed to knock the rust off after such a long break. But you also wanted to see some energy and it just wasn’t there. Give the Devils some credit, too, as they played well. Of course, there was that terrible call against Radko Gudas that really shifted the game in the Devils’ favor (more on that in a bit). But still, it wasn’t an inspiring performance overall and still had more of the same defensive breakdowns that have plagued the Flyers in recent weeks.

• That said, the Flyers had a great bounce-back effort Sunday night against an Isles team that has been revived after head coach Jack Capuano was fired and came into the contest on a three-game win streak. The Flyers fell down 2-0 and were victims of another questionable call during a pile-up at the front of the Isles’ net when the puck crossed the line but no goal was rewarded, but they showed something they haven’t shown over the past few weeks: resiliency. Over the last few weeks, when something has gone wrong for the Flyers, it’s all gone wrong for the Flyers. It’s been a troubling snowball effect. But that trend came to a halt on Sunday and the Flyers earned two much-needed points. It was encouraging, to say the least. The goal now is to find that kind of consistency again. Easier said than done.

• What a spectacular play by Ivan Provorov on the Flyers’ tying goal Sunday night. He took a pass at the Isles’ blue line, weaved his way around a defender to create space and then sent a centering pass to the crease area. Sure, there was some puck luck involved as it hit a defender’s skate and went in the net, but sometimes a player gets rewarded like that when making a great play. It was the kind of play that a lot of veterans wouldn’t have the poise to make, let alone a rookie who just turned 20 a few weeks ago. The kid is so impressive and he’s just going to keep getting better.

• Alright, alright, alright ... let’s discuss the Gudas clipping penalty against the Devils on Saturday. First off, it shouldn’t have been a penalty. It was a classic, hard hip check and a good, physical hockey play. Is Gudas not given the benefit of the doubt sometimes because of his reputation and suspension history? Probably so. But there was no gray area to discuss on this hit. It was a clean hockey play. And then if we’re to believe Wayne Simmonds, his unsportsmanlike call to give the Devils a full 5-on-3 advantage was for protesting a lack of explanation for the call. If true, that’s pretty weak from the official. Like we discussed earlier, it was one of the things that didn’t go the Flyers’ way and sent everything else crumbling down afterward. The Devils scored on the ensuing power play to take a 2-1 lead and it was game, set, match.

• Notice Dave Hakstol's finally using Travis Konecny during a 3-on-3 overtime on Sunday night? That’s a good thing to see. I get that a big part of the 3-on-3 OT is defensive responsibility and that Konency is still working to complete that part of his game. But sometimes when the game is on the line, you have to take the good with the bad. Konecny’s got the offensive arsenal to win a game in the blink of an eye. He should get more chances in OT as the season goes on. Nick Cousins saw the ice during Sunday’s OT, too. Good for him. Having more fresh legs and energy out there during those frantic overtimes never hurts.

• You guys peek at the Eastern Conference standings lately? If not, here’s a spoiler: The standings are a jumbled mess where parity is king. As of Monday morning, the Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins and Rangers are ahead of the field. But after those teams, it’s anyone’s ballgame. Heading into Monday night’s action, the Flyers hold the last wild-card spot with 52 points. The eight teams behind them are all within five points them, with last-place Tampa Bay (!) bringing up the rear with 47 points. So that’s 12 teams fighting for four playoff spots. It’s further proof that there are no nights off or easy games in the NHL. Every point matters. It should be a hell of a playoff race over the next few months.

Coming up this week: Wednesday at NY Rangers (8 p.m./NBCSN), Thursday vs. Toronto (7 p.m./CSN), Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles (3:30 p.m./NBC)