Philadelphia Flyers

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.”

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Rangers ink Mika Zibanejad to 5-year extension

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers have signed center Mika Zibanejad to a $26.75 million, five-year deal.

Zibanejad will count $5.35 million against the salary cap through 2021-22 as the Rangers count on him to take on a bigger role following the trade of Derek Stepan. General manager Jeff Gorton announced the contract Tuesday morning, before the team and Zibanejad were set to go to arbitration.

The 24-year-old Swede had 14 goals and 23 assists for 37 points in 56 games last season, his first with New York. The Rangers acquired Zibanejad from the Ottawa Senators for Derick Brassard a year ago.

Zibanejad has 188 points in 337 NHL games with the Senators and Rangers since Ottawa drafted him sixth overall in 2011 (see full story).

Olympics: Team Canada names Burke GM for 2018 Games
Sean Burke will be the general manager and Willie Desjardins the head coach for Canada at the first Olympics without NHL players since 1994.

Hockey Canada named its management and coaching staffs for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday. St. Louis Blues assistant general manager Martin Brodeur will work under Burke on the management side, while Desjardins will be assisted by Dave King, Scott Walker and Craig Woodcroft.

Canada has been grooming Burke for this responsibility for some time as he served as assistant GM for the 2017 world championships, GM for the 2016 Spengler Cup and Deutschland Cup and director of player development for the 2016 worlds. Desjardins coached Canada's 2010 world junior team and assisted in 2009.

USA Hockey has not yet named its GM or coach (see full story).

Sabres: Goalie Lehner re-signed to 1-year deal
BUFFALO, N.Y.  -- The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a $4 million, one-year contract.

The team announced the deal Tuesday. Lehner was a restricted free agent.

The 26-year-old Swede showed he could stay healthy last season, setting career highs with 59 games played, 23 wins and two shutouts. He ranked third in the NHL with 1,758 saves and finished with a .920 save percentage and 2.68 goals-against average.

Bothered by injuries and concussion problems, Lehner had never before played more than 36 games in his NHL career. The Sabres took a chance on Lehner when they traded a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators for him at the 2015 draft.

Lehner will again be a restricted free agent next summer when this contract expires.

Devils: 3 restricted free agents re-signed
NEWARK, N.J. -- The New Jersey Devils have re-signed restricted free agent defenseman Mirco Mueller, forward Joseph Blandisi and goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

Mueller got a two-year deal worth an average of $850,000 a season, Blandisi a two-year, two-way deal worth an average of $680,000 in the NHL, and Wedgewood a one-year, two-way deal worth $650,000 in the NHL. General manager Ray Shero announced the contracts Tuesday.

Re-signing Mueller for two years was the most significant move after New Jersey acquired the 22-year-old from San Jose before the Vegas expansion draft. The Swiss defender has just six points in 54 NHL games with the Sharks, but still is considered a good prospect after being a first-round pick in 2013.

Mueller will make $775,000 next season and $925,000 in 2018-19.

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.