Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

aphextall.jpg

Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

Ron Hextall said it was a smooth transition, coming back to the Flyers after seven years as an assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Kings.
 
Why wouldn’t it be? Outside of Bernie Parent, Hextall is easily the next most popular goaltender in Flyers history.
 
Fans love him. Players love him. Ed Snider loves him.
 
That’s what 11 years in the Flyers' net, plus another seven in the scouting office, will do for a guy.
 
“It feels good,” Hextall said of his homecoming. “I know a lot of the people. I’m excited to get the season going here.”
 
While it’s easy to understand why the Flyers wanted him back -- he bleeds orange and black even after winning a Stanley Cup in L.A. -- it’s not easy to understand why Hextall left the West Coast.
 
Essentially, this was a lateral move when he was next in line to succeed Kings’ general manager Dean Lombardi.
 
The answer requires thinking ahead.
 
Paul Holmgren has been the GM here since 2006. He received a three-year, $4.5 million contract extension on Jan. 18, 2011. That deal runs through the 2014-15 season.
 
At this point, the 49-year-old Hextall’s wait may not be very long.
 
Logically, there was no reason for Hextall to leave L.A. unless the Flyers indicated he’ll be in the big chair sooner here than if he had stayed with the Kings.
 
Hextall still hasn’t given specifics on why he came back other than to say the move “felt right.”
 
“I don’t necessarily have one decision why,” he said. “It just seemed the right decision at the right time. That’s about all I can say.”
 
Clearly, the road is fully paved for Hextall to advance.
 
“That’s not why I am here,” Hextall said. “It is my goal in the end to be a general manager. But when and where and how and if, who knows? Just one day at a time, to do my job and see where it goes.”
 
Hextall was the guy who pieced together a lot of those young faces in Los Angeles. The sounding board who advised Lombardi on trades -- Mike Richards, Jeff Carter -- and free-agent signings. He brings a different education, he says.
 
“Anybody you work for is educational,” Hextall said. “Clarkie (Bobby Clarke) and Homer and Dean Lombardi. Anybody you work for, it’s educational. You learn different ideas and different philosophies. To see the way another organization runs, it’s educational.”
 
When you’ve been in hockey a long time, then finally win a Cup as a member of management after being robbed of such at least once as a player, it’s easier to walk away to another organization.
 
Hextall felt he had achieved his goal with the Kings.
 
“Winning did make a difference in my decision,” he said. “When you spend seven years and build something, you want to see it through and I really did see it through. Was that a factor? Absolutely.
 
“If we would not have won it and you had built a team six or seven years, you kind of want to see it through. That played into my decision, for sure. Also, when you go outside an organization, you learn.”
 
The easy thing to say is Hextall is part of the Flyers' “old boys network.” True, the organization likes to keep as many former players as possible here in Philadelphia.
 
There’s more to it. The legacy the Flyers have can greatly influence the next generation of players.
 
Remember when Claude Giroux started here? Clarke worked with him on faceoffs. Having the legends around isn’t all that bad.
 
“When you establish an identity as a franchise, you have to grow with the times,” Hextall said. “But to have those guys around, it is invaluable to have Bob Clarke and Billy Barber and Bernie. There is something to it and something special to it.
 
“Now again, in saying that, we’re not in the '70 or '80s or '90s. So you have to move forward. You have to change. Philosophically, things have to change and you have to grow with the game or you’re old and have to be out.
 
“I think it is great for the young guys to see Clarkie and Billy. It’s special. In L.A., we tried to bring those guys around. There is something to it.”
 
Hextall has worked with just about everyone in the Flyers' organization. Some of the current media members -- including this reporter -- actually covered him in his prime as a player.
 
“Knowing philosophically where the organization is at, that makes the transition easy and I know the area and people,” he said. “The big team, I know a little bit. The minor team and young guys, I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
 
The only other former Flyers goalie who is a general manager in the NHL is Garth Snow with the Islanders. Do goalies see things differently?
 
“Everybody says as a goalie you kind of see the whole game, the whole ice,” Hextall replied. “I’m not sure. Everybody’s got their own preference. One of my preferences because I was a goalie, I really like a two-way defenseman. I really like 180-feet [red line to red line] players at all positions. I also think the way the game has evolved now, you have to play 180 feet. ... You don’t see anybody putting up 150 points anymore. You got to cover the whole sheet. Teams check so well.
 
“It really has changed from the 1980s to now. It’s a full-sheet game and those guys play both ends, both sides of the puck, are really important guys, especially when they are your top-end players.”
 
Hextall’s longtime agent, Steve Mountain, is still in business, still representing players. The two spoke this summer.
 
“I’m my own Steve Mountain now,” Hextall quipped.

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

philadelphia-rebels-carson-briere.jpg
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

usa-brian-dumoulin.jpg
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.