Hextall 'excited' to finally get season started

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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.

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

Flyers' outdoor game vs. Pens different because of football stadium

VOORHEES, N.J. -- He grew up as a youngster in Judique, Nova Scotia, as a Toronto Blue Jays fan even though the Boston Red Sox were closer geographically.

“My brother was the Red Sox fan,” Andrew MacDonald said.

While hockey was his passion, MacDonald loved to watch baseball. Joe Carter’s walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series clinched it for Mac, then a 7-year-old.

“Didn’t see it for a while though because we only had two TV channels,” MacDonald laughed.

“Yeah, I was Blue Jays fan from Canada.”

On Saturday, the Flyers visit Heinz Field for an outdoor game against their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 Stadium Series.

MacDonald was a starter for the Islanders during the 2014 Stadium Series game held at the new Yankee Stadium against the Rangers. He likes outdoor games in baseball stadiums even though that is not where this game will take place.

“When I had been to New York, I had gone to a few Yankee games at Yankee Stadium,” MacDonald said. “Obviously, I got to take in the experience of being a fan there. It’s a pretty great stadium. To be on the field, although it’s a different sport and setting, it was pretty special.”

Michal Neuvirth was the backup goalie for Washington in the 2011 Winter Classic held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s just as big as if you played inside for two points,” Neuvirth said. “I just backed up that game there but it was awesome. The big crowd and we won the game with Washington. A good feeling afterward.”

MacDonald said his experience at Yankee Stadium was similar.

“It was great,” he said of the Bronx affair. “Not everyone gets to play in one of those games, so it was special. Just being in that outdoor environment and the capacity of the crowd.  Really like a center stage, special experience.”

In both previous Winter Classics involving the Flyers, they were held in baseball stadiums -- Fenway Park in 2010 and Citizens Bank Park two years later. Incidentally, Claude Giroux is the only Flyer to have played in both of the franchise's two Winter Classics.

This “Stadium Series” game will offer a different “look” for players and fans because it occurs in the Steelers’ football stadium.

“Obviously, the setup of the ice surface will be right in the middle of the field as a rectangular field as opposed to baseball where it’s kinda on a different angle,” MacDonald said.

“It’s good. We’ll get a good skate in. A family skate. Yeah, I hope [weather cooperates]. It might not be the best ice, but hopefully, it goes according to plan and go off without a hitch.”

Hot temperatures Friday followed by heavy rain on Saturday could make things difficult.

“Tough to say as to what to expect,” said Neuvirth, who will start in goal. “For me, I am going to prepare myself for 8 o’clock and play my game.”

The most unusual thing players say that affects them during outdoor games is not having fans on the glass. They’re far away in the stands.

Yet in a baseball stadium, some of those fans are a lot closer to the ice than the setup in a football stadium.

“Yeah, it was kinda unique and took a while to get used to,” MacDonald said. “There’s no fans on the glass. You are kinda isolated by yourself there on the middle of the field.

“It’s not until the TV timeout where you can look around and take it all in. It’s almost has a practice type mentality when you are first on the ice and then you get acclimated.

“Obviously, once the puck drops you are ready to go and know what to do. It’s definitely a unique experience once you get going.”

When he play at Fenway Park as a freshman at Union College, Shayne Gostisbehere said his only regret was not taking time out to just stop and absorb what was happening around him.

He was so focused on the game against Harvard that day in 2012, he forget to cherish the moment.

MacDonald said that is something NHL players sometimes forget to do, as well. Take it all in because it night never occur again.

“Everyone is a little different,” he said. “You do have to play it as if it’s like every other game. There is a little adjustment period there with the fans so far away.

“That being said, you have an opportunity to embrace the moment. At the same time, you have to focus on what we’re trying to accomplish out there. Try to get the win like any other time.”

Loose pucks
• Flyers forward Jakub Voracek left the ice early with a slight limp. He was not available after practice but general manager Ron Hextall confirmed Voracek is fine and will play Saturday. The Flyers' leading scorer was hit with a deflected puck earlier this week in practice in his groin area but played without incident during Wednesday's game against Washington. 

• Flyers left for Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

Flyers' disallowed early goal costly for team struggling to score

It was just pouring out of Flyers swing forward Dale Weise after Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.

A disallowed goal because of him.

A strong game in every respect from his teammates.

A realization that things never seem to change for Dave Hakstol’s club.

“We come out with a great start,” Weise said. “Get on the forecheck. The building is lively. We score what we think is a first goal which we haven’t done a lot this year.

“I’m not going to say it’s a game-changer. Whatever it was, it didn’t end the game. But that’s a pretty big part of the game.” 

Weise ended up grabbing Caps goalie Braden Holtby. He said he did so for support or he would have knocked him over since he was trying to position his stick.

Funny things is, Holtby apparently never felt the contact. When the Caps challenged Jakub Voracek’s goal on the first shift of the game, it was overturned.

“Yeah, I obviously didn’t see the interference part I just kind of followed the puck and next thing I know it was kind of out of the play so a little fortunate, a great call by our video coaches,” Holtby said.

Weise wasn’t sure what he did amounted to much because it happened before Voracek’s shot and not during the act of shooting that would have prevented Holtby from getting position.

“To be really honest with you I don’t think I really touched him that hard,” Weise said.

Goals are so hard to come by these days for the Flyers. To score one a half-minute into play in a huge rivalry game, with them so desperate for points, and then to lose the goal and the momentum early, it becomes a significant event in the overall outcome.

The Caps made the most of their chances. Just like Calgary did last week.

“Winning and losing is so thin in this league and when you’re playing a team like that who just has loads of offensive talent, you give them one, two opportunities and they score on it,” Weise said.

“For a team like us that doesn’t score very often, that’s tough. We are playing behind the eight ball every night. It’s frustrating. I’m not going to lie and say it’s not in our head when we get down because you can see the way we play.

“We’re gripping the sticks. I really liked our effort though. I thought we played hard the whole night. Full marks to our team but it’s just kind of the same story every night.”

It’s trite but the term “snake bit” has been used a lot lately in talking about the Flyers since their 10-game win streak ended.

“That’s a good way to put it,” Weise said. “Look at that one there. Touch the goalie, goal disallowed. [Ivan Provorov] hits the cross bar. We had a couple other chances in tight. Snake bitten, I don’t even know if there’s a word for how I feel right now.”

It doesn’t get any easier this weekend with the Flyers' playing in their first outdoor game in five seasons.

Another even more bitter rival: the Penguins at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field on Saturday night. Taking two from the Pens will require a supreme effort and maybe a little luck for a change. The Flyers have been real short on luck all season.

The Flyers' dressing room after games, of late, has the feel of a morgue sometimes. Over the last 10 games, the Flyers have seven losses (including overtime). In six of those losses, they have scored one goal or no goals.

“We got a pretty positive group in here,” Weise said. “We try our best to come in every day and be positive. It’s a tough situation right now. Every day we’re fighting for our playoff life so that’s in the back of everyone’s mind.

“It makes it more frustrating when you’re playing, so well. I thought we played a pretty good game tonight. That goal disallowed we come right back. They make it two nothing on the power play.

“We kept going. We played well. We had a lot of chances. Good start to the second period again. We came out strong but we just can’t seem to finish.”

Veteran defenseman Mark Streit said they're playing well, but losing doesn’t make up ground in the standings. The Flyers remain three points out of the wild card going into the weekend.

Of their remaining 22 games, 19 are against the Eastern Conference, so mathematically, they have a chance to recoup points.

“We keep telling that we’ve been playing pretty well but lose a lot of hockey games,” Streit said. “We just got to find a way ...

“We have to find a way to turn it around, to get the bounces, just to get a little bit lucky out there, and to get the ugly goal. It’s tough. It’s frustrating. But it’s also the bloody truth.”