Philadelphia Flyers

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.  

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

In comfortable spot, Taylor Leier puts game on display to Flyers during preseason win

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It’s a short bus ride to Allentown, but on Wednesday night, the Flyers preferred to ride a Leier jet.

Taylor Leier, 23, made a strong case to make the opening night roster by scoring a pair of power-play goals in a 3-2 preseason overtime win against the Islanders, to go along with his typical tenacious, aggressive play (see observations).

“These games mean a lot for a lot of guys. It felt good to be back in Allentown,” Leier said of the split-squad game at the PPL Center. “It’s a lot of familiar territory and familiar faces around the rink. I felt good coming into the game. You’re not going to feel good every night, but when you get those games when you feel good, and you know you feel good, you try to run with it.”

Leier brought elements of skill and touch with his two goals and a two-line lob pass over the defense that led to a quality scoring chance, to go along with a relentless, physical forecheck that has been a staple of his success.

“That’s what you love about Taylor. You know what you’re going to get from him,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s the guy who knows and understands the detail of the game. He’s a pretty consistent performer in the role that you give him.”  

Leier’s comfort level in Lehigh Valley is a result of starting his season with the Phantoms over the past three years, where he has put up respectable AHL numbers, scoring 33 goals in his first two seasons. Leier would have likely increased that total much more last year in his third season if it weren't for a painful neck injury that limited him to 48 AHL games, and a brief 10-game stint with the Flyers. 

“Growing up, I was always a scorer,” said Leier, who registered 64 goals in his last two seasons with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. “It was an eye opener for me coming from junior to pro, that everyone was a superstar in junior. Everyone that’s here is good. You get put in certain situations, and when you get a break and you get to play in a more skilled position, you try to show what you can do. I’ve always been confident in my offensive abilities, but sometimes it’s a matter of when you get those opportunities.” 

Leier would seem to be an ideal candidate in a fourth-line role with the energy he brings and the potential to chip in with some occasional offense. Phantoms captain Colin McDonald feels as if it’s just a matter of time.

“The easy thing to say is it’s a number game,” McDonald said referring to why Leier has spent little time in the NHL. “It takes time and I’ve been telling him that. I didn’t get all of my NHL games until I was 28. Sometimes you lose sight of that because you’re drafted at 18, and it’s a young league. So you get frustrated after a couple of years and you haven’t gotten your chance, but you've just got to stick with it. He’s going to be in the NHL, there’s no doubt.” 

A hack job
Familiarize yourself with NHL rule 71.1 that states, “Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgement of the referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be slashing.”

In 10 preseason games on Monday, there were 49 slashing penalties called. As the Flyers discovered Wednesday, it apparently doesn’t have to be forceful or even powerful to be considered a penalty. The Flyers were whistled for two slashing minors within the first two minutes of the game, which led to an easy Islanders tap-in 5-on-3 goal.

“You want to get pace of the game, and I was talking with some guys after the second (period), and I think we had played just five minutes of even strength,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbhere said. “It’s hard to get into the games. It’s just going to put more emphasis on special teams. When they blow the whistle and everyone’s like, ‘What just happened?' That’s not a penalty.” 

Slashing the roster
General manager Ron Hextall said there are "lots" of decisions that still have to be made before the season starts. He’ll make his biggest round of roster cuts Thursday morning following these split-squad games against the Islanders.

“These [games] are huge,” Hextall said. “I remember doing these myself, we all do. Whenever there’s something at stake playing for a team, you hope guys rise up, and that’s certainly what we’re looking for.”

Patrick's progress
Prior to Wednesday’s game, Hextall said he liked what he had seen so far from No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick, but was looking for a little bit more.

“He’s shown the type of player he is,” Hextall said. “He’s a smart player. He’s got good poise. He typically makes the right plays, typically is in the right position, so he’s done a lot of the things we expected, but he’s got to do some things here”.

Following his first preseason point — the assist on Gostisbehere’s overtime winner (see video) — Patrick concurred with the GM’s assessment.

“I think there’s a lot more I’m capable of," he said. "I think I’m just getting back into it here. I think I’ve played three games after not playing for a while, so I’m just getting back into it. If I play Thursday, I’m going to try and take another step.”

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Nolan Patrick finds Shayne Gostisbehere for OT winner

Flyers-Islanders preseason observations: Nolan Patrick finds Shayne Gostisbehere for OT winner

BOX SCORE FROM ALLENTOWN | BOX SCORE FROM BROOKLYN

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It would have been more appropriate if the PPL Center would have just dropped the "L" from its name in a penalty-filled contest Wednesday, as the Flyers' power play proved to be a little bit better than the Islanders' in a 3-2 overtime, split-squad preseason victory.

Shayne Gostisbehere ripped home a one-timer from Nolan Patrick on a 2-on-1 just 53 seconds into the overtime period. The Islanders pulled goaltender Christopher Gibson in the final 1:30 of regulation, resulting in a game-tying 6-on-5 goal as the extra attacker Anders Lee poked one across with 24 seconds remaining.

• The two teams combined for 11 power-play opportunities as the first three goals were scored with the man advantage. Playing in familiar surroundings, Taylor Leier provided the damage for the Flyers as he scored the team’s first two goals — both in the second period, as he played with a relentless forecheck for much of the night (see story).

• Michal Neuvirth backstopped the Flyers for the first 40 minutes and turned in a very solid preseason debut as he proceeded to stop 16 of the 17 shots he faced. The lone goal Neuvirth surrendered came on Mathew Barzal’s wide-open power-play one-timer. It was Barzal’s second goal against the Flyers this preseason. The 16th overall selection in the 2015 draft, Barzal came through last Sunday with the Islanders' game-tying goal by catching Travis Sanheim flat-footed in the third period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

• As he did in Long Island, Leland Irving took over in net in the third period but didn’t have to concern himself with the lethal John Tavares, who scored the game-winner Sunday. Irving had a relatively quiet night until the final two minutes of regulation.

• The Flyers crawled out of the gates offensively. It took them 12:30 into the first period to record their first shot on net, which came during their second power-play opportunity. They followed that up with another slow start in the second period in which they failed to register a shot over the first 6:30. 

• An impressive element to Oskar Lindblom’s game has been his ability to backcheck and his commitment to defense in his own end. With a reputation as a two-way player in the Swedish Hockey League, Lindblom made two solid defensive plays in the first period, and his pursuit and retrieval of the puck led to one of Leier’s second-period goals.

• One infraction the referees have been really cracking down on during the preseason is Rule 76.4, as the league attempts to curb cheating on faceoffs. Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang was nailed twice in this game, resulting in a pair of Flyers power plays. 

• Defenseman Sam Morin showed a degree of discipline and maturity that perhaps wasn’t present during the start of his professional career. Morin refused to engage with Islanders winger Ross Johnston, who dropped his gloves with Morin backed up against the glass. Johnston was whistled for roughing, giving the Flyers a power play.

• More disruptive than Morin’s fists has been his stick. While killing a Sanheim crosschecking minor, Morin utilized his 6-foot-6 frame and his extra long stick to disrupt a pass three different times on one shift. If Morin can maintain poise and stay in position, he can be a real force on the penalty kill.

• The NHL is also looking to eliminate slashing penalties. The Flyers were whistled for three slashing calls in the first 10 minutes. As a result, Barzal easily converted a 5-on-3 one-timer for the game’s first goal.

• Solid and steady would be the description so far for Flyers 2013 second-round pick Robert Hagg in his quest to make the opening night roster. Hagg hasn’t been rattled and has shown in two preseason games to make the right plays in his own zone.

Lines and pairings
Dale Weise-Jori Lehtera-Matt Read
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Taylor Leier-Corban Knight-Pascal Laberge
Carsen Twarynski-German Rubtsov-Colin McDonald

Sam Morin-Mark Alt
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Travis Sanheim

The other game
Despite goals from Travis Konecny and T.J. Brennan, the Flyers' other squad fell to the Islanders, 3-2, in Brooklyn.

Boston bound?
Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Valtteri Filppula, Radko Gudas, Ivan Provorov, Andrew MacDonald and Brian Elliott were the Flyers' regulars that did not suit up in either Allentown or Brooklyn on Wednesday night. Hextall said most of the guys listed above, but not all, will play against the Bruins Thursday at TD Garden.