When the Flyers asked Shjon Podein to come back and play in the Alumni game for the 2012 Winter Classic, he had no idea what he was getting into.
“I thought it was just going to be a practice game with nobody in the stands, playing against the old New York Rangers just to kind of test out and warm up the ice,” Podein said. “When I got there, they told me there was going to be close to 50,000 people. That’s when I got scared. I didn’t bring any of my own equipment. I didn’t have a stick. I didn’t have shoulder pads. I had no idea what was going on.
“Rex [Mark Recchi] loaned me a stick and I stole Jaromir Jagr’s shoulder pads and luckily I made it through the game and was able to experience it. It was special. One of the most special days of my life to be honest.”
Podein scored the game-winning goal for the Flyers Alumni in that game, and was quite vocal about how great his experience was afterward.
“I said it from Day One when I got here - Philly fans are the greatest,” Podein said. “It’s not just a cliché. They’re unbelievable.
“They’re demanding. They’re harsh. They’re friendly. If you just give them everything you have, they respect you for it. That’s why it was so great playing here.”
Podein played in parts of five seasons with the Flyers, reaching the Finals with them in 1997.
He was later traded to Colorado for Keith Jones and as a member of the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 2001.
After being traded from Colorado to St. Louis, Podein left the NHL in 2003 and played two seasons in Sweden before finishing his professional career as a player/coach in Japan for the Nikko Icebucks.
“Japan was amazing,” he said. “When I was there, I had a translator because a lot of people don’t speak English. A couple months in, I learned that my translator only understood about half of what I was saying, so I don’t even know if I was communicating with anyone over there, but it was great.”
Since his retirement, Podein has settled with his wife and two kids in St. Louis Park, Minnesota where he keeps busy by doing… well…
“A lot of nothing,” he said. “I have two kids. My daughter Anna Leigh is nine and my son Shjon Daniel (who he calls Junior) is six and I’m chasing them around every day. I’m doing a little high school coaching and I’m doing a little part-time family advising work for an agency out here called Octagon.”
Octagon is one of the largest sports agencies in the world, and they have a large stable of hockey clients.
Podein does a lot of the initial legwork for the company, getting in good with kids and their families before handing them off to an agent to represent them.
“In the agency world you go out and start watching kids as young as age 14,” Podein said. “What you do is help kids and their families make decisions. The big decision is whether to go to college or major junior hockey. You help them decide when to go and when are they ready and hopefully, when they get really good one day, they’ll make the NHL and give your company four percent of what they make.”
Otherwise, he spends his time coaching the St. Louis Park High Orioles boys hockey team.
He is now in his third year as head coach of the team and is assisted by another former Flyer – Paul Ranheim. Podein and Ranheim never played together in the NHL. Ranheim arrived in Philadelphia the season after Podein was traded.
“There are two questions I get from kids that I’m coaching for the first time,” Podein said. “First they ask, ‘Did you play for the Minnesota Wild?’ I tell them, ‘No.’ Then they say, ‘Did you really play in the NHL?’
“After they get to know me they understand that I played in the NHL, but it’s such a removed thing. Especially in the community I live in because it’s not the strongest hockey-focused community. For some of them it’s nice and neat that I’m their coach, but it’s used more as a fun thing to talk about than anything else. “
Podein also is still very active with his charity – the Shjon Podein Children’s Foundation, which is also known as “Team 25.”
We just started our 15th year and we still have that,” Podein said. “It was something we started when I was in Philly.
“It’s the same concept – monies are given to underprivileged and underfunded children’s charities.”
The mission of Shjon Podein’s Children’s Foundation is to improve the quality of life and create an environment of caring and community support for children facing extraordinary difficulties in their lives.
The Foundation, which has a Website here, supports at least eight different children’s charities.
The foundation has also created the only elementary adaptive floor hockey program in the nation where children with physical and mental disabilities are able to participate.
The adaptive floor hockey program is for students (3rd grade – 12th grade) with physical or other health impairments. There is a camp that is especially tailored for children with disabilities (medically diagnosed neuromuscular, postural/skeletal, traumatic, growth or neurological impairments which impact the child’s physical functioning.)
Podein’s foundation began a pilot program in the summer of 2001 and due to its tremendous success allowed for great growth of the program. This year an elementary league is running in conjunction with the high school program during the school year. And the hope is to grow this program into other communities throughout the state of Minnesota and ultimately the nation.
It is because of his work with this foundation that Podein was recognized as the recipient of the King Clancy Memorial Trophy in 2001. The trophy is awarded annually to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community.
Podein said he has so many memories of his time as a Flyer, that he couldn’t highlight anything specific about his time here that would be more memorable than anything else, although he did admit the unexpected run to the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals and the trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997 were definitely career highlights.
“I’ve been very vocal and very non-apologetic when I say that my time in Philadelphia was some of the best times in my life - I never wanted to leave there,” he said. “It was the classiest organization I was ever lucky enough to be part of. And I mean everybody there – from the people at the practice rink and the offices – just from Mr. Snider on down. I was so lucky to be there.
“The whole ideology, that we were there to win and showed up at the rink with a purpose, was awesome. It was a feeling that I lived for because I loved competition more than anything. The organization was committed to winning and doing things the right way. I was privileged to be a part of it.
“The other thing that I loved about being there was to walk out of a South Philly bar and have some guy on the street recognize me and yell, ‘Yo, Shjon.’ It made me feel like I was really a part of South Philly then.”
And he will always be a part of the South Philly lore. If not for the way he skated hard on every shift and killed penalties like a whirling dervish and was part of a Conference champion, but for the game-winning goal in an exhibition game that will live on in the memory of Philadelphia hockey fans for decades to come.
“It was special,” Podein said. “One of the most special days of my life to be honest.
“It’s hard to explain the feeling of being on the ice with some of the all-time great players. Then to take my little boy out there and introduce him to Bob Clarke and Mr. [Ed] Snider in a city that I absolutely love – it was awesome. It’s one of my favorite memories.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – A chill in the Friday night air in the Adirondacks welcomed Erik Gustafsson soon after his team had played a bad game against the Syracuse Crunch.
Gustafsson, who has been playing the biggest minutes on defense for the Phantoms, remained even-tempered despite his team’s fourth loss in five games.
It certainly wasn’t the greatest start to a season for the 24-year-old defensive prospect, but it also wasn’t the worst beginning. Sure, he struggled a little out of the gate – maybe failing to realize that the AHL this season, with an influx of NHL talent, was going to be better than the last time he played here – but in recent games, despite his team coming up on the short end of the scoreboard, had seen improvement it Gustafsson’s game.
The next night, against Albany, Gustafsson played his best game of the young season. He was on the ice for more than 27 minutes, killing penalties and quarterbacking the power play, a unit on which he scored his first goal of the season, and his teammates joined him in ramping up their efforts winning 4-0.
On his way out of the arena, into the same brisk air that greeted him 24 hours earlier, Gustafsson was still on an emotional even keel.
See, no matter win or lose, the Flyers top defensive prospect keeps his emotions in check.
“I want to bring a high level of consistency to every game and play well every game,” he said. “I haven’t had that before. I want to be really good player every game… I want to give my coaches confidence to play me the tough minutes.”
That confidence is there. Gustafsson is one of only seven Phantoms to have played in each of the team’s first 14 games. When you look at the other six, it’s populated with names that are primarily familiar to Flyers fans – Ben Holmstrom, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, Marc-Andre Bourdon, etc.
There’s no question that these are the players the Flyers are hoping will be key contributors within the organization, either at the NHL level, the AHL level, or both, once the NHL season commences.
And Gustafsson is near the top of that list, and may be at the top when it comes to defensemen.
“He’s come along nicely,” said general manager Paul Holmgren. “His first year here he was able to get in a full season with the Phantoms and put up really good numbers as an offensive guy who played all situations and was able to pick up the tempo of the game.
“He had to get quicker and his skating needed to improve while he was adapting. I think the brief number of games that he played for the Flyers – he did a good job of containing, and that’s what stood out in our minds.
“He’s always going to have some difficulty because he’s a smaller statured guy, especially compared to some of the forwards he plays against, but if you’re smart, and you have a good stick and are competitive, you can play around those deficiencies.”
Which is precisely what Gustafsson has been doing in recent games.
“That might have been his best game of the year,” coach Terry Murray said of Gustafsson’s effort against Albany Nov. 3. “He was seeing the ice, moved the puck well and got involved physically. He played with a little bit of an edge to his game and that’s nice to see.”
It’s what the Flyers are hoping from Gustafsson while he is down on the farm. He gained valuable NHL experience last season for sure, including playing in the playoffs, where he scored a goal in the series clinching win against Pittsburgh, but they feel Gustafsson can be an all-situations defender – much in the mold of Kimmo Timonen – if he shows an ability to play to his strengths on a game-in, game-out basis.
“We’re looking for consistency in his play,” said Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy. “That’s the biggest thing that your game doesn’t have too many peaks and valleys. It’s more of a mental focus than a physical one. The mental part is the toughest thing to adjust to on a regular basis. If he can limit mistakes and be focused he can be a really strong contributor for us.
“He’s one of those guys who can play both sides of the game. His biggest asset is he can skate himself out of trouble. He has the ability to separate himself from opponents and he moves puck well and has good hands… he puts passes on tape and does it under pressure. That’s an ability you’d like all defensemen to have.”
And once Gustafsson puts it all together, the hope is he can be a huge part of the Flyers organization, possibly even at the NHL level.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
There was no doubt that Brad Marsh was a little crazy during his playing days.
At a time when the NHL was forcing players to wear helmets as a form of protection, those who had gone without them prior to the implementation of the new rule were grandfathered to be allowed to continue to play without one.
Marsh chose to remain helmetless. Yes, that was a bit on the cuckoo side.
Fast forward almost two decades.
Marsh, who is not an experienced cyclist, decides he’s going to ride his bike from one coast of Canada to the other in the span of three months.
What, you might ask, was he thinking?
But, as nutty as it may sound, Marsh did it anyway. And it was an experience of a lifetime that he shared with his family and used to raise money for a popular charity in Canada.
But before we get to that biking expedition, you should know a little bit about how it came to be.
After all Marsh, 54, wasn’t exactly the picture of health as recently as a few years ago. The notion of riding a bike through the streets of Ottawa, where he now lives, was daunting, never mind across the entire country.
But, a business opportunity turned into a life-changing event for Marsh, and he has made it his trademark:
The 90-Day challenge.
Marsh was always known as one of the most competitive players when he spent eight seasons with the Flyers in the 1980s.
So, when given the opportunity to challenge himself in retirement, Marsh took the opportunity and ran with it.
“A couple years ago I got a call from a buddy to look at a new health product,” Marsh said. “I looked at it and was interested in it. While I was sitting there listening to the presentation I knew I had to do something about my health, specifically my weight, which at that time was 280 pounds.
“I was all ears. It was an opportunity to listen to some information about not only a health product but information about a new revenue source promoting the product.”
At the time Marsh owned restaurants in the Ottawa area, but the restaurant business wasn’t going very well. So, he wanted to give himself an opportunity to get more money coming into the house.
“I had four kids in college at the time,” he said. “The beginning of the end for me in the restaurant business was during the lockout of 2004-05. I couldn’t move the sales around to make it work because of the money I lost.
“Fast forward to my buddy getting me the opportunity with ViSalus Sciences. They promote a 90-day challenge to get yourself into better health over a 90-day period. With my athletic background I loved the challenge. So rather than going on the proverbial diet or hit the gym again, I started using the product, which is a simple meal replacement, vitamins and an energy drink, and in my first 90-day challenge I lost 30 pounds and started feeling better and at that point I felt like going back to the gym. When you’re fat and lazy the last thing you want to do is exercise.”
Marsh then began a second 90-day challenge, which was to continue to lose weight and also to begin to get in better shape. With each challenge he’d set a goal of losing weight or reducing my body fat.
“At Christmas (2010) time my boys bought me entrance into a 100-mile (160KM) bike race in the mountains of British Columbia,” Marsh said. “So, my fourth 90-day challenge was to get on the bike and start training. So there was a progression. You set the bar and work toward achieving it. With each challenge I keep raising the ante.”
After finishing the 100-mile ride, Marsh enjoyed it so much that he decided to test his bike-riding limits a year later – and bike across Canada.
Marsh was a member of the 1985 & 1987 Flyers teams that went to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I do a lot of work locally in Ottawa with the Boys and Girls Club,” Marsh said. “That charity in Canada flies very under the radar. Plus with it being my eighth 90-day challenge – the fifth, sixth and seventh were training for the ride – I wanted to ride across Canada and use it as an opportunity to both promote my health products and raise money for the Boys and Girls Club.
“The bike ride the previous summer that was 100 miles was the extent of my experience biking before the cross country trip. But if you go back to when I was playing hockey, I prided myself on being one of the better-conditioned athletes not only on the Flyers, but in the NHL.”
In the 1980s, before training to be a professional athlete was a year-round proposition, teams used to have awards that were given out to players who were in the best shape during training camp. The Flyers were no different.
“At each training camp we had the Bob Clarke trophy that was awarded to the player that was in the best shape,” Marsh said. “They don’t do that anymore, but back when I played, but it was a hotly contested award to win. You showed up at camp in top shape. We did the 2-mile run, bench presses, etc. and I prided myself on being in top shape.
“Unfortunately in retirement, I got out of shape and I made myself miserable, especially because I knew I had to do something about it. But with the stress of trying to make business work it was the last thing on my plate. For me to get back in shape and do something that was ‘out there’ is something that I relished and, not to sound corny, but it made me feel alive again.
“Ever since starting my first challenge, I always had something to shoot for, work hard for and try to attain. The ride was fabulous. It was everything I would have hoped for and more. It didn’t put a strain on my body at all because I was in great shape. There wasn’t one single day where I said to myself, ‘What the hell am I doing?’”
Marsh built a lot of publicity for his ride through Canadian media mostly through his oldest son Erik, who built quite a following using social media.
“He was with me the whole time,” Marsh said. “He did the social media, the blogging, the texting and the writing. My wife Patti was with me driving the support car for the first week, which allowed me to ride with Erik. When I didn’t have a ride, he would drive the car. I’d leave in the morning he’d catch up, we’d re-fuel then he’d ride ahead 50 or 60 KM and then get on his bike, ride back to meet me on the road then we would ride together to our final destination for the day, which was really fun.
“My son Patrick joined us in the mountains just outside of Calgary and that was a lot of fun riding through the big climbs with him because he’s a speed skater who does a lot of biking for training, so it was neat to ride with an experienced biker. My daughter Victoria joined us in Ontario and drove the car through the province of Ontario, which allowed Erik to ride with us and my other daughter Madeline joined us in Kingston, Ontario and rode with us for a bit and then the whole family joined up in Halifax and all six of us did the Maritimes together along with my nephew from Southern New Jersey.”
A complete breakdown of the ride is available HERE on a blog written by Erik Marsh.
“It was such a great sense of accomplishment going from coast to coast,” Marsh said. “I also visited with kids from 31 different girls and boys clubs, so as I rode across Canada, I would stop at a Boys and Girls Club, get off my bike and play road hockey with them. So that was a real hoot. Looking back, that was something special to spend that time with all those different Boys and Girls Clubs on my trip.”
Marsh said the memories of the trip are incredibly vivid, and crop up at even the most random moments.
“During the ride, everyone would always check the Weather Channel so we knew if we could Barbecue or picnic or whatever, and now when we look at the weather forecast, we see it’s raining here, or snowing here or foggy here and we look at it and say, ‘oh I was there, it’s snowing there? Remember when we were there…’
“It’s quite amazing the stories that we created that relive itself not through sitting around at a table having a few beers with your friends telling stories but just by watching the simple weather forecasts. It’s been neat looking back on the trip like that.”
If you think riding cross country on a bicycle is the pinnacle for Marsh, then you better think again. Oh, he’s not done. Not by a long shot.
His ninth 90-Day Challenge is under way. He has challenged folks to join him this time in setting a goal and accomplishing it in 90 days. The goal can be anything – weight loss, quitting smoking, something that will take a lot of will power, but will also be a thrilling feat.
In the end, he’s going to bring people who reached their goal to Philadelphia in March.
“I don’t have a date set, because I’m waiting for the NHL schedule to be announced but what we were going to do is come to Philly, but also go to see a hockey game,” Marsh said. “It is a nice add on to the trip.
“My restaurants are now closed. My last one closed in 2011. So my wife and I do this full-time now. The neat thing about it is I talk to people, and there are some – middle-aged – who have never set a goal in life. They went to school because they were supposed to. They went to college because they were supposed to. They graduated and got a job because they were supposed to. They got married because they were supposed to, but they never set the bar for themselves. So it was neat talking to people and helping them set a goal – whether it was losing weight, or entering a 10K run or a marathon – I just had eight people on my team complete the Toronto Marathon. That’s a huge sense of accomplishment when you achieve something that you put your mind to. I have people on my team who have lost more than 200 pounds simply because they made a decision to do something abut their health.”
The ‘‘teammates’’ are going to pile into a couple of buses, come to Philly and celebrate in the only way that makes sense.
“We’re going to celebrate in true Philadelphia style by running up the Art Museum steps like Rocky, in the appropriate Rocky attire and have the music playing the whole time,” Marsh said. “When we get up there, each person can tell their story and tell what their accomplishment is. For some people on the trip, that might just be being able to walk up the steps. We take it for granted that we can run up the steps, but some people might only be able to walk it, whereas 90 days earlier, they wouldn’t have even been able to think about that.
“The dates will be set once the new schedule comes out… it would be great if it could be an Ottawa Senators game, but if not it would be great to just be any NHL game.”
Marsh was a Philadelphia treasure. He was an alternate captain on the teams that reached the Stanley Cup Finals twice in the 1980s before losing to the Edmonton Oilers.
He was a stalwart on defense who made his bones by being physical and taking away time and space.
Marsh was the 11th overall pick in the 1978 Draft by the Atlanta Flames. He came to the Flyers in a trade for Mel Bridgman in 1981.
He was captain of the Calgary Flames before being traded to Philadelphia, and he later played in great hockey towns like Toronto, Detroit and Ottawa, but he maintains that Philadelphia was a unique and memorable place to play hockey.
“First and foremost, when I was traded there, the attitude that was present in the dressing room, in and around the city and at the practice rink that this club was different then when I played with the Flames,” Marsh said. “I know everyone wants to win and works hard to win, but what was very evident was that the attitude in the Flyers dressing room was very different than anything I was part of before, or since and it was special to be a part of that.
“Being a part of the Flyers is what taught me or showed me how to be a true professional. I had things going for me in Calgary, but I was getting by then on my talent and raw ability, but it takes a lot more than that to get by for a long period of time in the NHL and it wasn’t until I became a Flyer that I learned what that was. I loved every minute of being a Philadelphia Flyer and I look back on those years very fondly.”
Marsh had a lengthy career, playing more than 1,000 games in the NHL, but never got to lift the Silver chalice that is the Stanley Cup.
“It’s the big question in Canada because everyone lives and breathes hockey,” Marsh said. “‘Did you win a Stanley Cup?’ The obvious answer to that is no. We came very close twice – in 1985 and 1987. But I look back on my Flyers years and I see in 1985, Bob Clarke had just retired and it was Mike Keenan’s first year as a coach and we had seven guys under the age of 21 on the team. Pelle Lindbergh was our goalie and we had no expectations at all that year.
“No one knew what to expect from us, but it wasn’t anything really good and we went out and proved everyone wrong and went to the Finals that year. It’s hard to pick out one game or a series. Those three years though from 1985 through 1987 were times when a lot of players, Dave Poulin, Tim Kerr, Mark Howe, Brian Propp, Pelle first and then Ron Hextall all came into our own – including myself. A lot of us had good careers, but it was during those years that we really came into our own. We all seemed to have the best years of our careers to that point and that set the tone for the rest of our careers.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
PHILADELPHIA – He weaved his way through the crowd of well-wishers and gawkers with the same smoothness and finesse that always belied his size.
Eric Lindros was a one-of-a-kind hockey talent who combined physicality and grace in a way rarely seen in the sport.
For a span of eight seasons, who was one of the most dominating figures in the game – much like Sandy Koufax was the best pitcher in baseball for a shorter span than most legendary players, but was still Hall-of-Fame worthy, Lindros compiled statistics that were only matched historically by the game’s greatest.
However, concussions cut Lindros’ career short – especially at a time when very little was known about the long-term effects of head injuries. Had he better been able to manage those during his playing days, Lindros, now 39, might still be playing the sport, rather than being feted for his accomplishments.
Circumstances being what they are though, Lindros is instead on the banquet circuit now.
And on Thursday evening, he was inducted into the ninth class of the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame at the annual induction ceremony held at the Society Hill Sheraton.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” he said. “I got word of this a few months ago and have been looking forward to it ever since. The lineup of inductees, it’s a group that has accomplished a lot of good things.”
The group of 16 inductees included Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, 76ers point guard Wali Jones, Eagles greats Tommy Thompson and Maxi Baughan, Phillies public address announcer Dan Baker, and local athletes who made their bones elsewhere like Joe Klecko (New York Jets) and Mike Piazza (Los Angeles Dodgers/New York Mets).
But the highlight was Lindros, who was escorted to the event by his fiancée Kina – the two are planning a 2013 wedding – as the two-hour pre banquet meet and greet had all the attention brought his way.
Lindros was able to steal a nice chunk of time to chat with Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren, whom invited Lindros to take part in the Winter Classic Alumni game last December, offering an olive branch to the former Flyer after his departure from the franchise more than a decade ago was a bit rocky.
Lindros later thanked Holmgren during his speech for that invitation, which has allowed for a lot of healing to take place between the team and one of its greatest players.
“I don’t know,” Lindros said if he thought a decade ago that days like Thursday would happen in Philadelphia. “We’re here now. And I’m honored. I really am. I look back on my years playing here and for the most part, it was fantastic. It really was. I’m happy to be back and honored to be part of this group.”
Part of the reconnection between Lindros and the Flyers has been the ever-growing understanding of concussions and head injuries.
The Flyers have certainly lost their share of players to such injuries – Keith Primeau and Ian Laperriere most famously, and currently Chris Pronger is shelved with the after-effects of an eye/head injury. All have dealt with post-concussion syndrome, something that Lindros battled daily in the latter part of his career.
“Things evolve,” Lindros said. “The word concussion was never used [when I played]. The game has made some changes. Taking out the red line, I’m not so sure that if I were commissioner I wouldn’t oppose it.
“The speed of the players is so quick. If you’re not holding and not impeding people’s progress, any other way to skate in front of him, guys are coming with a huge amount of speed. Defenseman and forwards alike are susceptible to [concussions].
“They are being handled better. People are coming out and saying, ‘This is how I feel. What can I do to get better?’ They are being more up front about it. Teams are taking it far more seriously.”
Regardless of how it all ended for Lindros, when he played, he was a joy to watch – and as exciting as it was for fans to see him play, it was equally thrilling for Lindros to play in Philadelphia.
“I’ve always said they are the best fans in any sport anywhere,” said Lindros, who also had the opportunity to play in such hockey hot beds as Toronto and New York. “
“The fans are passionate here. “You really can’t describe it unless you’re part of it. Wherever you are, people want the Flyers to win. You always had great support.”
Lindros’ career with the Flyers began in the Spectrum, and his play and excitement about his ability led to the buiding of what is now the Wells Fargo Center, which opened at the peak of Lindros’ career in Philadelphia in 1996.
“I’m kind of dating myself here but the old Spectrum, I’ll never forget my first playoff game there [against the Rangers],” Lindros said. “It was so loud for 3½ hours, you could not talk to anybody [on the bench].
“It was that intense. It was a terrific advantage for us and a bit of a jungle for the opposing team. Those were some great times.”
“That feeling we had, you know you had something going,” Lindros said. “You could just tell in practice that things were clicking.
“We were having way more fun than we ever did. Things would translate into productivity on the ice. Those were great moments.”
Lindros thanked those players as well as several other teammates. He even had fond memories of a couple of coaches, namely Bill Dineen, and of course the late Roger Nielsen.
Lindros noted a favorite memory of Nielson using a video clip of a flock of geese to explain the importance of team.
“He showed all these geese flying across the screen and it was, ‘Where are you going with this, Rog?’” Lindros recalled. “Well, if one geese fails and falls behind, another one of the flock comes and stays with it and the flock keeps going. But you have to be with your teammates. He tried explaining these with geese.”
Lindros thanked a lot of people from the Flyers organization, joining Holmgren at the Flyers table were assistant general manager John Paddock and Barry Hanrahan as well as former public relations director/traveling secretary Joe Kadlec and public address announcer Lou Nolan.
At the end of the speech, Lindros looked at the table, situated 30 feet in front of the podium, raised his right fist into the air and finished with two words:
“Go Flyers,” he said.
Yes, Lindros was happy to be home.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or fllow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – At one point in his career with the Flyers organization, Rob Bordson was considered a throw away. Now, he’s starting to make the organization think differently.
When the Flyers traded Mike Richards to Los Angeles in the summer of 2011 and brought back two contracts – Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn – they needed to add another contract to the deal so they could stay within the 50-contract limit for NHL teams.
Bordson was a guy that was lost in the shuffle with the Adirondack Phantoms, so he was added to the deal.
It didn’t matter to the Kings, who had no intention of signing Bordson anyway, and a few weeks later Bordson became an unrestricted free agent.
The native of Duluth, Minnesota was at a crossroads of his young career and needed to figure out what to do. With no NHL team interested and no AHL team even willing to offer a tryout contract, Bordson had little choice but try to start over in the ECHL.
“It felt like I was starting the sport all over again,” he said.
So Bordson latched on with the Trenton Titans. At the start of last season, and had a renewed focus to committing himself to a better focus on the sport.
While at Trenton, a few scouts got to see him play, including those from the Flyers.
“We were keeping tabs on him,” said Flyers Director of Hockey Operations Chris Pryor. “There was always something about him that we liked, so we wanted to see if that would come together for him.”
Did they ever.
While at Trenton last season, Bordson posted the best offensive numbers of his career including his time in the AHL, collegiately at the University of Minnesota-Dultuth and even his one season in the USHL – the top junior hockey league in the United States.
Bordson, 24, played just 38 games for the Titans but in that time amassed 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists). It was enough to earn him an amateur tryout contract with the Rochester Americans.
He only played eight games with Rochester, before that tryout contract expired and it wasn’t renewed. But that’s when the Flyers came calling again and said they’d like to give Bordson another chance.
So they signed him to a new deal and he finished out the season playing 24 games with the Phantoms.
But now he was going to be used differently. The Phantoms wanted to see how he would look as a shut down forward, playing against the top players on the opposing team.
He did a decent enough job to finish the 11-12 season that he was brought back for training camp in September.
However, with the trickle down effect of NHL talent in the AHL, many believed Bordson’s ticket was going to once again be punched for Trenton.
Except he stuck with the Phantoms.
And through the first nine games he’s really impressed coach Terry Murray.
“He’s a player that really thinks the game,” said Murray, who certainly has an appreciation for players with a strong background in the mental part of the sport. “He plays really well within the system and he knows his role and plays it well. He’s a guy that you can trust to do his job the right way. And he is always willing to learn. He asks a lot of good questions in practice. You can see that he really embraces his role.”
And it’s a role that’s difficult for some players to undertake because when you’re a forward and your good enough to make it to the AHL, your background is usually one rooted in skill.
So, to suddenly accept a role where you have to unselfishly put aside that skill to provide the team with the kind of hard work and energy that is often overlooked by fans because it’s not easily measured statistically takes a real understanding and commitment that often is lost on young players at this level.
“There are three zones on the ice and you have to be responsible in all three,” Bordson said. “Everyone at this level has played power play or top line minutes at some point previously and they still want to do that. I’m not really worried about that. I like playing a defensive role. I just want to play hard and be a team-oriented guy.
“It’s been a lifelong goal to get to the NHL. I’m one league away. I’m playing in the best league in North America at the moment and with all the talent that’s down here, it’s awesome. If that’s my ticket to the NHL – to be a defensive forward, a shut down guy and a penalty killer, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
The notion of Bordson being an NHL caliber player was definitely a long shot a year ago, and while he’s still not considered an elite prospect, he’s at least on the radar as a guy who might be able to develop into a fourth line type/penalty kill specialist in the future.
“He’s a guy that grows on you,” Pryor said. “He does a lot of little things really well. When you don’t see how he is day in and day out, you maybe don’t see it, but as a coach you get to see it every day and a guy like that grows on you and they know they can rely on them. A player like him is very valuable.
“You have to find an identity and sometimes that takes awhile. He’s been through a lot with different organizations, but he’s figured it out and will do whatever it takes to play. He’s a versatile guy.”
But will that translate to getting a chance in the NHL?
“There’s an opportunity here for sure,” Pryor said. “It ultimately depends on what he does himself but people in the organization do like him because of what he does. You never really know, but I agree with Terry. What Sean (Couturier) did really well for the Flyers last year, Rob is doing at this level for the Phantoms this year.
“Down the road, whether that would be this year, next year, or whenever the time might come, I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that he be able to do that [reach the NHL].”
And that’s all Bordson wants is a chance.
“I just want to keep learning from Terry Murray,” Bordson said. “He’s got a lot of experience and knows what it takes to make it to the NHL. I just want to listen to what he says, learn from him and get better.
“I take pride in playing in both ends of the rink. There’s something that makes you feel good about shutting down the other team’s top line, or killing off a penalty. I’ll do that any day.”
And who knows, “any day” may turn into “today” some day soon for Bordson when it comes to fulfilling that dream if he maintains his selflessness and work ethic.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – When the Phantoms reconvene for practice Monday, Terry Murray will have an easy day.
He’ll gather his team in the locker room, pull down the video board, hit play on the DVD player and simply let the video of Saturday’s 4-0 win against Albany roll.
It was that good of a performance. It was that solid a team effort. They won every level of the game. 5-on-5. Power Play. Penalty kill.
Phantoms. Phantoms. Phantoms.
They scored the first goal of the game for the first time this year. They took a lead into a period for the first time as well, then repeated it a second time, because, well, it felt good to play with the lead.
Who knew, right?
All kidding aside, it was probably the Phantoms (4-5-0, eight points) most complete effort of the season.
“We got to play our game tonight,” said Ben Holmstrom, who scored one of the two Phantoms power play goals and was a demon on the penalty kill. “And we got that first goal of the game that helped us settle in and stick with it for the whole 60 minutes. Obviously there are still ups and downs within the game but that was a big performance for us.”
It was big from the opening shifts to the final horn that sounded the 19th shutout of goalie Scott Munroe’s career.
Murray made a couple changes, bringing Garrett Roe and Tyler Brown back in the lineup and they paid immediate dividends with their forechecking game, pressuring the Albany defense on every shift.
“I was very pleased with how they got on the hunt with the forecheck and were pivotal to the game,” Murray said.
And although they didn’t get on the score sheet – despite several high percentage chances, they did something that was really more critical for the Phantoms than anything else – they set a tempo for a team that was definitely out of sync in recent games.
Because after they went off the ice, it was Harry Zolneirczyk skating hard, Zac Rinaldo forcing turnovers, Rob Bordson winning puck battles, Cullen Eddy getting into fights… it was contagious.
Then the penalty kill, which has been a strong suit of the team, even while they were struggling, blew the doors open.
And with that, you could feel the sigh of relief emanated from the Phantoms bench fill the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“Guys were committed to doing things right,” Murray said. “We want to really go after pucks… Tonight there were several clips that I’m going to reshow our players (from the penalty kill) that will reinforce the positive side of it.”
Holmstrom made it 2-0 when he lunged to poke a loose puck past Kinkaid on the power play, following up a Matt Ford shot, then Erik Gustafsson scored on a 5-on-3 advantage, taking a pass from Couturier and snapping it into the short side.
Couturier finished the game with three points, and was once again the most noticeable player on the ice.
“It makes a big difference scoring that first goal,” Couturier said. “You can tell because we stuck to the game plan after that and we played a pretty good game overall. It starts with the little details and executing them. Today we did a good job of creating turnovers on the forecheck and not turning the puck over.”
Shane Harper added the final goal, going hard to the net and taking a great pass from Couturier, who gain possession of the puck off his own faceoff win, and slipping it past Kinkaid.
Meanwhile, all Munroe did was make 26 saves to record his 19th career AHL shutout.
“It never gets old,” he said. “It’s always the same in those last couple minutes of the game when you’re sitting on the shutout and it’s sure nice to get them.”
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For the Phantoms it’s nice to get a lead. It’s nice to protect the lead. It’s nice to play the way Terry Murray wants them to play.
Now, they need to see if they can carry that momentum into a five-game road trip.
“This win is a huge step for us,” Holmstrom said. “Now we have to follow it up. We haven’t had back-to-back victories yet though. That’s the next thing we have to do and start stringing these together.”
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – At this point, some would call it epidemic.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just hockey. After a 4-1 loss to the defending Calder Cup champions, who now play as the Syracuse Crunch, it’s easier to be fickle in such an assessment. Maybe giving up the first goal of the game in eight straight contests is just a bad run.
Maybe going into 16 consecutive intermissions without a lead is a quirk of the statistics. Maybe getting behind and having to chase the game turns good effort and hard work into misguided energy.
Well, the last maybe is a definite with these Phantoms, who continue to be inconsistent in the first tenth of their season. Whether the rest is true or not remains to be seen, but unless the Phantoms can figure out a way to change those trends, those perceptions could very well become realities.
“We don’t stop working but we don’t work very efficiently,” said Danny Syvret. “The work is coming but the production isn’t there. When you are behind it’s a given that you are going to try harder to score and that usually isn’t the best way to play the game. “Supporting the puck in a close area and then going for long bomb plays don’t usually work and you can easily lose a game playing that way.”
And that’s what the Phantoms have found themselves doing when they get behind – pressing too hard, getting away from their structure and trying low percentage plays in hopes they will work.
“We start to get away from everything we want to see with the structure and the setup,” coach Terry Murray said. “We were freelancing out there and as soon as that happens it snowballs… We got away from everything and our spacing got to be too big. It got further away every shift. I addressed the team about it after the game, we were looking for passes from our goal line to the red line.“We’re on the other side of their defensemen. It’s impossible to make those plays.”
The Crunch scored on their first shot of the game as AHL scoring leader Cory Conacher surprised Marc-Andre Bourdon with his speed, blew past him on the left wing and lifted a backhander past Cal Heeter to make it 1-0 midway through the first period. It was a disappointing incidence for the Phantoms, who had dominated play through the game’s first 10 minutes. However, they didn’t respond poorly.
The continued to have good energy in what was a chippy period and were able to draw even before the end of the frame. Sean Couturier won faceoff cleanly back to Cullen Eddy at the point. He snapped a shot on goal that Harry Zolnierczyk tipped past Syracuse goalie Dustin Tokarski, knotting the score.
It was Zolnierczyk’s third goal of the season, having scored one in each home game. But once the second period began, Syracuse starting dictating their style of game, scored two quick goals 100 seconds apart, and left the Phantoms in chase mode.
“We start the games well but then we slowly fade away from what’s working and that’s hurting us right now,” Zolnierczyk said. “Getting down in every game is frustrating. We talk about scoring that first goal to set ourselves up. But then we get behind and we don’t fade away right off the bat but slowly but surely we start tightening up and deviating away from the gameplan.”
The Phantoms had their chances, but went 0-for-7 on the power play, and really only had sustained pressure in one of those opportunities. “Special teams are critical obviously in the game today,” Murray said. “We relied on it in the game against them last week and today it didn’t come through for us… You have to keep going with it and keep getting the chances. Tonight we had pucks end up on the sticks of players that you want to have it, but some nights they don’t go in for you.”
Murray was specifically referring to a chance Couturier had on the power play early in the third period where he couldn’t lift the puck off the ice and over a sprawling Tokarski. Tye McGinn had a couple of chances around the net, but couldn’t finish and Matt Ford had a snipe effort from in close that Tokarski gloved.
The Phantoms were given another power play chance late in the game, and Murray pulled Heeter for the extra attacker, but the Phantoms couldn’t get set up in the 6-on-4 and Matt Taormina iced the puck into the empty net to round out the scoring for Syracuse.
The goal for the Phantoms (3-5-0, six points) now will be to turn things around against an Albany Devils team who dominated them last week in a game in Albany. “[Tonight was] part of the learning process,” Murray said. “As players they have to take a look at it. We have to talk about it as coaches and we have to bring it back together quickly.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
After leading the Adirondack Phantoms in scoring in 2011-12, getting sent down to the Trenton Titans of the ECHL this season was a bit of a shock to Jason Akeson.
It was the kind of thing that in the past may have bothered him considerably.
But not this year. Not now. Not after talking to his mom.
See, Patricia Wheatley is Jason’s inspiration. Not just because she’s a mother to two top tier hockey talents – Jason’s brother Tyler, a defenseman, plays Junior A in Smiths Falls, Ontario for the Bears – but because she is a living, breathing example of how to overcome adversity.
Wheatley was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that attacked the muscles and bones in her arm.
She would have to endure a lengthy battle, one that was filled with hurdles and setbacks. There were days of intense chemotherapy and an uncertainty about her health on a day-to-day basis.
But the one thing that kept her going was hockey.
She always wanted to know what was going on with Jason and Tyler. She wanted to hear their stories about life in junior hockey, or for Jason last season, life in the American Hockey League.
“She loves the game as much as we do,” Akeson said. “She didn’t want to talk about it. She was more concerned about us. Hockey kept the cancer off my mom’s mind.”
So, when Akeson was surprisingly sent to Trenton rather than Glens Falls, NY, home of the Phantoms, it was Wheatley who got him to accept and understand his situation.
“The last few years have been hard for me emotionally,” Akeson said. “Moving away from home knowing my mother had cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. But she’s one of the most strong people I know and the way she carried herself on a daily basis inspired my whole family – including me to keep working hard when your down in the dumps. At then end of the day, I was just playing hockey and I have to realize what a privilege that is. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Trenton or wherever because there’s a lot more important things going on in life if I just pay attention.”
Like his mom beating cancer and going into remission.
That was the news that came shortly after he was told he was starting the season in Trenton.
“Getting that phone call that she was cancer-free was a great day,” Akeson said. “I was pretty upset. I trained hard all summer to be a top player in the AHL this season, and then being sent to Trenton was a shock to my system. But, then I talked to mom and realized that if you just keep fighting and stay positive, you can overcome anything. Anything is possible. She was very strong and we’re very proud of her. Now I have to be the same way.”
It’s not like Akeson took a step back over the summer. You don’t just go from leading a team in scoring (14 goals, 41 assists for 55 points in 76 games with the Phantoms) to being demoted.
Instead, Akeson was caught up in a numbers game. With NHL talent playing in the AHL during the labor unrest, it was inevitable that Akeson’s name would slip a little down the depth chart.
And once it got down below the top six forwards, it didn’t seem to make sense for the Flyers to keep him in Adirondack, because he wasn’t going to fill the role that are usually reserved for third and fourth line players.
“A guy like Garret Roe is a similar-sized guy who can play on the third or fourth line because he’s a hard worker and he’s gritty and plays with a more grind-it-out mentality,” said Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, who has been working with the Titans. “Akeson is a different player. He’s small, but he is purely a skill guy and a playmaker, so with the top six being filled on the Phantoms by guys like (Sean) Couturier and (Brayden) Schenn, it’s hard to imagine Akeson getting the kind of ice time he needs to be successful with that group.
“That’s why he’s in Trenton, but that said, he’s a very skilled guy… probably the most skilled guy in Trenton. He’s got great hands and vision, and makes plays. He’s a smart player. Not a lot of speed, but he knows how to play the game.”
Which has been the story of Akeson’s career. He’s too small (5-foot-10) and not fast enough for his size to play.
He’s heard the same thing since he was little, and yet has continued to prove everyone wrong.
He was an elite scorer in two seasons with the Cumberland Grads in Junior A. When he made it to major junior, he was a second team All-Rookie selection for the Kitchener Rangers with 64 points in his first full season.
In his second season with the Rangers, that total climbed to 80 points, playing with NHL-talent Jeff Skinner and Jeremy Morin.
It was the belief by many scouts that Akeson was a product of playing with guys who were first and second round picks in the NHL, and couldn’t thrive without them.
Then Akeson proved everyone wrong again.
In his final junior season, Akeson finished with 108 points, tied for the most in the OHL. The Flyers liked what they saw and decided to take a chance on him, offering him a three-year entry-level deal as an undrafted free agent prior to last season.
Still just 22-years-old, Akeson still has a lot to work on… and a lot to prove.
“Every day, everything I do is an attempt to get faster,” Akeson said. “That’s what the sport of hockey is now. The game is all about speed. There’s no gray area. I know that’s what I have to work on the most. I thought I was doing it and doing well, but to get sent down was a blow to my pride at first.
“However, I now know that life goes on. I can’t pout and whine. It’s the way the sport goes. I’m playing with a great group of guys who all want to take that next step and get to the AHL. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. I’ve been successful there and I just want to get back. That’s my focus.”
And so far so good for Akeson, who is third on the Titans in scoring with two goals, four assists and six points in the Titans first seven games.
“He’s gone there and played and I thought he’s played really well,” Berube said. “He ran the power play well. You can see he has the ability to slow the game down and use his vision to create plays. But That’s also the reality. It’s good to be able to slow the game down, but you can’t always do things slower. You have to make quicker decisions and do things at a more intense rate of speed. He knows he has to play that way, and he knows he’ll be back to the AHL as soon as the lockout ends.
“To be a small player in the NHL, you have to be exceptional, but I never count a guy out. He’s intelligent and has great skill. There are a lot of guys that don’t have that. If he becomes a harder player to play against… then he can make it. I’ve seen it before. It’s not impossible.”
With his mom in his corner, chatting hockey and offering advice and inspiration, Akeson too knows now that nothing is impossible.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
When looking back at the history of the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s not a surprise to learn that the franchise has come oh-so-close to ending a Stanley Cup championship drought that dates back to 1975.
Over a four-year career with the Flyers, goaltender Robert Esche posted a 60-40-16 record to go along with seven shutouts and a 2.45 goals-against average in 128 regular season games.
Six times in the last 37 years the Flyers have reached the Cup Final only to fall just short in reclaiming the silver chalice as their own.
And yet, despite getting to within a win or two of doing just that on a few occasions, some would argue that the team that had the best chance to eradicate the drought was one that never made it to the Final.
That would be the 2003-04 Flyers, who dropped an emotional, seven-game series to the eventual Cup champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was a team loaded with big name talent. There was Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Keith Primeau. There was John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Sami Kapanen. There was Eric Desjardins, Simon Gagne and Michal Handzus.
It was a who’s who of hockey coached by a Stanley Cup-winning coach in Ken Hitchcock.
Yet, as good as they were up front, if they were going to make a run to the Cup, they were going to need somebody to be outstanding in goal.
The year started with Jeff Hackett as the No. 1 guy, but he was diagnosed with vertigo in early January and never played again.
The Flyers traded for veteran Sean Burke about a month later and although it looked like he was going to be the guy for the first several weeks he was in Philly, in mid-March Hitchcock made a surprise decision.
Robert Esche, his 26-year-old backup goalie had played well all season filling in for both Hackett and Burke. Hitchcock decided Esche was going to be the guy the Flyers would go with for the playoffs and have Burke as a veteran to step in, in case Esche cracked under pressure.
The thing was, Esche never did crack. He finished the regular season with the best numbers of his career going 21-11-7 with a 2.04 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
In the playoffs Esche, who refused to speak to the media that postseason, earning the nickname, “Silent Bob,” was just as good with a 2.32 GAA and an even better .918 save percentage.
He helped carry a Flyers team depleted with injuries on defense (so much so that Kapanen, a forward, had to play regularly on the Flyers defense), to Game 7 of that Conference Final.
Esche was never the same after that season. A lockout that cancelled the following season hurt Esche from a physical standpoint, as he never seemed to get back to his playing shape the next season, and was being pressured by rookie goalie Antero Niittymaki, who had guided the Philadelphia Phantoms to the Calder Cup championship in the AHL during the locked out season.
Esche still held on to the No. 1 job in the 2005-06 playoffs, but barely. Not that it mattered as the Flyers were eliminated by a good Buffalo Sabres team in six games.
The following year proved to be the worst in Flyers history, and by the end of the season Esche was ready to move on from Philadelphia.
Last month, Esche returned to Philly for the first time since leaving the Flyers. He was working out with some NHL players at Flyers Skate Zone.
We caught up with him to see what he was up to since leaving the organization in the Spring of 2007.
In 2003, Esche won the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.
Q: What have you been doing since leaving the Flyers?
A: “When I first left the NHL back in 2007 I was looking for a job here and nothing really sunk in with an NHL team. It was mostly two-way contract offers and I wanted to play a lot of games so Russia was a good fit for me.
I went to Ak Bars Kazan in my first year - which is the gateway to Siberia - and we had a great team that went far in the playoffs [He had a 1.86 GAA in 18 games]. That was exciting as I got my first taste of Russia.
“The next year I went to St. Petersburg and Barry Smith was the coach there. It was a very North American team and most of the Russians had played in the NHL so there was a lot more English being spoken and it was more of an international city where we could send our kids to school rather than do the home schooling. I stayed there for two years and had two extremely successful seasons. [He had nine shutouts and a 1.87 GAA in 2008-09 and six shutouts and a 2.07 GAA in 2009-10].
“Then I went to Belarus. At that point the family stayed home. I played in Minsk. That was different. I’ll leave it at that [3.30 GAA in 24 games].
“Then last year I played in Switzerland [for SCL Tigers Langnau with a 3.05 GAA in 40 games]. That was my favorite year from a family standpoint but from a hockey standpoint it was just different hockey.
“I’ve been all over the map and kept my restaurant going and doing a lot farming to supplement the restaurant, so it has been good.”
Q: Can you tell us about the restaurant and your farm?
A: “I actually set up the business plan several years ago because I always wanted to go into farming. So, I went to school, took some classes on it and really studied it while I was in Russia – because there is a lot of down time there. We have the beef, the chicken broilers, the egg layers and the produce as well. We supplement roughly 55 percent of the restaurant [called Esche’s Aqua Vino, located on the Marina in downtown Utica, N.Y.] in the summer and fall months. Now we’re moving into aquaponics at the farm to try to create year-round sustainability for the restaurant.
“Oddly enough restaurants and farming are two of the most difficult industries to go into, but together they go well and are a hand-in-glove fit. Getting everybody on board is a little trying at times – like getting the chefs on board because the food is 100 percent different then food you buy from distributors. It’s not portion controlled so that’s an issue, especially when somebody comes out with a bigger steak than the next person. The restaurant is in Utica. The farm is my home property. I have 80 acres just outside of Utica.”
Q: What about your future in hockey? You’re 34 years old and haven’t been in the NHL in five years. What’s next?
A: “I’d like to keep on playing as long as I can. I really want to stay over here [in North America]. The last five years from a family standpoint and personally have been tough. But I learned a lot and the weaknesses in my game got better. I never really read plays that much until I went over to Russia because that’s what you have to do there. I want to stay on this side of the ocean. Maybe I can latch on somewhere on a tryout or on a two-way contract so I can try to work my way back up back to where I think I can get to.”
Esche participated in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy for Team USA.
Q: So, how did you end up working out here? There had to be somewhere closer to home for you to skate and workout, no?
A: “I always loved the Flyers organization and everyone in the organization. I’ve always thought of myself as a Flyer. When I left, I left on good terms. It was a very frustrating year -for everyone from the bottom up to the top down. I don’t think it was easy on any one person. I wasn’t even playing at the end when we had three goalies.
“But [general manager Paul Holmgren] treated me great through that whole thing and really made a tough situation as easy as possible. So, for me, I’ve always felt that kinship with the Flyers organization, especially with guys like [head athletic trainer Jim] McCrossin and [assistant athletic trainer] Sal [Raffa] and [Head Equipment Manager] Derek [Settlemyre], [equipment manager] Harry [Bricker] and [assistant equipment trainer Mike Craytor]. Everybody in here had always helped me out the five years I was here, so I called Holmgren up to see if I would be getting in the way, and he said, no, come on down.
“I was able to work with goalie coach Jeff Reese and that was my first goalie session in five years. They don’t have goalie coaches [in Switzerland] and in Russia we had a guy, but he never worked with me. He worked with the other goalies, but never with me. I don’t know if I scared him or what.”
Q: What’s the next step in the process? Do you start contacting teams to let them know you are trying to get back?
A: “I got John LeClair as my new agent. He works for Lewis Gross [LeClair’s agent when he was a player]. There was a team that was interested in me and then two months ago it fell through and I got ultra depressed. I really wanted to stay over here, but it was tough because I never really had an agent and always handled things myself. Then McCrossin told me that Johnny was starting to get into it at some level – so I called him up.
“First I talked to one of my best friends – Sean Burke and he told me he didn’t think my prospects were that good, but then I talked to Lewis and John and they said they didn’t think it would be that hard to find me something, so I called Holmgren immediately to see if I can get on the ice because we don’t have much up in Utica. Realistically, for being out of the league for five years, I think I’m probably going to have to go on a tryout somewhere to see where I fit in. If I was to be offered a contract, it’d be awesome, but realistically, an AHL contract where I remain a free agent or a tryout would be the best thing.”
Q: You have the farm, you have the restaurant, you’re a very successful businessman. So, what still drives you to play hockey in the NHL after being out of the league for so long?
A: “What still drives me is I do like the game. Oddly enough I’m a pretty smart guy, so I’m an absentee owner of the restaurant. That place pretty much runs itself. And the farm is really a summer thing. I don’t have a cow/calf operation where you have to go through the birthing and everything. I get feeder cattle and I get the chickens in the spring time and when you are done with them you go to have them slaughtered. So, I don’t really have anything going on in the winter. The thing I can say about my five years overseas is I really missed it over here.
“Look, I was paid well over there and that made me have a blind eye a little bit to the fact that I wasn’t in the NHL anymore, but I missed it.
“There were too many late nights talking to ex-NHLers who were on my team – whether it was [Darius] Kasparaitis or [Sergei] Zubov or [Petr] Cajanek or [Sergei] Brylin. We all said the same thing – ‘I would do anything to come back and play.’
“In those five years, I had contract offers from the NHL but the money kept keeping me over there or I wasn’t allowed out of my contract sometimes, so the timing has always been kind of screwed up with me because you have to sign a contract so early over there and I wasn’t willing to roll the dice and [not sign] and say, ‘I can come back.’
“But now my kids are older and I want to come back here and I want to play. I really enjoy the sport. I don’t think I enjoyed it over there. It’s different. You go out on the ice over there you’re just trying to get by, where as here, it’s such a competitive, passionate thing.”
Q: You left the KHL for Switzerland last season despite being pretty successful as a goaltender there. Were you thinking about signing somewhere in the KHL only to change your mind after the plane crash that killed the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team last September?
A: “It was horrible. I was friends with Karel Rachunek and [Pavol] Demitra and I knew [Brad] McCrimmon when I was young because he was on the Phoenix Coyotes when I was a prospect there.
“The scary thing for me personally is that summer, I was leaving Belarus and I didn’t want to go back there. I had played against Yaroslavl and had a good playoff against them. So they were talking to me and they were debating between me and Stefan Liv. They ended up signing him, but my name was thrown about as being the goalie there.
“I sit back and look at it now and it’s so weird. My idol growing up was Waylon Jennings and he’s the one who gave up his seat on a charter plane to the Big Bopper because the Big Bopper had a cold. That was the plane that crashed [also killing Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens].
“That summer I was so upset because I wanted to go to Yaroslavl, but looking back on it, sometimes things just happen and whether you believe in pre-destiny or manifest destiny, there’s no way of explaining this. It was a horrible feeling.
Esche posted a 13-11 record with one shutout and a 2.73 goals-against average in 25 Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Flyers.
“I have so many friends in the KHL who wanted to quit after that crash – or just take a bus – but that’s unrealistic. Those planes are all those old Soviet era planes. I guess it’s better now, I don’t know, but at the time it was horrible. I wasn’t particularly a good flyer to begin with, but the flying in Russia was not good.”
Q: What is your favorite memory of playing in Philadelphia?
A: “I was extremely lucky to play with so many great guys in such a great organization so for me to put my finger on any one thing would be impossible to do. Some of the best friends I have came from this team.
“It was the golden age of hockey pre-lockout where every guy on the team was a household name and that was really cool. I know we didn’t win anything but we were really close and had some unfortunate injuries at the end there with defensemen that was pretty tough.
“Tampa Bay was awesome but we were right there. It was great, I didn’t have to talk to the media – I loved it. I wasn’t even really upset. When I got the green light I was thrilled that I didn’t have to talk to the media.
“I played with two of my best friends in Burke and Recchi but we had so many great guys – [Roenick], Johnny, Desjardins, Amonte – the whole team was filled with great, great guys and it was really unfortunate that we didn’t win it. But the Flyers always find a way to bounce back and get right back where they belong at or near the top of the league. The way they do things here is just outstanding.”
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Terry Murray tried switching up the lineup. He tried conveying a message of communication, trust, and belief in a system.
As a veteran coach, whose seen highs and lows with a hockey team, he has a pretty good idea of which buttons to push when.
And while he still is keeping the panic button under 24-hour armed guard, a few other pushes still brought no positive results.
A day after getting completely dominated by Albany, the Phantoms played a better brand of hockey for 20 minutes, before losing their cool – and their discipline – allowing the highest scoring power play nine chances with the man advantage.
The end result wasn’t pretty – a 6-2 loss to the Rochester Americans, the Phantoms fourth loss in their last five games.
“We’ve just got to settle down,” Murray said. “There’s got to be more composure from our young players and we have to trust each other. Trust our linemates. Trust other people to do their own job. If we can just grab onto that, we can become a pretty good team. We’ve shown it already by playing some very good games and good responsibility without the puck, but the last two games it’s slipped away.”
And the Phantoms have done so in new ways each time.
Against the Devils, there was a failure to communicate, an inability to win puck battles, and a one-night turnover affliction.
Against the Amerks, a good opening 20 minutes spilled over into a second period based in hesitation and uncertainty, which led to penalties, which mounted frustration, which cost them a game.
“Some of the penalties that we took weren’t disciplined at all and that’s going to cost you, especially against that team,” said goalie Scott Munroe, who had to make 45 saves in the loss. “We were a little leery of their power play, and if you give them that many chances they’re going to put a couple in.”
Which the Americans did, going 2-for-9 with the man advantage.
However, Murray wanted to caution that the spike in penalties, (the Phantoms were the least penalized team in the AHL entering the game) was not the primary reason for the Phantoms loss.
“There’s more to it than that,” Murray said. “We end up chasing the puck too much. Two men going to the puck carrier in our defensive zone opens up the back door – and the first goal we gave up is an example of that.”
It left Rick Schofield wide-open for a goal that gave Rochester an early 1-0 lead.
It also marked the sixth consecutive game to start the season that the Phantoms allowed the first goal.
But Munroe was strong in the period, making 14 saves, keeping the game a one-goal deficit after one period.
It looked like the Phantoms were going to continue to play a solid game when Harry Zolnierczyk out-hustled both T.J. Brennan and Rochester goalie David Leggio to a loose puck in the opening minute of the second period for an easy goal, tying the score 1-1.
But Rochester answered 90 seconds later with a power play goal by captain Kevin Porter, and just like that the Phantoms were back in a hole, and this time, they weren’t climbing out.
“We got out of our rhythm in the second period and that hurt us the rest of the game,” said Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom. “A lot of the stick penalties are on us because we weren’t moving our feet. If it’s a hard penalty because of a hard hit, you don’t mind killing those off, but the trips and slashes and stuff, that’s just us not digging in.”
By the end of the period, Rochester added a second goal by Schofield and a power play redirection goal by Evan Rankin, to make the second period deficit 4-1.
It was the 12th consecutive intermission that the Phantoms went into their locker room without a lead, which adds a level of unwanted pressure.
It’s strange that this is happening to a team with 10 players with NHL experience playing at the AHL level, and even more so because of how well they played as a team a week ago during a hard-fought split with St. John in Newfoundland.
“I was really encouraged after that trip,” Munroe said. “We played two really good games and we were skating well. We were looking like a team. Then we come back from the trip, we got spanked in Albany and we come out [Saturday] with another one.”
Murray benched five players who played in Albany Friday – Matt Mangene, Garrett Roe, Eric Wellwood, Oliver Lauridsen and Jeff Dimmen – and replaced them with five players who were in business suits Friday – Tyler Brown, Mike Testwuide, Matt Ford, Zack Fitzgerald and Cullen Eddy.
Testwuide, playing his first game of the season, drew the Phantoms within 4-2 with an effort goal when he fought for position in front of the net and slid a loose puck past Leggio for 4-2.
With a power play in the closing minutes, Murray pulled Munroe to try to gain a greater offensive advantage, but a zone clear by Nick Crawford went right into the empty net to seal the victory for Rochester.
“We had a 20 minute effort only,” Murray said. “That’s where the game was at. We came out in the second and looked rattled at times… we paid a price for it.”
NOTES: Tye McGinn won a heavyweight fight with Nick Tarnasky after Tarnasky drilled Danny Syvret from behind into the boards. McGinn cut Tarnasky over the left eye with one of his punches that landed… Sean Couturier picked up an assist, and was probably the Phantoms best skater in the game, however Murray didn’t want to heap any praise on him after a bad loss. “It’s not a night to talk about any one player. That was a team that put up 51 shots on us tonight and everyone is responsible for what is going on… Zac Rinaldo, who had been a bastion of disciplined hockey in the first five games, took three penalties Saturday, including a charging major.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37