Andrej Meszaros thought he had a problem with his sneaker.
Then he took a step.
“I was doing my regular summer workout,” he said. “It was near the end and I was doing some jumping drills – plyometric stuff – and I heard something snap. I thought it was my shoe. So, I looked at it and saw that it was O.K.
“I thought, ‘Hmm, that was strange,’ and then I started walking. After a few steps it started to feel real weird. Then the pain hit me and I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s my leg.’ I almost threw up. I was sick right away. All that happened in a span of two minutes.”
And what took two minutes to come undone is going to take months to put back together.
Meszaros, 26, ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon. The Flyers flew him back from his home in Slovakia and had him undergo surgery to repair the injury last week.
General Manager Paul Holmgren announced that Meszaros would be sidelined indefinitely.
With an injury this severe, Meszaros doesn’t know how long he’ll be unable to play hockey. There have been comparisons to other professional athletes who have suffered similar injuries.
In Philadelphia, everyone became familiar with rehabilitating an Achilles’ injury within the past year as Philadelphia Phillies star Ryan Howard took nine months to get back into the Phillies lineup. If it were to take Meszaros that long, he wouldn’t be back until the playoffs.
However this injury is different for a hockey player than a baseball player, and in hockey, a player possibly could be back sooner.
Former Flyer Justin Williams tore his Achilles in training camp when he was with Carolina and returned in just three months without further issues.
However, New Jersey forward Travis Zajac tried coming back that quickly last year and ran into a set back and had to miss more time.
“The doctors told me that it’s tough to say because it depends on the treatment and how the body reacts,” Meszaros said. “I go see the doctor again on Aug. 20. He’ll give me a better idea then and maybe I can start doing treatment and rehab.”
Despite there being so much unknown, Meszaros is remaining optimistic. He knows he has a long road to recovery ahead of him, but at the same time is confident that it won’t be as long as a lot of people might think.
“I believe I’m going to play this year,” he said. “I don’t know how many games it will be, but I will play. I will play as many games as I can.”
In the meantime, the Flyers could be on the hunt for a replacement for Meszaros and have been kicking tires on remaining free agents and possible trade options.
However, as is Holmgren’s consistent modus operandi, he won’t make a move out of panic and instead will only do what’s best for the betterment of the team.
Meanwhile, Meszaros will be doing his own thing. And he knows rehab is going to be a somewhat lonely process – as he won’t have as much time to interact with his teammates on a daily basis.
But he’s confident that he’ll still be able to have a presence around the other players, both in and out of the locker room.
“When I played in Ottawa I was fortunate and didn’t miss a game in three seasons,” Meszaros said. “Then I had shoulder surgery in Tampa and now this. It’s tough but injuries are part of hockey. Mentally it’s hard but I’m trying to focus.
“It’s tough every time you have an injury. You go to the rink early or stay late and you feel a little left behind because you are by yourself. But I’m going to try to hang out with the other players as much as I can. We’ll see how it goes.”
If there’s a positive to come out of all of this for Meszaros, it’s that his back is feeling better.
Meszaros missed the last 20 games of the season and the first 10 playoff games after needing a procedure on his lower back.
He returned for the final playoff game against the Devils but didn’t look like himself.
“To be honest, my back is feeling pretty good now.,” he said. “I don’t feel anything uncomfortable in there. I was already working out. I had a couple moments where it was a little tight, but nothing real serious, so it’s doing really good."
When the Flyers missed out on landing Shea Weber when their offer sheet was matched last month by Nashville, general manager Paul Holmgren was able to take solace and lean on the fact that he still had a solid stable of veteran defensemen on the roster.
That stable was reduced by one Tuesday.
The Flyers announced that Andrej Meszaros, a Barry Ashbee Award winner as the Flyers best defenseman in 2010-11, underwent surgery after tearing his right Achilles tendon during a recent training session.
The Flyers are saying the injury will sideline Meszaros indefinitely. They won’t set a time table because Achilles’ tendon injuries are tricky.
Some take a lot longer than others to recover, depending on the severity of the injury.
Philadelphia fans are familiar with the injury because of how long it took Phillies’ slugger Ryan Howard to return from his ruptured Achilles.
However, former Flyer Justin Williams, tore his Achilles in training camp when he played for Carolina and returned in 14 weeks.
“I think we’ll have a better idea in six weeks once we see how things are progressing,” general manager Paul Holmgren said. “We‘ll see how it goes over the next six weeks.”
Meszaros averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game for the Flyers in each of the past two seasons.
In the meantime, the Flyers will have to decide whether to stay the course with young players already in their system or to pursue another NHL-tested veteran who may remain available in free agency or pursue a trade.
“We’ll see what the rest of the summer brings,” Holmgren said. “We do have some salary cap space. Having said that, we have some kids that we like who got their feet wet last year, so we’ll see.”
People who like to read between the lines can interpret that as meaning that Holmgren will look into replacing Meszaros with a veteran defenseman. However, don’t expect him to push the panic button on that front. He will only add a player if it makes sense financially and logistically for the team.
Either way, the loss of Meszaros will be felt right from the jump in training camp.
“He’s a very offensive player who is good defensively,” said Scott Hartnell. “It’s going to be tough when you lose anyone. With our best defenseman [Chris] Pronger being out, it’s going to leave us a little shorthanded.”
There have been plenty of them over the years who have stuck in the craw of many Flyers and their fans.
In the 80s it was Dale Hunter in Washington. In the 90s it was Matthew Barnaby in Buffalo. In the 2000s it was Sean Avery – wherever he played and now it’s Brad Marchand in Boston.
Smallish players who have an ability to make your skin crawl with the way they play the game on the ice – toeing the line between dirty play and merely being a pest, it is these sandpaper types whose job it is to get the opposing players off their game.
The players find them annoying. The fans have so much venom, they’d prefer that each cretin be drawn and quartered – live on the JumboTron.
But now it appears the Flyers are grooming one of their own.
That’s because their top prospect is a kid with an edge. A mouthy little guy unafraid of retribution who also has an ability to score.
Meet Nick Cousins, the next great Flyers agitator.
“I’ve watched him play a bunch of times in the last year and I really like him because he reminds me of me,” said Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere. “He’s got more skill, but we play a similar type of game where he gets under your skin and draws a lot of attention on himself and handles it well. You need that on your team.”
And there’s a chance it won’t be long until we see Cousins on the Flyers.
The odds are pretty good that Cousins, 19, will be sent back to juniors following training camp, but he’s definitely a guy the Flyers brass is going to keep an eye on as well.
Originally a third round pick by the Flyers in the 2011 draft, Cousins blossomed last season by posting 88 points for the Sault St. Marie Greyhounds in just 65 games. He also added 88 penalty minutes, evidence of that two-tiered approach to his game.
“Yeah, it’s part of my game, I’m not going to hide from it,” Cousins said about being a provocateur. “It’s the way I’ve always played – ever since I was little. I like to talk a lot out there and sometimes people don’t like to hear what I have to say.”
A sheepish grin immediately followed, letting you know Cousins doesn’t just yap as an emotional reaction, but very likely in a more calculated fashion.
It is this pre-meditated approach to hockey that makes him such a high-end prospect, but it has also gotten him on the wrong end of an opponent’s fury.
Last November, while playing the Greyhounds, Cousins’ team had just completed a thrilling 4-3 win over their rival London Knights in London.
As the horn sounded, rather than celebrate with his team, Cousins shut the puck into the empty net at the other end of the ice and then raised his arms in celebration after the puck went in.
Knights defenseman Ryan Rupert didn’t take too kindly to this act of showmanship and slashed Cousins in the stomach as he skated by. It earned Rupert a 20-game suspension, but more so than that, furthered Cousins already sizeable reputation as an agitator extraordinaire.
“Nick will get under your skin,” teammate Ryan Sproul told the London Free Press. “He’s the kind of guy you love to have on your team and hate to play against.
“You talk to guys and they say they can’t stand him, but he’s our best player and we're going to stand behind him.”
It’s because of this style of game that Cousins will likely draw attention to himself once training camp opens in September.
The Flyers faithful will love his spunk and spirit, and call for him to make the team as that loveable louse.
The media will gush all over about him, clamoring for him to make the team as the needed salt to rub in to the opponent’s wounds.
And while the impatience is there for everyone – Cousins included – he knows where he stands right now.
“You just try to block all that out,” he said. “If you put too much pressure on yourself you don’t play your style of game. You can get carried away with all the media hype, but coming in here I block that stuff out and do what got me here.
“My mindset going into camp is to do what I do best and be the player I am. Work hard, play my game and go in there with nothing to lose. If they keep me, great. If they send me back to junior, I do that for another year and try again next year.”
As for the anticipation of one day making it to the big club…
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Hopefully I have a future with this organization. I want things to fast forward a little bit, but I have to be patient and the Flyers have to be patient with my development. They’re not going to rush anything, neither am I and hopefully my time will come.”
Well, that didn’t take long.
One day after general manager Paul Holmgren stated the Flyers were “moving on” after being unsuccessful with someone else’s restricted free agent, they re-signed one of their own.
Jake Voracek, 22, signed a four-year contract with the Flyers worth $17 million. The annual cap hit will be $4.25 million for the team.
"We are happy to have Jake under contract and look forward to him being a big part of our future," general manager Paul Holmgren said in a statement.
Holmgren said Wednesday that it was “only a matter of time” before Voracek signed. If there were an Olympic event for quantifying intentionally vague timetables, Holmgren would be a gold medal favorite.
All kidding aside, the signing of Voracek was important for the Flyers. Having lost Jaromir Jagr to free agency in the offseason, it was important to have his Czech countryman sign a new deal to replace the legendary winger on the Flyers top line.
Voracek, who set a career high with 18 goals in his first season with the Flyers and missed matching his career best in points by just one tally (49 points), is expected to play big minutes skating with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
“Obviously the season is long,” Voracek said. “I am very happy that the Flyers gave me an opportunity to play on a top line with [Claude Giroux] and [Scott Hartnell]. Like I said you never know what happens during the season. I just have to work hard and hopefully we are going to play great together. It is going to be up to [Peter Laviolette] what he is going to do with the lines. I am sure it is something good."
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The Flyers are hoping for something good from Voracek, who will be counted on to continue to improve from last season.
Voracek was always considered to be a top-tier prospect – which is why he was drafted with the seventh pick in the 2007 draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Having missed just nine games in his four seasons in the NHL, Voracek has had three very consistent years. However the Flyers are expecting him to take the next step now that he’ll be playing with Giroux.
Part of that will mean Voracek will have to improve his shot – as he’ll be expected to better his 18-goal total.
“I always say my shot isn't bad,” he said. “I think I have a good shot and a heavy shot. My accuracy isn't as good as it could be and I miss the net a lot when I am shooting. If I can hit the net more often, I think more goals are going to go in and the more points are going to come in. We will see... I am working on it. I still have two months to work on it and we will see what happens.”
Voracek is working out again in Montreal, something he did last summer with positive results, so he’s back at it again.
All the while he’s been in touch with Jagr, who was his boyhood idol. Voracek said he was hoping Jagr would come back to Philadelphia, but understands why he picked Dallas. Voracek said that Jagr was a great influence on him in his young career.
“To be around him all year long and to watch what he does before the games, after games and during practice was something priceless,” Voracek said. “It is good where he is at right now. He obviously helped me a lot and to be around him, I thank him for that and wish him the best of luck."
Now that this move is complete, the Flyers are approximately $8.5 million below the salary cap, which leaves them a little more wiggle room to modify the roster, if necessary.
VOORHEES, N.J. – Matt Mangene could have let the frustration get to him.
Limping around at the end of the Flyers prospect camp a couple weeks ago in a walking boot, favoring a foot injury he suffered when he blocked a shot in practice, Mangene was unable to participate in either scrimmage during the last two days of camp that took place in front of standing-room-only crowds at the Virtua Skate Zone.
But, rather than let it bother him, Mangene took the injury in stride and pointed out the positives from the week – his first camp as a professional athlete.
“It was a great time,” he said. “It was my first time meeting all the guys and my first time really being a part of the Flyers organization (he did play sparingly in five games at the end of last season for the Adirondack Phantoms). It’s a great organization. They make it fun and exciting to come to the rink every day and I’m really excited to be part of it.”
So much so that Mangene, who grew up as a fan of teams whose followers generally hate Philadelphia, passed up an opportunity to play for his childhood hero to sign with the Flyers.
A native of Manorville, N.Y., which is located on Long Island and not too far from The Nassau Colesium, Mangene, 23, kept a cursory interest in the Islanders, but because of how his home team struggled, chose to root for the Boston Bruins instead. His favorite player was Bruins legend Cam Neely. It was also the first hockey jersey he ever owned.
Which made it even harder for Mangene to turn aside an offer from Neely, the President of the Bruins, who wanted to sign Mangene last March upon the conclusion of the speedy winger’s junior season at the University of Maine.
“It was really cool to meet him in person and be sitting there in his office,” Mangene said. “And while I was grateful for the Bruins interest, I just felt that coming to Philadelphia would be a better fit for me.”
So instead, he signed a two-year deal with the Flyers, and is expected to be a top six forward for the Phantoms this season – with an outside shot at procuring one of the final roster spots on the big club – if he impresses in training camp in September.
The likely scenario is Mangene becomes a guy the Flyers use as a call up when there is an injury, but he understands there is an opportunity for him to show that he can be more than that.
“My goal is to play up here (with the Flyers) and to help out the team in any way, shape or form,” Mangene said. “I wanted to start as early as I could this summer and keep working as hard as I can to get a leg up.”
Mangene is nicknamed "Red" after his grandfather Robert "Red" Mangene, a smallish halfback for Boston College in the 1940s who made his bones by being a speed back as opposed to a bruising, between the tackles type of runner.
The Flyers like Mangene’s skating ability, which has become the buzzword around the NHL in recent seasons. Speed seems to supersede any other skill set or intangible in the game in today’s game, and that’s certainly Mangene’s calling card.
Continuing a tradition began in recent years under the guidance of new director of player development Ian Laperriere, Mangene has decided to stay in the Philadelphia area for the entire summer and work out with the Flyers training staff and keep his face around the practice facility.
Mangene is sharing a condo with Tye McGinn and Brandon Manning, two other prospects, and aside from training, he hopes to get back to his roots a little bit having access to a big city – like Philadelphia – after being holed up in a small town in Maine for the past three years.
But more than anything, if he treats the time here in the summer as a time to work hard toward his goal, he might be able to make that wanted impression once camp rolls around.
“Those guys who stay, they get into better shape than the guys who go home, so maybe they look a little faster and a little stronger in training camp,” Laperriere said. “It doesn’t mean anything when compared to a veteran player – because you know the guy who has been around is going to be O.K., but looking at one young player with another, sometimes that extra work, that boost in confidence from being here all summer, that familiarity with the way things are done could put you a step or two in front of other guys of the same skill level.”
And that’s the chance Mangene is betting on right now.
To contact Anthony J. SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
It was difficult for Terry Murray to sit back and watch the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup.
On the one hand, he was thrilled for a great collection of players whom he coached for the parts of four seasons he was the bench boss in L.A.
On the other hand though, it was difficult to see them hoist the trophy without his presence. After all, he did coach those Kings for the first 29 games of last season before he was let go.
In a move that was more about stirring the Kings players out of their early season doldrums, Murray was replaced by Darryl Sutter, who went on to lead the Kings to an unexpected championship run as the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed.
But that is far from an indicator that Murray isn’t a top quality NHL-caliber coach.
He’s been a head coach in the NHL for 1,012 games compiling a record of 499-383-89-41 and his teams have reached the playoffs in 11 of the 13 seasons he finished as a coach. He also reached the Final once – in 1997 as coach of the Flyers.
To go along with that impressive record, Murray, who turns 62 Friday, spent nine seasons as an NHL assistant coach, more evidence that hockey people believe Murray has a lot to offer a team.
It wouldn’t have surprised if Murray looked to latch on with another NHL team after being let go by the Kings.
Instead, he returned home… again.
For the fifth time in his 42-year professional hockey career, Murray is back in the Flyers organization, this time as head coach of the AHL affiliate Adirondack Phantoms.
“I’ll always remember coming to the Flyers organization from the [California] Seals,” Murray said Sunday after watching the conclusion of the Flyers prospect development camp. “I was grateful I got drafted by the Seals but they were clearly a team with no success. Coming to the Flyers, a team that had just won two Stanley Cups, and coming into that camp, the players and the people around the team welcomed me and made me feel comfortable.
“The coaching staff spent time with me, and talked to me and were helpful to me to make me a better hockey player. I’ll always remember that. That’s why I want to give something back now to this organization. I wouldn’t do this for any other team in the league. This is the Philadelphia Flyers and it’s only because of them that I am here today working with the minor league team. I want to help the young players and develop that blood line that is so important to this organization.”
After Murray first arrived in Philly, He played a few seasons in the organization before being traded to the Detroit Red Wings in February, 1977 (along with Steve Coates, Bob Ritchie and Dave Kelly) for Mike Korney and Rick LaPointe.
The Flyers re-acquired him from the Red Wings in November of that year in exchange for cash considerations and he stayed with the team until he was claimed by the Capitals in the 1981 waiver draft.
The 1981-82 season was his last as a player, and he immediately got into the coaching ranks, working as an assistant for the Capitals for five seasons.
His first head-coaching job came in 1988 when he was handed the reins of the Baltimore Skipjacks, the Capitals AHL affiliate at the time. He lasted just one-and-one-half seasons in the AHL before getting the call to coach the Capitals.
He hasn’t coached in the AHL since… until now.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” said Murray, who except for a brief, 28-game stint with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the IHL in 1994, has been coaching or scouting at the NHL level for the last 24 years. “The young kids are such an important part of any organization right now. You have to get to them and bring them into the culture and mold them the right way to play the style of game the organization wants.
“There are so many young players in the NHL that are a little bit better, but the same age, and they need to learn a lot of the same things – how to be good pros and do things the right way every day. I’m going to approach coaching the Phantoms the same as if it were an NHL team because that’s the kind of attention that’s needed today.”
Part of that process will be teaching the affiliate players to play within the same system that is being used at the NHL level.
“The consistency within the organization is very important and that’s something that Peter [Laviolette] and I have to sit down and discuss later this summer so that we’re on the same page. That way when there are call-ups – and there will be – the kid is comfortable and instinctive in his game and not hesitant thinking what he should do in a particular situation. “
One other person that Murray will have to work with in close concert is Ian Laperriere, the newly minted director of player development for the Flyers.
“We’re going to have to have a relationship that begins now and we’ll have to work at it real hard to make sure we are in line with each other,” Murray said. “He’s bringing information from the organization. He’s the liaison from management to Glens Falls. We’re going to be spending a lot of time in conversation coming up with ideas on how to push these players to become NHL-ready as soon as possible.
While Murray will be a great asset at the AHL-level for the Flyers, long-term his goal remains to return to coaching in the NHL some day.
“I’m a coach and I always want to be in the NHL because that’s where it’s at,” he said. “But, I’ve had more than 3,000 games in the NHL, so this is exciting for me. It’s about teaching. It’s about working with young people and a way for me to finally give back.”