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HAL TO THE CHIEF: I'M READY WHEN YOU NEED ME

GILL'S VETERAN PRESENCE AND DEMEANOR WERE A VITAL PART TO THE FLYERS' PRIDEFUL WIN IN NEW JERSEY
Sunday, 11.03.2013 / 8:31 AM
By Anthony SanFilippo - Philadelphia Flyers Inside Reporter / Flyers Inside Out
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Flyers Inside Out
HAL TO THE CHIEF: I\'M READY WHEN YOU NEED ME

VOORHEES, N.J. – For Hal Gill, the path back to playing even one game that matters this season has certainly been a winding one.

The 38-year-old defenseman, who has made a career based totally on size, smarts and guile rather than speed, energy or skill (although his nickname is “Skillsey,” which is awesome), needed someone to take a chance on him in a role he’s never played in order not to become one of those classic veteran salary cap casualties that have seen too many good careers end too soon because of monetary restrictions.

So, when Gill was offered a tryout contract by the Flyers, it was the best offer he could get, he took it.

And when the Flyers said they were willing to sign him to a one-year deal worth just 700,000 peanuts and, oh yeah, he’d be an eighth defenseman who likely would only play in an emergency and was needed just for his veteran presence, Gill still said, “Sure.”

It was his only way to stay in the game. To be a part of a team. To be able to contribute, even if it was such a small way.

So he’d become a mentor and a locker room leader, but also a spare part.

When you are trying to hang on to a career, sometimes, that’s O.K.

And through the first month of the season, Gill played his role perfectly. He earned high praise from coach Craig Berube who called him “the ultimate professional.”

He skated hard in every practice, and no matter what other scratches he was skating with – whether it was Erik Gustafsson or Andrej Meszaros or Jay Rosehill or Adam Hall or Kris Newbury, Gill was with them stride for stride – Showing each of them how to tackle the job when you aren’t playing.

Then suddenly, one of those emergency situations where Gill would be needed cropped up Saturday.

No, there wasn’t a rash of injuries on the blue line, necessitating his in-game services. No, instead the emergency was a 3-9-0 start, and poor play by the entire team in an embarrassing 7-0 home loss to an Alex Ovechkin-less Washington team on Friday.

Berube had seen enough. He was making a change to send a message not just to those players scratched, (even though Erik Gustafsson and Luke Schenn needed the message after suddenly becoming turnover prone) but to shake up an already shaken locker room.

So, after a gutty 1-0 win Saturday against New Jersey, one in which Gill played well in the nearly 15 minutes of ice time he had, it may have been purely coincidental that the Flyers suddenly played their first giveaway-free game in four years, or it could be that Gill offered a bit of a veteran calming influence to a blue line under duress.

“I thought he played really well,” Berube said. “Both he and Meszaros went in there – they were partners – and played a really strong game. They were physical, they killed the [New Jersey] cycle. They’re both big guys who’ve been around and did a good job.”

And right now, it’s those little things in a game that are hard to measure statistically, that the Flyers need to do well to get out of their rut, which is now at 4-9-0 after 13 games.

But, to go from one game where five-foot passes were challenging to the defenseman on breakouts to another where not only was puck possession flawless in their own end, but where they limited the Devils to just 14 shots on goal in just 24 hours was wildly unexpected.

It wasn’t all Hal Gill, of course, that made that difference, but he was certainly a part of it.

“I try to be as steady as I can,” Gill said. “Just be composed under pressure. It’s tough because it’s a tight game. That’s the greasy road win that we wanted. We wanted to wear them down and battle… We had a pretty good gameplan going in. We knew what we wanted to do. We also had some good goaltending and that always helps, but we had guys willing to make plays, block shots and get in lanes to discourage them from shooting.”

Gill was certainly one of them.

He may not have been credited on the final game sheet with a blocked shot, but as a defenseman with a reputation as being one of the best shot blockers in the history of the sport, plus his 6-foot-6 frame clogging up shooting lanes, he was definitely a deterrent for the Devils shooting the puck on goal.

Moving forward, Gill’s role is probably in a state of positive flux.

In other words, he can stay in the lineup, and continue to help in limited time, mostly with his cool, veteran presence, or he can be returned to his role as an extra guy, being that great pro that Berube always says he is, and showing everyone what hard work and dedication brings as a reward.

Either way, there’s no question that he benefits the Flyers whether he is on or off the ice.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Berube said of Gill’s role going forward. “He did a good job. We determine those things at a later time. It’s an in-house thing, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Considering what Gill’s alternatives were a couple months ago, “We’ll see” is good enough for him.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast-spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - BOS 82 54 19 9 261 177 117
2 y - PIT 82 51 24 7 249 207 109
3 x - TBL 82 46 27 9 240 215 101
4 x - MTL 82 46 28 8 215 204 100
5 x - NYR 82 45 31 6 218 193 96
6 x - PHI 82 42 30 10 236 235 94
7 x - CBJ 82 43 32 7 231 216 93
8 x - DET 82 39 28 15 222 230 93
9 WSH 82 38 30 14 235 240 90
10 NJD 82 35 29 18 197 208 88
11 OTT 82 37 31 14 236 265 88
12 TOR 82 38 36 8 231 256 84
13 CAR 82 36 35 11 207 230 83
14 NYI 82 34 37 11 225 267 79
15 FLA 82 29 45 8 196 268 66
16 BUF 82 21 51 10 157 248 52

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Giroux 82 28 58 7 86
J. Voracek 82 23 39 11 62
W. Simmonds 82 29 31 -4 60
S. Hartnell 78 20 32 11 52
M. Streit 82 10 34 3 44
B. Schenn 82 20 21 0 41
M. Read 75 22 18 -4 40
S. Couturier 82 13 26 1 39
V. Lecavalier 69 20 17 -16 37
K. Timonen 77 6 29 5 35
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 33 18 7 .917 2.50
R. Emery 9 12 2 .903 2.96
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