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Steady Vets Guiding Flyers

Monday, 11.7.2011 / 9:32 AM ET / News
By Bill Meltzer  - philadelphiaflyers.com
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Steady Vets Guiding Flyers
Much has been made of the infusion of youth on the Flyers’ roster this season. But a closer look at the roster shows that there is a largely equal blend of experienced veterans who know all about the highs and lows of the marathon-like NHL season, as well as youngsters who bring their energy and enthusiasm to the mix.

Now that the team is going through its first adversity of the young season, the leadership group will have to step to the forefront.  The team has endured a slew of injuries, including a scary-looking eye injury to Chris Pronger and an upper-body injury to Danny Briere. Pronger has since returned to practice while Briere is back in the lineup after missing two games. On the ice, the Flyers have been inconsistent in the early going of the season, having little trouble scoring goals at even strength but having their share of ups and downs defensively.

Fortunately for Philadelphia, the veteran quartet of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Briere and Jaromir Jagr have seen and done it all over the course of their respective careers. They all know that it how a team navigates stormy seas – much more than it how it looks cruising through tranquil waters – that ultimately determine its worthiness to be considered a contender.

“There are always going to be tough times during any season,” said Briere. “It’s the way that you work through it as a team that matters. Part of being on a team is that everybody has to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about what they can do better. Honestly, you need to be doing that when you are winning, too, and keep challenging yourself to improve. We’ve got a good team here, and I think everyone is in the same page. Leadership isn’t just one or two people. It’s about the whole team.”

In team captain Pronger and Jagr, the Flyers have two future Hall of Famers with Stanley Cup rings and Olympic gold medals. Alternate captain Briere has been the team’s best playoff performer over the duration of his time in Philadelphia, and is a two-time NHL All-Star. The other alternate captain, Timonen, has been chosen for four NHL All-Star Games and recently became just the third Finnish defenseman (along with Teppo Numminen and Jyrki Lumme) to play 900 NHL regular season games.

The four men have personalities that are as divergent as their playing styles. Pronger relishes being in charge, and can be either devilishly humorous, caustic or blunt. Timonen is a no-excuses type with a dry sense of humor bubbling just beneath the surface. Jagr brings a combination of independent thinking, a commitment to his craft and a demeanor that in equal parts is happy-go-lucky and perfectionistic. Briere is soft-spoken, approachable and optimistic, but also extremely competitive and driven.

What they all have in common is a supreme work ethic, sharp hockey minds and an extraordinary ability to block out distractions and nagging injuries to play at a high level. They lead by their actions as well as through their words. Simply by paying attention to the way the older veteran players approach their conditioning, practice and game preparations with the utmost care and attention to detail, the Flyers’ younger players can get a world-class hockey education that they will carry for the rest of their careers.

“Definitely, we all can learn a lot just by watching and listening to those guys,” said Wayne Simmonds, who is in his fourth pro season. “They are good communicators on the ice and in the room and they lead by example. We can go to them when we need to. When you look across the room and see these guys who are some of the best in the game, and have won Stanley Cups, that’s what it's all about.”

In some instances, simply getting the opportunity to play with iconic players represents the fulfillment of a childhood dream. Such is case for Jakub Voracek, who hails from the same hometown in the Czech Republic as Jagr. Seventeen years younger than Jagr, Voracek could not help by idolize the national sports hero who came up through the same local hockey program (HC Kladno) where Voracek and his friends later played their youth and junior hockey.

When the news broke on July 1that Jagr had signed as a free agent with the Flyers, no one was happier than Voracek. By the time Voracek was four years old, a 21-year-old Jagr was already a local legend in Kladno and a rising superstar in the NHL. Like so many other Czech youngsters and especially fellow HC Kladno junior program players, Voracek grew up in awe of Jagr’s exploits.

“I was excited when I found out [on June 23] that I was coming to Philadelphia,” said Voracek, who was acquired in the deal that sent Jeff Carter to the Columbus Blue Jackets. “Now to have Jagr come to play here, too, is amazing.”

The Flyers’ current blueline corps as a whole is an experienced group. Its three youngest members – Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle – are in their mid-20s and all have at least five full seasons of NHL experience under their belts at this point. Nevertheless, the trio cannot help but marvel at the way that Pronger and Timonen approach a difficult position.

“The biggest thing when you play defense is to know where your partner is going to be, and to have good communication,” said Carle, who has been primarily partnered with Pronger for the last two-plus seasons. “It’s very easy to play with Chris or someone like Kimmo because they are always in the right place and they can adapt to a lot of different situations.”

Adds Coburn, “Just their mental toughness and game-to-game approach is something that I’ve tried to learn from. I’ve played a lot with Kimmo, and it’s amazing how focused and steady he is. He doesn’t get too high or too low.”

From head coach Peter Laviolette’s point of view, it is a blessing to have so many accomplished veterans on a single team. They serve as on-ice teachers and mentors in ways that the coaching staff cannot, and they also can be relied upon to reinforce the message that commitment to winning is more important than any personal goal.

“When someone plays as long – and at such a high level – as guys like Chris or Jagr, it’s because they keep themselves in shape and they are driven to compete,” said Laviolette. “It’s not just about skill. When they’re sitting in the bench, they aren’t just resting. They are watching the game and communicating. The day after a game, they’ve already got their minds set on next game and understand what they can build from for next time. That’s what special players do and we’re fortunate to have several of them on our hockey club.”

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 51 38 9 4 166 114 80
2 FLA 53 31 16 6 143 118 68
3 NYR 53 30 18 5 150 135 65
4 TBL 52 29 19 4 138 123 62
5 BOS 52 28 18 6 151 137 62
6 DET 53 27 18 8 133 131 62
7 PIT 52 27 18 7 138 132 61
8 NYI 51 27 18 6 143 127 60
9 NJD 54 26 21 7 120 122 59
10 CAR 54 24 21 9 130 142 57
11 MTL 54 26 24 4 143 143 56
12 OTT 54 25 23 6 153 166 56
13 PHI 51 23 19 9 121 133 55
14 BUF 53 21 26 6 120 139 48
15 TOR 51 19 23 9 117 140 47
16 CBJ 54 21 28 5 135 168 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
C. Giroux 51 16 28 -6 44
J. Voracek 51 8 34 -1 42
W. Simmonds 51 18 16 -6 34
B. Schenn 49 14 15 -1 29
S. Gostisbehere 33 9 18 4 27
S. Couturier 40 9 15 9 24
M. Read 50 9 9 -5 18
S. Laughton 51 4 10 -6 14
M. Del Zotto 49 4 9 -9 13
M. Raffl 51 6 6 2 12
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
S. Mason 12 13 7 .916 2.69
M. Neuvirth 11 6 2 .933 2.14
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