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October 10, 2004 - Small corps of Flyers gets its ice time in at Medford

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Posted on Sun, Oct. 10, 2004

Small corps of Flyers gets its ice time in at Medford

Inquirer Staff Writer

The stands were empty. The locker room was cramped. The player in net resembled a middle linebacker more than he did a goalie.

And instead of Stanley Cup championship banners hanging from the rafters, the way they do at the Wachovia Center, there were banners for Shawnee and Holy Cross High Schools hanging above the skating surface at the Medford Ice Rink.

While two rink employees milled about, a couple of members of the Flyers, along with a few former teammates, took to the ice earlier this week with the NHL still in the middle of a a nasty lockout.

The mid-morning workouts are the closest those players will get to competition until the labor dispute is settled. There have been no talks recently and none are on the horizon. The regular season was scheduled to open this week.

And although their skating sessions in no way can replace NHL games, they are all the players have. And they know it. Which is why they try to make the most of their time together.

Led by Flyers captain Keith Primeau, players gather for one-hour workouts at the Medford rink twice a week. Three days a week they train at a South Jersey health club.

On Tuesday, six players attended. Joining Primeau were Flyers left winger Todd Fedoruk and right winger Sami Kapanen as well as three former Flyers defensemen - Chris Therien, Chris McAllister and Eric Weinrich. Therien is a free agent who finished last season with the Dallas Stars; McAllister, also a free agent, finished last season with the New York Rangers. Weinrich is a member of the St. Louis Blues.

Their goal is to adhere to a consistent practice regimen and persevere through the down time. At this time of year, hockey players usually are ready to start the season. But this year, they are ready to start raking leaves.

"Welcome to our world," Therien said.

The hockey world has seen better days.

The reality that there may not be a season has hit players hard, much worse than a puck traveling 100 m.p.h. But at least their informal workouts have given the players not only a sense of togetherness, but also a sense of purpose.

"The best thing is just looking across the locker room and being here with the guys," said Therien, a resident of Marlton, Burlington County.

On-ice workouts last less than an hour. On Sept. 30, the first time the players got together after the lockout was announced, there were no goalies, which made shooting drills a little difficult. For their second workout, the players found two goalies.

One, John Larnerd, 25, a former Cortland State University player, skates on the fringes of professional hockey. He is trying out with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies of the minor-league East Coast Hockey League.

The other, Greg Cossaboon, 38, played one year of club hockey at Rutgers University. A resident of Pittsgrove, Salem County, he is president of his own real estate company.

He did a double-take when asked by his friend Larnerd to skate with the Flyers. At 6 foot and 252 pounds, Cossaboon provided an inviting target for shooters.

"This is the beer league," Therien said with a smile.

The players took occasional breaks, but returned to finish their drills, the toughest of which was a full-ice, three-on-three segment.

The players had inquired about buying ice time at the Flyers' practice facility, the Skate Zone in Voorhees. Primeau said they would have been given the discounted rate of $200 an hour. At Medford, the players don't pay a cent.

"Not that we couldn't afford it, but this rink is going out of its way to let us skate for free and we really appreciate it," Primeau said.

Steve Monahan, general manger of the Medford Ice Rink, said that in the summer, Therien had done clinics with youth teams.

"The Flyers have done a lot for the community and this is our way of paying them back," Monahan said. "They can come here as long as they need to."

The players will likely take Monahan up on his offer until a settlement is reached, whenever that may be.

Getting ice time is important. Fedoruk asked a 15-year-old youth hockey team if he could work out with the players during a recent practice in Washington Township, Gloucester County.

"I was huffing a lot," Fedoruk recalled. "Those 15-year-olds can really skate. I was glad to be in a practice atmosphere."

When they finished their Tuesday skate, the players retreated to the locker room, exchanging hockey stories and some laughs. None of the players seemed in a particular hurry to leave afterward.

If there has been a silver lining to the lockout, it is that the players have a chance to spend more time with their families. That isn't always the case during the season.

"I need the season to start so I can get some rest," said Primeau, a father of four children, ages 5 to 16.

Primeau said he missed taking his sons to the rink for Sunday practices with the Flyers. But on the other hand, he said, he has never been home for his daughter Kylie's birthday. She will turn 9 on Thursday.

"She is so excited that I'll be home for her birthday," Primeau said.

And for now, the players are grateful that they have a place to meet and lace up the skates. Even if it is only twice a week. And even if it is for a couple of hours.

"Nothing can replace being on the ice," Primeau said. "Nothing replaces games so, for now, this is the next best thing."