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September 14, 2005 - New-look Flyers ready to make deep playoff run

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Old faces, new place

New-look Flyers ready to make deep playoff run

Posted: Wednesday September 14, 2005 12:29AM; Updated: Wednesday September 14, 2005 12:29AM
                    
 
 

VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) -- Keith Primeau was so energized about skating with his Philadelphia teammates again that he had trouble sleeping the night before.

"I was actually looking forward to one of [coach Ken Hitchcock's] practices, so you know that it's been a long time," Primeau said, smiling. "You forget how difficult the practices are, but it was a great feeling to be back out there. I'm just really excited about the year."

The lockout that wiped out all of last season is gone. So are veterans Jeremy Roenick, John LeClair and Mark Recchi.

The new-look Philadelphia Flyers finally returned to practice Tuesday, skating together for the first time since their 2004 playoff run ended with a loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

"I think that it's given a lot of people, including myself, time to pause and reflect. All of us missed the game, missed teammates," Hitchcock said. "Management misses an opportunity to build a team greatly. I think we've all missed it."

The Flyers wasted little time in building a championship contender once the lockout ended. Many of the veterans who contributed so much to their recent run of success were jettisoned and Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje and Chris Therien were among the big names brought in to help Philly try to end its Stanley Cup drought.

Jeff Carter and Mike Richards are considered two of the top rookies in the league and helped the Phantoms, the Flyers' top minor-league team, win the Calder Cup. Hitchcock said the rookies brought some extra energy to the first practice and would be heavily counted on this year.

"We all the know the moves they made and we're all excited about it," said defenseman Eric Desjardins. "We have young guys coming in bringing new legs and new excitement. It's going to be a great year."

Forsberg and Hatcher, the two big free agents signed in the offseason, did not practice Tuesday and neither is expected to play much in training camp. Forsberg had an infected bursa sac removed from his right ankle Monday and will miss at least two weeks and Hatcher sprained his left knee at the U.S. Olympic Team's training camp and will miss three weeks.

Hitchcock expected Forsberg to return for some preseason games, but was unsure when Hatcher would return. Hatcher must still serve a three-game suspension by the NHL for elbowing an opponent in the head during the Western Conference semifinals when he was with Detroit.

"We're hoping Darien can get some exhibition games before he has to sit out again," Hitchcock said.

The Flyers play the first of their seven preseason games Saturday against Atlanta.

The lockout came at a tough time for the Flyers, who went 40-21-15 two years ago and won the Atlantic Division. It was the 29th straight season that ended without a championship for the Flyers -- now that number is up to 30 -- but they're considered contenders again this year.

But with Forsberg and Hatcher unable to practice, combined with the already long layoff, it could take some time for the Flyers to get a good feel for each other.

"Everybody knows after a year off, timing is going to take a little while to come back," Desjardins said. "It's too bad for those guys, but they're serious guys. They're veterans. They'll jump right in and they'll be fine."

The Flyers scrimmaged in front of a small group of fans -- some wearing No. 21 Forsberg jerseys -- and ended practice with a shootout drill. What a difference from a year ago when there was so much uncertainty in the league.

Hitchcock helped out some junior teams and club teams during his time off. Donald Brashear dabbled in boxing. Desjardins hunted moose. Others played overseas. Wherever they were, all the Flyers wanted to be back in Philly trying for a Stanley Cup.

"That stretch of time has gone by fast," Primeau said. "You get back in the room and it feels like you haven't missed a beat. To be back among the guys is a lot of fun."

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