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September 14, 2005 - The new-look Flyers get right into new-look NHL

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The new-look Flyers get right into new-look NHL
VOORHEES, N.J. -- Many of the Flyers participated in an intrasquad scrimmage at the end of the first day of training camp Tuesday and with the score tied at two, the winner needed to be resolved by virtue of a shootout.

Welcome to the new NHL.
While the old standard may still exist for the Flyers -- the one where they maintain their status as one of the elite teams in the sport -- there was a lot of other newness on Day One of hockey’s new era.

For the Flyers there were 10 new faces on a team that last played a hockey game in the humidor of Tampa, Fla. During the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals.

There were new rules to discuss and perhaps most importantly, there was a new chemistry being forged.

Team Captain Keith Primeau arrived at the rink bright and early.

"I had a hard time sleeping last night I was so excited," he said. "I was actually looking forward to one of (coach Ken) Hitchcock’s practices, so you know it’s been a real long time since we’ve been out there. I’ve forgotten what they were like, but whew, this feels really good."

Simon Gagne, always looked upon as one of the kids ready to elevate his game to the next level, now ranks second on the team in continuous service behind only Eric Desjardins and will be expected to be one of the teams leaders both on and off the ice.

"Just jumping on the ice for the first time and doing the drills e used to do when we were here a couple years ago was fun," he said. "It was really good to see all the guys again and get back to playing hockey."

Goaltender Robert Esche, who resigned from his post as the Flyers union representative Tuesday, was also happy to be back to work, but couldn’t resist one more pot shot at the whole lost season, although doing so while exonerating his employer.

"I think it finally hit us (Tuesday) that we’re back after being away for so long," he said. "But the thing is, this lockout had nothing to do with the Flyers. We have a great owner that didn’t want to see this happen. We have a great locker room that really didn’t want to see this happen. We were kind of the black sheep of the entire lockout."

As for the coach?

"I feel prepared," Hitchcock said plaintively. "I feel I’m ahead of the curve because I’ve been coaching for a few weeks (with the Canadian Olympic team) and as a coaching staff we’ve been ready for almost a month now."

The first practice, which was open to the public, drew a sizeable crowd for a midweek, school-day morning, showing just how much the fans are anticipating the coming season.

"On paper we’ve got the best team in the NHL," Esche said. "Now all we have to do is go out there and grab it and make it happen. That’s where the challenge lies for us."

That challenge was immediately presented to the team when they were challenged by many of the young guys who played for the Phantoms during their Calder Cup championship run.

Primeau sang the praises of grinders like Ben Eager and Riley Cote. But it was Hitchcock who really took notice in the way the Phantoms players played.

"They kept the tempo going," said Hitchcock. "The combination of our players being excited to get back out there and their work ethic coming from that championship team, that’s what stuck out to me the most.

"We know our own players, the thing that impressed me was the players from the Phantoms. The players that were on that team last year really compete hard and they kept the pace hot which is a great thing for a coach and will do nothing but help our players. It was a tempo that I didn’t think they could keep up for 2 hours but they did."

Hitchcock singled out the play of such Phantoms as Jeff Carter, Patrick Sharp, Jon Sim and R.J. Umberger. While Carter and Sharp are shoe-ins for the regular season roster, Sim and Umberger appear more and more likely to having a strong shot of joining them for that first game against the Rangers.

"Two things we went with were Umberger and Sim and put Carter back with Sharp until Peter (Forsberg) is ready to go," said Hitchcock. "Those were two pairs that were excellent together and we’ll take those pairs into the exhibition games and see how they go."


NOTES: Hitchcock said once Forsberg returns, Carter will start on his right wing but will see considerable time at center as well. That’s because Forsberg isn’t a strong faceoff guy on the right side of the ice, so when faceoffs are on that side, he and Carter will switch positions ..When asked what he thought of the new shootout rule, Esche jokingly said he’d rather play hockey all night to determine a winner before surprisingly saying he likes the idea and that it will better the game. Strange coming from a goalie ..The Flyers are expected to shrink their camp roster from 53 down to about 27 rather quickly. Hitchcock said he only wanted one room-full of players by Sunday, meaning the rest of the team will start working exclusively with the Phantoms coaching staff.