Teamwork on the links brings Flyers together

Posted: November 10, 2010

PINEHURST, N.C. - When the NHL schedule-makers released their annual matrix last June, Peter Laviolette jumped on the opportunity to take his players, fellow coaches and staff to one of the greatest golf towns in the United States.

Laviolette didn't know then how this young season would unfold, or even who would be on the trip. With his team owning a 6-0-1 record over the last 2 weeks and in second place in the Eastern Conference, Laviolette probably could not have planned it much better.

But the trip - which included a few team meals in this secluded resort and a round of golf on Pinehurst's famed No. 2 course - wasn't just for the golfers on the team.

"We needed a break," Laviolette said. "Any time a group or a team can get away and relax, it's time well spent. When we're together off the ice, it's pretty much always work-related.

"It's either on a bus, or in a meeting, or on a plane. There is always a lot of pressure associated with that. So, if we could play a round of golf and do a couple different things, we're going to take advantage. There aren't a lot of opportunities to do it."

Usually, a big enough break in the schedule only comes up once in the season. Last year, the Flyers spent 4 days in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., fishing and boating under the watchful eye of then-coach John Stevens.

Two years ago, the Flyers snuck away to West Point for training with Army's collegiate hockey team. Three years ago, they gathered in the mountain resort town of Whistler, British Columbia, during a West Coast swing.

Yesterday, they whacked balls on one of Pinehurst's eight courses - instead of pucks - and walked the streets of the quaint and charming southern town. Laviolette spent parts of five seasons coaching the Hurricanes, tomorrow night's opponent, an hour up the road in Raleigh.

For the Flyers' veterans, who know each other well, the trip is a chance to kick back with old friends. For the newcomers, like Sean O'Donnell, Nik Zherdev, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Andrej Meszaros, it is a chance to further familiarize themselves with new teammates.

It is also a way for players like Matt Walker, Ian Laperriere and Michael Leighton to feel more a part of the team as they nurse their injuries. Those players did not partake in the golf portion of the trip.

Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell, two of the Flyers' lowest handicap golfers, were able to take advantage of their non-golf fanatic teammates like Ville Leino and Zherdev.

Laviolette said just based on handicap, he would say the Flyers' Russians are "right at the bottom" of the list. But when professional sports teams talk about being "close-knit," as the Flyers do, it's hard to fake.

"You have to work at it," Laviolette said. "We still have some new faces on this team. Chemistry is just like a power play or a penalty kill, you have to work on that part of your team.

"But you also need to put people in a situation where they aren't worrying about hockey."

That's what makes it easier for the Flyers to pony up for the expensive trip, where rooms in the five-star resort are upwards of $300 per night and a round of golf on the course that will host the 2014 U.S. Open is almost $400 per player.

"In order to be successful as a group, you need to get to know each other," Laviolette said. "The hope is that this will pay off down the road, sometime in June."

Just as Laviolette did not know whether his team would be languishing or laughing 1 month into the season, he doesn't know if it will be golfing or celebrating come June. But he has a plan.

Slap shots

The Flyers will be back on the ice today practicing, in Raleigh . . . The NHL's general managers declined to set a league-wide social media policy yesterday to police players on Twitter, as the NFL and NBA have done. James van Riemsdyk (@JVReemer21) is the only Flyer on Twitter.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at

http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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