Flyers' bonding trip means rookies get dinner check

Posted: November 09, 2011

TAMPA, Fla. - Four years ago, when Flyers forward Jakub Voracek was learning the ropes in the NHL as a rookie in Columbus, he would get a strange knock on the door of his hotel room in the middle of the night.

Voracek would look through the peep hole and, despite not seeing anyone, open the door just to check.

Arranged by a few crafty veterans, a small hotel trash can would be filled to the brim with water and be leaning against the door, ready to soak him as soon as the door was opened.

Somewhere, down the hallway, teammates would erupt in laughter as Voracek was left with a small puddle in his doorway.

That's just one of the things the Flyers' rookies - Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo, Erik Gustafsson, Matt Read and Harry Zolnierczyk - can come to expect this week, as the Flyers kick off their first extended, three-game road trip of the season tonight in Tampa Bay.

"There was always a 'leaner' waiting for me," Voracek recalled. "I learned not to open the door after that when no one was there. But really, it's pretty fun. I really enjoyed it, because it's only 1 year."

So far, the Flyers' longest road trip has been 3 nights, when they visited Boston and Newark, N.J., in the first week of the season. This 6-day adventure is sure to create a lot of memories, as the Flyers will spend a lot of time together on a trip that includes a 2-night bonding excursion in Naples, Fla., tomorrow and Friday. The Flyers play at Florida Sunday and at Carolina on Monday.

Until now, the Flyers' roster of "rooks'' has had to do little more than the usual first-year duties, which include picking up pucks after practice and waiting until the elders exit the team bus and plane first.

"There are duties, but it's nothing ever foolish," said Jody Shelley, who was a rookie in 2001-02, also with Columbus. "There are the old rookie things, like the rookie dinner - and everyone loves a free dinner. But it's not like the 'initiation' stories you used to hear.

"It's all just men fun. Once you go through it, it's fun to come to camp and not be a rookie anymore. When I got here, was excited not to be a rookie. I guess his first year was tough."

These Flyers veterans wouldn't say when the team's annual ''rookie dinner'' would be, since these types of events come with little warning, but they wanted to give the first-year players a few big-league paychecks to line their coffers first.

But it begs the question: Which players count as rookies? Ville Leino counted as one in the NHL statisticians' eyes in 2010, but since he was 26 and completed multiple years in the Finnish Elite League and parts of a previous season at Detroit, was he still a rookie in his teammates' view?

Or, what about Gustafsson, who skated in three games with the Flyers last year?

"Until you've paid for rookie dinner, you're still a rookie," Shelley explained.

For the rookies, the expensive night out is a once-in-a-lifetime memory, a rite of passage or initiation that young players dream of experiencing. Scott Hartnell, for one, keeps an empty wine bottle signed by his former Nashville teammates as a memento.

That's the way Couturier, 18, who jumped quickly from being the elder statesman as a fourth-year junior hockey player to an NHL newbie in just a few months, views the rookie ordeal.

In good fun, Couturier's teammates have been constantly trying to throw him off, particularly during interviews with the media, when they walk by yelling his nickname "Coots" to distract him.

"Being a rookie, you get teased for sure," Couturier said. "But at the same time, it makes the adaptation easier because guys talk to you and they realize that they can joke around with you.

"I think we have a good team spirit here. It's a good mix of veterans and younger guys. Wherever you go - whether you're new in school or hockey - you're new. It's all part of the process."

So, what can Couturier and the rest of the gang expect? That cat is not yet out of the bag.

"I am sure Chris Pronger has something up his sleeve," Voracek said. "It should be fun."

If last year's glimpse, via HBO's 24/7 series on the Capitals and Penguins, is any indication, you can rest assured that Max Talbot will be at the center of it all. In one segment during the behind-the-scenes special, two rookies had their entire hotel room turned inside-out, with their furniture - including bed frame and mattress - waiting for them in the hallway after a team dinner.

"It's always fun to have fun with the rookies," Talbot said. "We've all been through that, we've all been through that in our first year. They're great guys that we can have fun with."

Pronger returning?

Despite skating with regular defense partner Matt Carle and partaking in all power-play exercises in practice yesterday, Chris Pronger said he is not yet sure if he will return to the ice tonight.

Pronger, 37, has missed the last six games with a serious eye injury sustained on Oct. 24 when he was high-sticked in the right eye against Toronto. Whenever Pronger returns, he will be wearing a visor, as mandated by Dr. Stephen Goldman.

"I didn't feel too hot [Monday], so we'll see how I feel after a pretty good skate," Pronger said. "Sometimes, while I feel like I'm 25, when you're laying in your decrepit bed for 4 or 5 days, you get a little tight and stiff.

"You don't realize how quickly you can lose it when you've done nothing for 7 days and you're bedridden for 4 of them - the joints need to be moving."

Slap shots

If Chris Pronger plays, Erik Gustafsson likely would be the scratch on defense, judging by the pairs in practice yesterday . . . The Flyers were 1-3-0 against Tampa Bay last season, with their only win coming in a shootout at St. Pete Times Forum on Feb. 15. Marty St. Louis torched the Flyers' for 10 points in four games - all 10 were assists.


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

www.philly.com/FrequentFlyers. Follow him on Twitter at

http://twitter.com/DNFlyers.

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