Inside the Flyers: Flyers use Florida trip to forge a better bond with each other

Posted: November 13, 2011

SUNRISE, Fla. - Fifteen games into the season, Team Makeover has more pluses than minuses, more reasons to believe they are on the right track.

The Flyers have had to overcome a slew of injuries - most notably to captain Chris Pronger - and an uneven beginning to goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's tenure here.

They haven't been as efficient as their hated intrastate rivals - the Dan Bylsma-coached Penguins haven't skipped a beat despite their own injury woes - but they have managed to get points in 11 of 15 games.

The Flyers are 8-4-3 - not awe-inspiring, but respectable. Encouraging, even, when you consider the development of rookies Sean Couturier and Matt Read, who have been excellent. Erik Gustafsson and Zac Rinaldo, two other rookies, have also shown promise.

Other pluses: Claude Giroux is establishing himself as one of the NHL's elite players, and ageless Jaromir Jagr is showing he was a $3.3 million gamble worth taking.

The other new forwards - Max Talbot, Wayne Simmonds, and Jake Voracek - have all had their good moments. Talbot has been one of the team's most pleasant surprises. Signed because of his defensive excellence, he has been dominating on the penalty kill and has surprisingly chipped in with five goals.

Simmonds and Voracek have been inconsistent and are still trying to make the transition to a new system and a new team.

Which brings us to the Flyers' two-day bonding trip in Naples, Fla., which was held between Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to Tampa Bay and Sunday's matchup against the much-improved Florida Panthers.

To coach Peter Laviolette, this trip may be more important than all the practices, all the morning skates, all the drills the team has endured since camp opened in September.

"Win Today and We Walk Together Forever," Fred Shero once scribbled on a blackboard before the Flyers upset the Bruins to win the 1974 Stanley Cup. The words became a part of Philadelphia's sports lore, as memorable as Chuck Bednarik's not getting up off Jim Taylor as the clock ran out to end the Eagles' 17-13 win over Green Bay in the 1960 NFL championship game, or Matt Stairs' dramatic homer against the Dodgers in Game 4 of the 2008 League Championship Series, or Maurice Cheeks' dunk to punctuate the 76ers' win that gave them the 1983 NBA title against the Lakers.

Laviolette isn't one to create Shero-isms, but his message during the bonding trip was simple: The more you know your teammate, the more you'll go the extra mile for him on the ice.

Hokey? Perhaps. But in this day and age, when ugliness has permeated the sports world (See the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal, the greed in the NBA stalemate, etc.), it is also refreshing.

Back in the old days, the Flyers bonded over beers at Rexy's.

The team does things more formally now. Golf, fishing trips, and dinners were scheduled for the Flyers in Florida.

"This is a road trip where we get to spend some time together and get away from everything back home and just be the guys together," center Danny Briere said. "We spend a lot of time on the road, but every time we go on the road it's just to play games. We don't really have the chance to hang out more. So this is fun."

Pronger said the two days without practices or games gave the Flyers a chance to learn about each other - their backgrounds, their families, their interests. That's especially important for a team that has 10 new players.

"When you have an opportunity like this, you want to use it to your advantage and build some chemistry," he said.

The off-ice chemistry, he said, can be critical and help a team get to the next level.

Yes, it sounds high-schoolish, but in a good way. Again, it's refreshing to hear pro athletes take interest in each other.

"With all the changes we had in the offseason, this gives us a chance to get away and get to know everybody - and get a better feel where everybody is coming from," Pronger said.

The more you know about your teammates, Pronger said, the more "you start looking out for your buddy," and the more it helps "put things that need to be in place to be successful."


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com, or @BroadStBull on Twitter.

 

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