Flyers set for Olympic break, but know they must come back strong

Posted: February 10, 2014

WHEN THE HORN sounds at the Wells Fargo Center this afternoon, coach Craig Berube will address his 23 players one last time before a mad dash to the airport scrambles them to the far corners of the world.

The message will be stern, but simple.

"After the break, we really need to make sure we're ready to play at a high level right away," Berube said. "Like, playing the San Jose Sharks. Right away."

For Berube, after that, walking out of that locker room will be like a father dropping off his son for freshman year of college: You just hope and pray that they return safe and sound, with a motivated frame of mind and ready to tackle the world.

Because on the other side of this 16-day break in the NHL schedule lies a true gantlet for the Flyers: 23 games in 46 days, 17 against playoff teams, to decide whether they are worthy enough to fight for Lord Stanley's prize.

As Ed Snider alluded to Thursday night when he said bluntly, "I hate the Olympics," danger lurks everywhere for the Flyers during the break. A break in the schedule means a break in training - and the Flyers aren't allowed to hold practice again until Feb. 19, even though the gold-medal game won't be played in Sochi until Feb. 23.

"Rest can't hurt," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who has played more minutes than any other forward. "It doesn't hurt to take a second and sit back and see where we are and where we have to go. We need to make sure guys stay fresh."

Giroux said his one job during the Olympics, as captain, is to make sure everyone stays in shape. That will be easier said than done, given the distances traveled.

Kimmo Timonen (Finland), Michael Raffl (Austria), Jake Voracek (Czech Republic), Mark Streit (Switzerland) and Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia) will drive to Newark, N.J., tomorrow for one of three NHL chartered flights on a 10-hour journey to Russia.

As Timonen pointed out this week, any player who does make the medal round will end up playing seven games in a span of 12 days with a 9-hour time difference and little time to rest before returning to the NHL.

For those not going to Sochi, the schedule is the opposite of demanding.

Scott Hartnell is jetsetting to a warm destination for a few rounds of golf with his buddies. Braydon Coburn is heading home to Calgary with his wife, daughter, and 5-month-old son. Luke Schenn is traveling to his offseason home in Kelowna, British Columbia. Zac Rinaldo is going home to Hamilton, Ontario.

Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Erik Gustafsson, Adam Hall, Ray Emery and Nick Grossmann are flocking to Turks and Caicos Islands for time on the beach, where five of them will share a house for a week.

"It's an important time to give your head and your body off for a few days, get away for about a week," Grossmann said. "It's just as much mental as it is physical for a lot of guys. These middle 40 to 60 games during the season, it's a tough stretch to get through, the grind of the season. We can get back and be refreshed for that playoff push."

No Flyer, not even the coach, seemed to buy into the fact that the Olympic break was coming at the exact wrong time for a team playing their best hockey of the season.

For one, the Olympics will affect all teams the same, with an average of four to six representatives per team.

"There is nothing we can do about it," Brayden Schenn said. "We've obviously know about the Olympic break all season. Who knows, maybe 2 weeks ago, with the way we were playing, we would have said we needed a break."

While it's true the Flyers would not have minded to keep rolling, the physical rest will help. Grossmann said it "would be a lie" to say he has been 100 percent recently. At practice yesterday, he had a puck mark under his left eye from Thursday's win.

"It's always something," Grossmann said, rolling his eyes. "The guy shot it, and it hit my head instead of the boards. Yes, you want to keep playing when you're playing well. But it's not a bad thing to be going into the break playing with confidence instead of an 0-6 record. Maybe we will smile a little bit more often, like before the Christmas break."

The Flyers also entered the 3-day Christmas holiday on a 4-1-1 run. They came back and went 6-1-0 to solidify their comeback in the standings.

This time, the break is 16 days instead of 3. And Grossmann said a week of not skating will feel like 2 months for these creatures of habit.

"We will be somewhere warm, but what is an hour out of your day to get a workout in or get on a bike to take care of your body?" Brayden Schenn said. "It will be that much easier to get back to skating shape."

"We're going to take care of ourselves during the break," Grossmann said. "These next 6 weeks are what we play all these games for. We'll be ready."

One day after requiring potassium-rich bananas and large quantities of water while suffering from extreme dehydration and cramping during the third period of Thursday's gutty win over Colorado, Steve Mason did not practice yesterday. His equipment wasn't even in his stall at the Flyers' practice facility.

To be sure, Mason did not look too good Thursday night. Coach Craig Berube called yesterday a "maintenance day" for him, but added that it's possible Ray Emery will start for the Flyers today against Calgary.

Mason, 25, could use the Olympic break just about as much as anyone. With another two periods of work, he will have played more minutes (2,542) in 45 appearances than he has in any full season since 2010-11.

There was only one minor league trade between Boston and Columbus before yesterday's roster freeze went into effect at 3 p.m. The trading window does not open up again until after the Olympics, leaving only a few precious days before the season's March 3 trade deadline . . . One thing to keep in mind: Any team acquiring one of the 150 Olympians from the NHL would have had to cut him a check for the Feb. 15 pay period (a big deal for small-market clubs) without any guarantee he would return from Sochi uninjured . . . All NHL Olympians also will need to play a clean final game today before heading overseas, as the IIHF and IOC honor NHL suspensions.


On Twitter: @DNFlyers

Blog: ph.ly/FrequentFlyers

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