Nick Schultz, a 34-year-old with 14 years of NHL experience, still sees the first day of training camp like a little kid does Christmas morning, calling it as an “exciting” of a time as there is. So, too, does all of his teammates.
That’s why Friday’s official start to the Flyers training camp was a spectacle for all 64 players in attendance, as well as for the swarm of hockey-starved fans breaking out of their summer hibernation in a parade of orange and black bordering the rink.
There was plenty to see (and hear) from a day that began at 9:45 and wrapped up at 3:00 p.m. Let’s take a look at some of the notable storylines and takeaways:
Steve Mason feeling recharged
Steve Mason battled through adversity last year. Whether it was his struggles out of the gate, unspecified personal reasons or the fact that Michal Neuvirth was playing phenomenal for much of the season, things kept stacking up against the netminder.
Even so, Mason had a 23-19-0 record with a 2.51 GAA and .918 save percentage. All of which were quite respectable. With this offseason behind him, Mason took it upon himself to relax, ease the mind and prepare for a new campaign.
“I felt like I was reading plays well out there,” Mason said. “[My] body feels good. I feel like I have a fresh mindset this year. Today was the first of many practices, but it was a good start.”
Mason worked in Group 1, which consisted of two other goaltenders in Carter Hart and Mark Dekanich. Neuvirth is among the World Cup players that will return to on-ice activities either Sunday or Monday.
Nick Cousins vs. Scott Laughton
Of all the camp battles, the showdown between Nick Cousins and Scott Laughton for the third-line pivot will be the most entertaining one to watch. The two are separated by one year with Cousins being the elder of the two at 23-years-old but Laughton has 60 more games in the NHL than his competitor.
Could both make the roster? Yes, but it’s looking more and more like it’ll be one or the other at this point with guys like Roman Lyubimov and Boyd Gordon competing for fourth line roles.
For what it’s worth, the two actually worked on the same line in the Group 2 session with Cousins centering a line of Laughton and Dale Weise. This, though, appears temporary with numerous centermen absent (World Cup).
Cousins may provide the most “pop” to the lineup, displaying his tenacious and sometimes pesky play last season.
“I came in last year and proved I can play at this level,” Cousins said. “I think that gave me a little extra motivation heading into this year… I’m going to approach it the same way and see what happens after training camp.”
The two agree – as do many of the other players – that the competition on this year’s camp roster adds something extra.
“I think it lights a fire under everybody,” Cousins concluded.
Two No. 1 goalies
A recharged Mason and a rising Neuvirth have the Flyers feeling pretty confident between the pipes this season. Oh, and they have a pretty loaded group of goalie prospects.
In regards to the NHL netminders, the team sees it just as everyone does. They have two No. 1 goalies.
“We feel the same way,” Simmonds said. “It doesn’t matter who’s in net, we’ll get a No. 1 performance from either of those guys so it’s up to us to put some goals in in front of them and play strong defensively as a unit. We know those guys will have our backs no matter what.”
Provorov taking it “one day at a time”
Ivan Provorov isn’t getting lost in the attention. He has high expectations of making this club, but he isn’t going to try to do too much to the point he strays away from who he is.
“I’m trying to take it one day at a time,” Provorov said. “If I play my two-way game, I should be fine.”
The Russian enjoyed the high pace of his first practice, believing a pace like that works well with his game.
First off, it’s way too early to base anything off of the lines. The aforementioned World Cup and the few day break the Flyers are giving their players who competed has depleted the pivot position. Outside of Laughton and Cousins working together, some other notable lineup observations were Jordan Weal centering Simmonds and Brayden Schenn and Andy Miele centering Michael Raffl and Matt Read.
Again, though, these are temporary until the full team is in tact.
Simmonds on whether or not the scoring will increase despite minimal additions: “It’s evolution. As some of the younger guys get their bearing and find their way into the league, they’ll be a little more confident and that’ll lead to more scoring.”
T.J. Brennan on his first day practicing with the Flyers: “The emblem on my chest is an honor and I try to wear that with pride and remember that everyday starting today I go out and give everything I have and leave everything out there.”
For your reference:
Group 1 (practice from 9:45-11:30 on Friday & Saturday)
Forwards (16): Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, Jordan Weal, Boyd Gordon, Chris Conner, Petr Straka, Mark Zengerle, Greg Carey, Roman Lyubimov, Travis Konecny, Danick Martel, Pascal Laberge, Chris VandeVelde, Connor Bunnaman, Anthony Salinitri, Kevin Sundher
Defensemen (9): Radko Gudas, T.J. Brennan, Will O’Neill, Andrew MacDonald, Sam Morin, Jesper Pettersson, Philippe Myers, Ivan Provorov, Reece Willcox
Goalies (3): Steve Mason, Carter Hart, Mark Dekanich
Groups 2 (practice from 1-3 on Friday & Saturday)
Forwards (16): Michael Raffl, Scott Laughton, Dale Weise, Matt Read, Colin McDonald, Andy Miele, Corban Knight, Nick Cousins, Tyrell Goulbourne, Taylor Leier, Nicholas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev, Samuel Dove-McFalls, Steven Swavely, Chris McCarthy, Carsen Twarynski
Defensemen (9): Michael Del Zotto, Brandon Manning, Mark Alt, Robert Hagg, Nick Schultz, Travis Sanheim, Maxim Lamarche, Garrett McFadden, Brennan Mennel
Goalies (3): Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Martin Ouellette