Training camp is just around the corner for the Philadelphia Flyers. Rookie camp begins Wednesday, and the veterans will report to Voorhees on September 21.
You can smell the sweaty hockey gear already.
But this training camp isn’t going to be like any other Flyers training camp. This is going to be a John Tortorella training camp. And John Tortorella training camps are notoriously demanding — physically and mentally.
It will be particularly demanding for forward Kevin Hayes, who Tortorella singled out during his very first media availability as Flyers head coach as a player he thinks can take a significant step forward.
“I want to try to help him,” Tortorella said of Hayes in June. “Because if I can help him and make him understand that we’re gonna try to get him to another level, what does he do for the Flyers organization up the middle of the ice? I’ve watched him from afar, and there’s more there. And it’s my responsibility to try to get that out of him.”
Hayes is coming off a particularly difficult campaign. The 30-year-old ended up missing nearly half the season due to abdominal surgeries and a blood infection. And on top of that, he was still grieving over the tragic loss of his older brother Jimmy, who passed away suddenly last summer.
All that taken into account, it’s easy to understand why Hayes may not have played his absolute best last season.
This summer, though, Hayes is feeling rejuvenated. Just in time for what is likely going to be the hardest training camp of his professional career.
“I feel way better,” Hayes said Monday. “I think it was obvious to anyone that knows the game that when I was trying to come back, I wasn’t fully 100 percent. I think I was 100 percent of what I could have at that time. But the infection was what was holding me back that we had no idea about.
“This is the first summer I’ve had in probably two years where I entered into the training part of my summer where I was 100 percent and doing everything. Nothing was really holding me back.”
As the Flyers enter a season with almost unanimously low expectations from fans, veteran players like Hayes, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton and former Tortorella disciple Cam Atkinson will be heavily relied upon to repair a locker room that Tortorella called “splintered” shortly after being named the Flyers’ head coach.
While speaking with Sirius XM NHL Network Radio last week, Tortorella reiterated his urgency to restore order to the Flyers’ locker room, admitting he has “major concerns” with the team’s current culture. Tortorella has helped reconstruct flawed locker rooms in the past, but such an undertaking isn’t exactly a one-man job. The players will also need to buy in.
Fortunately for Tortorella, the players are still upset with how the 2021-22 season played out, and they want to improve the locker room just as badly as Torts does.
“Last year was embarrassing for our group. We weren’t very good at all. If we’re gonna change the culture, I think Torts is the correct guy to have it. He’s kind of a no bullshit guy and holds everyone accountable, whether you’ve played a thousand games or you’re a rookie.
“I think in order to have a successful team, you need to have accountability. Whether it’s players holding each other accountable, management holding players accountable, or in this case I think Torts is gonna hold all players that make this team accountable. And that’s how you win. You want every single one of your guys, whether it’s your best player or a fourth-line guy that knows his role to be held accountable.
“I flew in and met with Torts right after he got hired and we had a good conversation. He said he’s gonna be really hard on me this year, and it’s exciting. I think the whole team should be excited about it. I know fans are kind of down on our team right now, but it’s easy to say it’s a new year, new team, and I think we’re off to the right start with our whole team being here pretty early.”
Hayes went so far as to admit that some players are entering training camp with nerves. And why shouldn’t they? Tortorella isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers, and if standards aren’t being met, he will not hesitate to cut a player’s ice time in half. But as tough as Tortorella is as a coach, he might just be exactly what the Flyers’ locker room needs.
“I don’t think anyone in the organization will have a tougher camp than what we’re gonna have this year,” said Hayes. “I think it brings the team together. There’s nothing better than grinding all day and then taking your gear off together and knowing that the last two hours sucked, but it helps you come together. We’ve always had a tight team, and I think just working hard, it brings people together.”