Player Development’s Main Ingredient Is Patience

.Highly touted prospects Samuel Morin, Shane Gostisbehere, and Travis Sanheim made big impressions in the Flyers’ pre-season training camp.  Though it seemed obvious that recent draft pick Sanheim would go back to his junior club before the NHL season began, many fans expected that Morin and/or Gostisbehere would stick with the big club, at least for a little while.  But before the regular season began, Morin was sent back to his junior club (he is not allowed to play in the AHL because he is not yet 20 years old) and Gostisbehere was sent to the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.  It is no secret that the Flyers desperately need help on defense, and Morin and Gostisbehere would likely have made an immediate impact in the NHL.  But new Flyers GM Ron Hextall has made it clear that he believes in being patient with young prospects and not rushing them to the NHL.

One Flyers fan on social media had an excellent analogy for these prospects who look NHL-ready but probably are not.  The fan said that the prospects were like cookies being baked in an oven.  They look ready and smell ready, but when you take them out of the oven and bite into them, you realize that they needed another five minutes in the oven.

Unfortunately for Morin, that oven has recently proved to be very hot.  He was struck in the mouth by a puck this week during play with his junior club and will be out 4-5 weeks.  Several fans commented that if Morin would have remained with the Flyers, the injury would not have occurred.  But there is certainly no way to know that.  it is a dangerous sport at any level.

My opinion is that Flyers fans have to trust the process and give these prospects enough time to develop, even if it means the Flyers defense suffers for a year or so.  With any luck, the Flyers will make the playoffs next spring, and in the lineup with be two of the most promising young defensemen the league has seen in quite a while.

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Don’t Stop Believing

My husband and I are die hard Philadelphia Flyers fans living in Northern Virginia. On Saturday we made our first trip of the 2014-15 season to Philly to see the Flyers play their second home game of the season.  My husband came by his Flyers fandom naturally, having been born and bred north of Philly, living and breathing Philly sports since birth.  He introduced me to Flyers hockey several years ago and I fell hard.  I quickly learned that being a Philly sports fan means plenty of passion….and plenty of heartbreak.  Philly hockey fans are incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated, but also happy to explain how empty the proverbial glass really is.   While I try to remain positive about the Flyers and maintain my usual “glass half full” mentality, the bad news just seems to keep coming as things this season have picked up right where last season left off.

The Flyers made the 2014 playoffs and went seven games in round one with the always strong New York Rangers, losing the series when they easily could have won. But it was amazing that they made the playoff at all after starting the season with a 1-7 record and getting a new coach after losing their first three games.  Now here we were at the beginning of the 2014-15 season and the Flyers were 0-2 and getting ready to face a strong Montreal Canadiens team.  I had been looking forward to this game for months.  It had been a long, hockey-less summer (with the exception of the NHL Draft in Philly, which we attended), and I was thrilled that hockey was back.  In our second year as partial season ticket holders, we had secured seats in the lower bowl of the arena and I was happy at the thought of watching the games from near-ice view after last season’s in-the-rafters seats.

The game started out like a dream, with the Flyers dominating the Canadiens and scoring three unanswered goals by the end of the second period. New alternate captain Wayne Simmonds was on fire as usual, scoring two of those goals.  But like the Flyers of last year, it all suddenly began to unravel.  The weak Flyers defense caved as the Canadiens put on a shooting clinic at the goal in front of us.  Flyers backup goal tender Ray Emery was having an amazing game full of many near-impossible saves, but even he couldn’t keep the puck out of the net with this kind of barrage and little help from the defense.

In a flash the score was 3-2 with about seven minutes left in the game and it was time for us to leave to start the long drive back to Virginia. As we exited the arena, the Canadiens tied the game.  It was probably a good thing that we left, because it was likely that the overly dramatic Canadiens fans sitting in front of us were now being berated by very angry Flyers fan.  And, as fired up as I had been during the game, there was no guarantee that I would not have participated in such a scene. The situation looked bleak because the Flyers never do well in shootouts.  And this one was no different.   I looked at my phone in dismay as the score read 4-3 Canadiens.

The one point earned by the Flyers for the tie was no consolation. I was so sad and angry.  I said to my husband:  “This is the only sports team I care anything about.  I can’t take it.  How do you blow a 3-0 lead in the third period at home?!”  He responded that everyone was saying this was a throw-away year (as the Flyers wait for their corps of young, talented defensemen to be ready to play in the NHL).  My response was:  “Well that doesn’t give you the excuse to blow a three-goal lead!”  I took a deep breath and reminded myself that it was still October.  There was so much hockey left.  Plenty of time for the Flyers to turn it around and start winning….and plenty of time for them to keep breaking my heart.  But I keep believing in the former…because that’s what being a fan is all about.