Labo(u)r Day Musings: Team Lunchpail, Prospect Updates, Quick Hits

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FLYERS ALL-TIME ‘LUNCHPAIL’ TEAM

Fred Shero used to refer to Bobby Clarke as a “dream dressed in work clothes.” The Flyers’ captain was the epitome of elite playmaking skill combined with a tireless work ethic and a fierce will to win. In honor of the Labo(u)r Day holiday in the U.S. and Canada, I came up with an all-time Flyers “Lunchpail Team” to recognize some of the hardest-working players in team history.

Honestly, in trying to come up with the list, I found too many worthy candidates to make a list I felt remotely comfortable with. So I did a first team and second team list — and still wasn’t really satisfied. I kept finding myself saying, “How can I leave so-and-so off?” That’s the problem with these types of lists. They always end being about who isn’t on it, rather than who is.

At any rate, here are first and second teams. These are NOT necessarily the best players in franchise history. With a couple of obvious exceptions, I tried to avoid selecting top offensive producers at their positions. The focus was solely on recognizing players who led by example with their work ethic and competitiveness.

FIRST TEAM Bobby Clarke (C): From the very first to the very last shift of his NHL career, Clarke never took anything for granted. He approached every game is if he was a player just trying to earn his spot in the lineup. When the team’s best player was also its hardest-working player, everyone else was inspired to follow suit. Clarke was the player who, above all others, set the team-above-all-else tone for the Flyers’ mini-dynasty of the mid-1970s. Sami Kapanen (LW): Capable of playing any position as needed, Kapanen was often the smallest player on the ice during his NHL career but he played with tremendous courage and will. A fine two-way player with tremendous speed, Kapanen also outworked many larger opponents in the trenches. He was easily one of the team’s most respected players in the locker room during his era. The site of a pained and woozy Kapanen struggling to get back to the bench after a huge hit by Darcy Tucker in the 2004 playoffs against Toronto — falling down and wobbling but pressing onward and eventually making it, to allow the team to complete a line change — was symbolic of his career in Philly. Kapanen’s arduous trip back to the bench contributed to the sequence that was capped off by Jeremy Roenick scoring the series-clinching overtime goal shortly thereafter. Later in that same postseason, with the Flyers defense racked by injuries, Kapanen volunteered to play defense. Despite being inexperienced at the position and giving away size to virtually every opponent, he more than held his own. Rick Tocchet (RW): Tocchet’s intense competitiveness and work ethic was what turned him from a third-line caliber forward best known for his fighting prowess into one the NHL’s top power forwards of the late 1980s to mid 1990s. He hustled up a pair of 40-goal seasons and four seasons with 30-plus goals. Kimmo Timonen (D): The undersized Finn has always played with the heart of a lion and a pain tolerance level that is remarkable even by hockey standards. The four-time NHL All-Star achieved success with his mental fortitude as much as his physical abilities. His absence from the Flyers lineup this season will be felt in a variety of ways. Barry Ashbee (D): Very few players this side of Timonen could rival “Ashcan” when it came to an ability to block out injuries and play through just about anything. Ashbee made no excuses for failure and had no tolerance for teammates who gave anything less than their all. He was a latecomer to a regular spot in the NHL and had his career prematurely ended by a series eye injury suffered in the 1974 Stanley Cup Semifinals. During the time he played for the Flyers, however, Ashbee was crucial to the team’s success. The retirement of his number 4 jersey wasn’t solely for sentimental reasons: He personified the everyman player who made good through hard work and determination rather than skill. Ron Hextall (G): Bernie Parent was the best goalie in Flyers history. Pelle Lindbergh may have been the quickest and most naturally gifted netminder in franchise history. Both had to put in plenty of hard work to become Vezina Trophy winners. However, I’m giving Hextall the nod on this particular all-time list because I have never seen a more competitive goalie who hated to lose more than Hexy. He fought for every puck and defended his crease like a rabid attack dog. Moreover, Hextall’s legendary puckhandling skills didn’t just magically appear one day. He worked and worked and worked some more at it. It used to be a treat to attend a Flyers practice just to see Hextall practice his puckhandling. He could pick a spot on the half boards from the crease or behind the cage and bank the puck out of the zone off the same spot time and time again. He could also fire the puck the length of the ice on goal at the other side with regularity in practice. That’s why no one was surprised when he scored a pair of goals — one regular season and one playoff — in his career.

SECOND TEAM Rod Brind’Amour (C): It was tough to leave Brind’Amour off the first team, but no one was going to unseat Clarke for the center spot. Likewise, it’s tough to leave off someone like Dave Poulin or Ron Sutter from the second team, but I couldn’t justify omitting Brind’Amour from at least a second team spot. A fitness fanatic off the ice, Brind’Amour was also easily one of the hardest working players on the ice that I’ve ever seen. Shjon Podein (LW): Not the most prolific offensive player, but Podein made himself into one of the NHL’s most underrated defensive wingers of the mid-1990s to early 2000s. “Podes” was a tireless worker on the ice, a fantastic penalty killer and a player who may not have scored a ton of goals but the ones he notched were often timely ones. Sometimes they were even pretty goals. The quintessential Podein goal was an empty netter he scored after being launched airborne and staying with the play to bat the puck into the cage. The “Minnesota Line” of Podein and Trent Klatt flanking Joel Otto was one of the NHL’s most tenacious and strongest checking lines during their time together. I also seriously consider Bob “the Hound” Kelly for this spot but wanted more of a mix of eras. Ian Laperriere (RW): It is only a shame that post-concussion symptoms ended Laperriere’s playing career in Philadelphia prematurely. His 1,083 NHL regular season games played are the biggest testament to his value to his teams. A prolific junior hockey offensive force and a solid offensive contributor at the minor league level who was not quite skilled enough to make it as an NHL scoring liner, Laperriere had to rework his game at the NHL level. He embraced the challenge and made himself into a valuable NHL role player who would do whatever it took to win. Brad Marsh (D): Few players have ever had more heart — on and off the ice — than Marsh. He was fearless in putting his body in harm’s way to block shots (despite not wearing a helmet and playing mostly in an era when the padding was not as good as it now) and defended his goalie to the hilt. Marshy was not a fast skater and not a skilled puckhandler but he was a solid defender who never left anything out on the ice. That’s how he became such a fan favorite in Philly in the 1980s. Teammates knew he’d do anything to win on the ice and would be the first to help out if they ever needed him off the ice. Ed van Impe (D): You couldn’t go wrong picking either of the Watson brothers for this spot, and there were plenty of other good candidates as well. I chose van Impe ultimately because he was a tough as nails player who squeezed every ounce possible from modest natural abilty and became one of the Flyers’ early team leaders. Robert Esche (G): He wasn’t the best or most successful goalie in franchise history, but I chose Esche for the second team here because he was a fierce battler ala Hextall. Few took a loss harder than Esche. When I saw him play for Phoenix before coming to Philly, I didn’t even think Esche was an NHL-caliber goalie. Through sheer competitive drive, he later became a semi-regular starter for the Flyers and brought the team within a 2-1 Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Finals from a trip to play for the 2004 Stanley Cup.

*********** FLYERS PROSPECT UPDATES: AUGUST 31 ROUNDUP

* Team Sweden concluded an uneven performance at the Four Nations Under-20 Tournament in Jonköping with a 2-1 victory over Russia yesterday. Oskar Lindblom, the Flyers’ fifth-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, did not record a point in the game but had two shots on goal.

After Sweden grabbed an early 1-0 lead on a Gustav Forsling power play goal, the Swedes went on to enjoy five more power plays in the first period alone, including a lengthy 5-on-3 advantage. The Junior Crowns were unable to extend their lead. A late first period interference penalty on Lindblom in the waning seconds of a power play ended a string of six consecutive power plays for Sweden in the opening frame. There was only one additional penalty (on Sweden) called over the rest of the game.

In the final six minutes the second period, Christoffer Ehn extended Sweden’s lead to 2-0 with an unassisted goal off a Russian turnover. Alexander Sharov finally got Russia on the board at 7:47 of the third period, but Sweden held on for the win.

Sweden concludes the round-robin tournament with a 2-1-0 record. Finland went undefeated. Russia lost to the Finns via shootout and beat the winless Czech Republic before yesterday’s narrow regulation loss to Sweden. The Czechs got outscored by a 21-3 margin in the three games. Lindblom’s two points in the tourney were assists in the first period of Sweden’s opening game against the Czechs.

* In WHL preseason action yesterday, Flyers 2013 third-round pick Tyrell Goulbourne received a pair of minor penalties and did not record a point in the Kelowna Rockets’ 6-1 road loss to the Vancouver Giants. The game was tied, 1-1, after two periods before the Giants broke loose for five unanswered goals in the final period.

Goulbourne and Vancouver’s Arvin Atwal were sent off on coincidental unsportsmanlike conduct penalties late in the second period. It was no surprise to see those two agitating players sending a preseason challenge to one another. Goulbourne and Atwal have fought multiple times in previous seasons. Goulbourne vs. Atwal, 2/2/2013 Goulbourne vs. Atwal, 3/14/2014

Vancouver scored a pair of goals in the opening 7:45 of the third period to open up a 3-1 lead in the game. Less than a minute later, Kelowna had a power play opportunity when Clayton Kirichenko went to the box on a holding minor. The Rockets’ power play lasted just 17 seconds, as Goulbourne received a charging penalty.

The Giants extended the lead — and effectively sealed the win — with a Dmitry Osipov goal midway through the third period. Vladimir Bobylev added a fifth goal to the Vancouver ledger as time timed ticked town near five minutes remaining in the final period.

********* QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 1

* In an interview with the Camden Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac, Flyers general manager expanded a little further on his view of the role of hockey analytics. He estimated that their use is “maybe a five- to seven-percenter” of the assessment of players, adding, “When you’re making decisions, it’s a tool. If it’s your primary decision maker, you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble.”

Isaac also talked to a couple of Flyers players — center Sean Couturier and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann — to get their views on advanced stats. Most players publicly claim they aren’t too interested in stats, anyway, whether standard or advanced. However, a lot of players peruse the postgame stats and seem to remember their own ice time down to the second. This is true regardless of the team in question.

* Today in Flyers history: On Sept. 1, 1988, the Flyers traded backup goaltender Wendell Young and a 1990 seventh-round pick (Mika Valila) to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for 1990 third-round pick. Although a minor move at the time, the trade ended up years later being beneficial for Philadelphia. The Flyers selected defenseman Chris Therien with the pick. Therien made his NHL debut during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, earning a selection to the NHL All-Rookie Team at the end of the campaign. He went on to play 764 regular season games and 104 playoff matches in the NHL, including 753 regular season tilts and 99 playoff games with the Flyers.

* Alum birthday: Former Flyers forward Harry Zolnierczyk turns 27 today. Zolnierczyk is signed to play for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers or the New York Islanders next season. On July 1, he signed a two-way contract with the Islanders for the 2014-15 season.

* In late July, an Austrian television network profiled the summer workouts of Flyers’ forward Michael Raffl and the New York Islanders’ Michael Grabner. More recently, Raffl, Grabner and other Austrian pros filmed a much more humor-oriented “end of summer ‘workout’ video” to show they are ready for the hockey season to begin. July 27 news report (in German) August 23 “Splish Splash” video

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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