Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Battle on Hamilton, Training Camp Outlook, Quick Hits

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FLYERS VS. PHANTOMS IN ‘BATTLE ON HAMILTON’ EXHIBITION GAME

The new PPL Center in Allentown, PA, will hold its inaugural hockey even on Saturday, September 27, when the Philadelphia Flyers pay a visit for an exhibition game against their Lehigh Valley Phantoms farm team. Game time is 5 p.m.

Tickets for the game will go on sale to the general public on Friday, September 19.

Prices start at $10 for upper-bowl seating, $15 for lower-level seats and $20 for club-level seating.

Rosters for the two sides have yet to be set. That will be based in part on what happens during the Flyers’ training camp. Injuries to veterans at camp or exceptionally strong performances by players such as rookie center Scott Laughton could change the outlook.

Potential participants on the Phantoms side include the likes of rookies Taylor Leier, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hägg, Jesper Pettersson and Anthony Stolarz, as well as second-season pros such as Mark Alt, Nick Cousins, Petr Straka and Brandon Alderson and fourth-season pro Brandon Manning. Other potential Phantoms participants include veteran goaltender Rob Zepp and recently signed AHL forwards Brett Hextall, Matt Hatch and Kevin Goumas.

************ TRAINING CAMP 2014: A DIFFERENT OUTLOOK ON AVOIDING A SLOW START

The Flyers officially begin on-ice practices with coaches tomorrow. Players have been working out informally in Voorhees for weeks. Normally, player physicals are conducted one day prior to the official start of camp.

On Monday of this week, I asked the longest-tenured Flyers player, defenseman Braydon Coburn, about whether there is a different feeling for him coming into camp this season. Last September, the club was hoping to rebound from having missed the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Additionally, Coburn was coming off shoulder surgery and, during the previous season, endured his longest absence from the Flyers lineup.

Said Coburn, “Every training camp has a different feeling to it. This year, we really want to get things going on the right foot and play the way we know we are capable of playing.”

Last year’s training camp experiment, which had a record number of players in camp with divided group sessions at the Wells Fargo Center followed by a training stint in Lake Placid, NY, was a disaster by all accounts. The Flyers went on to stumble through a terrible preseason and lost seven of their first eight regular season games.

I asked Coburn if the club’s slow start last season was attributable to a poor preseason; not simply from a won-loss perspective in the exhibition slate but from a subpar all-around camp on a teamwide basis.

“I honestly don’t know what it was, but it was probably a lot of different things and not just one thing,” said Coburn. “If you look back at those games, ‘Mase’ [Steve Mason] was playing great and keeping us in games but we weren’t helping out very much. It took a while to get everybody going.”

During the Flyers’ stagger through September and October last year, head coach Peter Laviolette was fired after the third game of the regular season. Had the team not missed the playoffs the previous season after being dumped in five second-round playoff games by New Jersey in 2012, the organization may have been more likely to ride things out with Laviolette behind the bench.

Unfortunately for Lavy, the coach started out last summer already on a short leash and the team’s poor training camp followed by miserable team-wide efforts in two of the first three regular season games (all regulation losses) cost him his job. In retrospect, the club would have done everyone a favor — and not given the appearance of throwing Laviolette, who is undeniably a good NHL coach, under the bus — by changing coaches last summer.

As soon as Craig Berube was promoted from assistant coach to head coach, the first thing he did was call out his players for a lack of conditioning — mainly from a skating conditioning perspective, not in terms of who looks good in the gym. The team’s regular season practices last year under Berube were often heavy on skating-intensive drills.

The rigorous off-season conditioning programs and fitness expectations the organization customized for every player on the roster set the bar very high for players even before they reported to camp. Every player was told to report to camp in the best shape of his career — or else.

Coburn is a player for whom skating conditioning and in-game stamina have never been a concern. For years, he has routinely logged a lot of ice time against other teams’ top lines, and was probably one of the players whose off-season conditioning the Flyers worried about the least. There’s a reason why he’s rarely missed time during his Flyers career, with the exception of a separated shoulder in 2012-13 (which could happen to anyone). He looks to be in excellent condition.

Vincent Lecavalier is an interesting case. He is powerfully built with a thickly muscled upper body. From a distance, one would never think he was one of the players whose conditioning Berube was unhappy with a year ago. Apparently, he was, and Lecavalier’s poor skating was a case in point of what the coach was getting at with his mantra of every player needing to be in peak skating condition.

Back in August, Berube told NJ.com’s Randy Miller that he wanted to see Lecavalier in

“First of all, he needs to come to camp in great shape,” Berube said. “Not in good shape. Great shape just like everybody else. That’s a start if he does. We’ll see at camp.”

Lecavalier got the message and followed the program the Flyers put him on over the summer. Earlier this week, Lecavalier told CSN Philly and HockeyBuzz writer Tim Panaccio that he made some dietary changes this summer as directed by the Flyers and will play at a somewhat lighter weight this season.

“I lost 4-5 pounds from last year and I feel good. I had a set menu this summer like I did at the very beginning of my career,” said Lecavalier. “I didn’t want to lose my muscle mass, but I wanted to eat better and lose fat percentage, which I did.”

********* QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 18

* The Flyers have released all three rookie camp amateur tryout players: forwards Nikita Jevpalovs and Louick Marcotte as well as defenseman Beau Rusk. Of the three, Jevpalovs had the strongest rookie camp. However, it was not an especially tough decision on any of the three players. None stood out enough to be serious enough candidates for a contract to earn an extended look at full camp.

* Flyers 2014 fifth-round draftee Oskar Lindblom skated 13:13 of ice time in Brynäs IF Gävle’s 2-1 home shootout loss yesterday to the Växjö Lakers. He did not record a point, but had a couple of quality chances while recording three shots on goal. He was also credited with two hits. Brynäs flirted with a 1-0 shutout until Växjö tied the game on a goal by former Flyers forward Tomi Kallio with just three ticks remaining on the clock. Lindblom was the second shooter for BIF in the shootout, missing the net on an attempt against former Dallas Stars goaltender Cristopher Nilstorp.

* Flyers Alumni Birthdays: Center Darryl Sittler, who spent most of his Hall of Fame career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, turns 64 today. Sittler’s best Flyers season came in 1982-83 when he notched 43 goals and 83 points in 80 games. Additionally, still-active defenseman Lasse Kukkonen turns 33 today. Alabama-born forward Jared Ross, who dressed in 13 games for the Flyers over parts of the 2008-09 and 2009-10 season, turns 32.

* Today in Flyers History: On Sept. 18, 2006, the Flyers signed coach Ken Hitchcock to a three-year contract extension. Hitchcock was fired on Oct. 24, 2006, early into what turned out to be the worst season in franchise history. Assistant coach John Stevens was promoted to head coach. The following season, bolstered by an array of key additions such as Danny Briere, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

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

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