Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Off-Day Updates, Sanheim in Super Series, Pelle

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FLYERS OFF-DAY UPDATES

The Flyers are taking a complete off day today, with no dryland or on-ice activities. Practice resumes per normal tomorrow at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ. Several items of note:

* The Flyers will be without defenseman Luke Schenn for approximately two weeks due to an upper body (i.e. left shoulder) injury sustained on Saturday night when he crashed into the end boards after being pushed from behind by Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon.

* Schenn’s injury will get Carlo Colaiacovo back into the Flyers lineup. The veteran played well in his first two games after being signed by the team as an unrestricted free agent but got caught in a numbers name with Braydon Coburn returning to the lineup on Saturday. Colaicovo will likely play left defense on a pairing with Coburn.

* Defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who resumed skating last Thursday, will participate in tomorrow’s practice with the team. Still rehabbing a lower body injury, MacDonald said on Thursday that he is on track with the four-week timeframe to return to the lineup that the Flyers announced on Oct. 24.

* When Flyers head coach Craig Berube put Brayden Schenn on the left wing of Sean Couturier’s line, it took the line a game to get in synch. Over the last three games, the line has been very effective. The offensively struggling Matt Read (one goal, six points through 14 games) seems to be on the brink of a breakthrough based on his play the last two games. The line’s solid play has not escaped the attention of Berube or teammates.

After Thursday’s game, Berube said that he likes the puck movement and forechecking presence the trio has established over the past week and he thinks the addition of Schenn has helped activate the unit offensively. In the meantime, scorching-hot top line right winger Jakub Voracek noted that the trio of Schenn, Couturier and Read has been winning a lot of battles and is starting to get rewarded with goals.

Having a second productive scoring line in addition to Claude Giroux’s line would go a long way toward other teams honest at five-on-five. The Vincent Lecavalier line with R.J. Umberger and various right wingers (Chris VandeVelde, Jason Akeson and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare all saw shifts on that line last game) is struggling at five-on-five. If the Couturier line can continue its recent surge since Schenn was moved to the unit, it lessens some of pressure.

* With Voracek and Claude Giroux in such a good groove offensively, having a five-night schedule break may not be ideal right now. On the flip side, it allows the club to get in four practices (including yesterday’s session in Atlantic City) with Wayne Simmonds adapting to playing left wing and making the necessary adjustments in the defensive zone. The schedule is beyond the team’s control, anyway, and there is no reason that Voracek and Giroux cannot pick up where they left off come Friday when the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town.

* Entering today’s slate of NHL games, Voracek is current second in the NHL in scoring. His 22 points put him two behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby for the League lead. Voracek’s 16 assists place him one behind Crosby. If Voracek can register at least one point in Friday’s game against his former team, he will match his career-high point streak. Voracek has recorded at least one point in eight consecutive games and in 13 of the Flyers’ 14 games to date.

* For tiebreaking purposes, Giroux is currently eighth in scoring in the NHL. He and three other players (Pittsburgh’s Patric Hörnqvist, Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson and Calgary defenseman Mark Giordano) all have 18 points. The tiebreaker for statistical placement purposes is goals. Giroux has four goals to date while Hörnqvist has nine and Johnson and Giordano have five apiece.

* Steve Mason has pulled his save percentage for the up to .913 for the season, which is identical to Ryan Miller, a hair better than Carey Price’s .912 and superior to Sergei Bobrovsky’s .908 in eight appearances. Funny how Mason’s critics go silent whenever he gets in a good groove, which has been the case far more often than not since Mason came over from Columbus at the 2013 trade deadline.

I have the benefit of watching Mason practice on regular basis and play in games, and I see the work ethic he has along with his talent. It’s been said of Mason that he’s a goalie who plays well when he practices well. I believe that to be true, because when he is noticeably sharp in practice the day before a game and/or at the morning skate, he almost always has a strong game.

Mason’s practice routine with goaltending coach Jeff Reese is his foundation that he returns to whenever he gets a little off track and then tries to maintain as much as the practice and game schedule allow. It’s hard not to admire the mental approach he’s developed after the all adversity he had earlier in his career: Put in a few good practices, break the game down into bite-sized segments within each period, give an honest self-critique after the game and then repeat.

Every goaltender has to find what works best for him. Ray Emery works plenty hard, too, but he is closer to what one might call “a veteran game-day goalie” than someone whose practice routine is a good barometer of what he might do in the next game.

For instance, it is rarely necessary to ask Berube (who rarely divulges his plans to the media, anyway) which goalie will be starting the next game. One can usually tell before the start of practice one day ahead of a game might. On a daily basis, Mason is out early working with Reese. When Emery is also out there 20 to 25 minutes before the official start of practice, it usually means he’s starting the next game. When Emery comes out a little closer to the skaters, he’s backing up the next game.

As the season progresses, it becomes important not to tire out the goalies. Down the stretch last season (until his late-season injury that forced him to miss the start of the playoffs), Mason and Reese got into an excellent rhythm of shorter but highly efficient and detail oriented one-on-one sessions. Again, it’s not that Emery doesn’t practice hard or well, but the competitiveness of game nights seems to bring out a slightly higher level in him than practice conditions whereas Mason uses practice days as his springboard to bring his “A game” on game nights.

************* SANHEIM IN SUPER SERIES ACTION TONIGHT

Flyers 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim will suit up tonight for Team WHL in the first game of the annual Super Series between squads representing each of the three Canadian Hockey League circuits (Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) against the Russian national Under-20 team. The Super Series is an audition of sorts for consideration for roster spots in the World Junior Championships.

Even before the rosters were announced, Sanheim was considered a shoo-in for Team WHL. Draft pundit and former NHL general manager Craig Button recently listed Sanheim among his personal choices for a spot on Team Canada in the upcoming World Juniors. If it plays out that way, it would be a tremendous accomplishment for the 18-year-old Sanheim to beat out a lot of tough competition for a tournament in which the majority of players are 19 years old.

Sanheim, whom the Flyers already have under entry-level contract, blasted out of the gates this season upon his return to the Calgary Hitmen. For his first eight or nine games, he dominated at both ends of the ice. More recently, he and the team slumped for a stretch of a few games — forcing some low-percentage plays and getting burned — but have picked up again of late.

For the season to date, Sanheim has seven goals, 14 points and a plus-five (he had been plus-eight through seven games) in 19 games. With the return of Vancouver Canucks’ 2014 first-round pick Jake Virtanen to the Calgary lineup, it hasn’t been as necessary for Sanheim to create offense from the back end. What is more important is his play in own end of the ice, and he has gotten back on track again after a few rough games. It’s all part of the learning process.

When the Hitmen were about 10 games into the season, I spoke with a western-based NHL scout to get his take on Sanheim’s progress. He said, “I think Philly picked themselves a real good one in Travis. He still needs to add strength and go through the learning curve, but the upside is extremely high. I’d compare him to Duncan Keith when he was 18. Very high ceiling… [but] one area he could improve is that Travis is not a physical player. Mobility is his game, but he’s trying to be a little more physical this year. ”

Button, who has been a vocal Sanheim advocate for the past year, has compared Sanheim’s upside to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh. From a Flyers’ standpoint, if Sanheim ever gets anywhere near the same stratosphere as McDonagh or Keith, it will be a grand slam home run of a draft selection. However, that is setting the expectations bar unfairly high.

The organization will no doubt be satisfied if Sanheim develops into a reliable two-way defenseman who moves the puck efficiently, pulls down 20 minutes a game and skates well. If he someday becomes an NHL star, so much the better. That is still mutiple years away from potentially become reality, but the possibilities are quite exciting to ponder.

In the meantime, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall is committed to taking a slow-and-steady developmental approach with Sanheim and all of the other Flyers defense prospects. It is very unfortunate that the injury bug bit Shayne Gostisbehere (torn ACL, out for most or all of the season) and Samuel Morin (nearing his return from a broken jaw) but the organization will stay the same long-term course on a season-to-season basis.

Morin, the Flyers’ first-round pick in 2013, has been named to Team QMJHL for the Quebec portion of the Super Series tournament. Likewise, 2014 second round pick Nicolas Aube-Kubel will play a wing position on the QMJHL team. The QMJHL team will get it turn against Team Russia on Nov. 18 and 20th.

Unfortunately, Flyers 2014 sixth-round pick Radel Fazleev did not receive a roster invitation for Team Russia for the Super Series. Fazleev, who played for Team Russia in the WJC Evaluation Camp games in Canada in August, set a preseason goal of playing in the Subway Series.

Of late, Fazleev has caught fire offensively for the Calgary Hitmen. Sanheim’s teammate has four goals and nine points in five November games to date, including the first four-point game (one goal, three assists) of his WHL career in Friday’s 5-3 win over Regina. He scored goals in four straight games before being held pointless in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Brandon. Sanheim scored Calgary’s lone goal of that game.

For the season, Fazleev is now third on the Hitmen in scoring with eight goals and 17 points in 19 games. He is now being used regularly in offensive situations after being primarily used in a third-line role earlier this season.

Tonight’s Team WHL versus Team Russia game from Saskatoon, SK, will start at 8 p.m. EST. For those who can’t watch the game on television, the match will be streamed live and for free online. The teams will rematch tomorrow in Brandon, MB.

Coming tomorrow: Updates on Phantoms players Scott Laughton, Nick Cousins, Robert Hägg and collegiate prospects Michael Parks, Reece Willcox and Mark Friedman.

*********** PELLE MEMORIAL: 29 YEARS AGO TODAY

Today is the 29th anniversary of the early morning car crash that left Vezina Trophy winning Flyers goaltender Pelle Lindbergh brain dead. The life support machines were turned off by his family’s request the following evening and his organs were donated for transplant.

As has become a tradition on the anniversaries of Lindbergh’s death and birthday, HockeyBuzz runs an excerpt from “Behind the White Mask” (the Lindbergh biography I co-authored with Swedish journalist Thomas Tynander).

Earlier this year, Thomas and I sold the movie option rights to the book to a California-based filmmaker named Howard Rosen, and Howard is currently developing a screenplay on Pelle’s life and death. Last I heard, the first draft was nearly complete. Whether Pelle’s life story ever becomes a movie or not remains to be seen, but it would be amazing if the project comes to full fruition.

Since I was discussing goaltenders’ training routines earlier in today’s blog, this year’s excerpts from the book will look at Pelle’s training and practice habits, which were decidedly old-school until Mike Keenan became the Flyers’ head coach and Pat Croce became the team’s strength and conditioning trainer.

SUMMER OF 1981

Pelle is very much an old-school hockey player when it comes to his summertime training habits. He gets some daily exercise, but it’s rarely strenuous.

“Pelle and I mostly played badminton at Eriksdalshallen,” recalls Reino Sundberg. “Pelle always won, because he never gave an inch.”

Apart from badminton, Pelle tries to get in some jogging during the summer.

Sundberg also dons boxing gloves on occasion with Pelle for some sparring sessions at BK Narva. Every once in awhile, they opt instead for baseball gloves and have games of long toss, or else Pelle and his friends will get together for a friendly soccer game or street hockey.

Whatever the game, Lindbergh plays to win.

Several years later, in the summers of 1984 and 1985, Pelle participates in a televised “Battle of the Stars” competition on Swedish TV. One of his teammates, former Hammarby IF soccer keeper Ronnie Hellström, becomes a good friend.

During the summer, the two enjoy dining together and trying out different types of wine.

“When we got together, Pelle talked a lot about cars, but we mostly talked about everyday things. Not so much hockey or soccer, but the game of life,” Hellström recalls.

Before returning to North America, Pelle also volunteers his time to help out at a summer hockey camp in Dalarna. He accepts an invitation from his former national team coach, Bengt ”Fisken” Ohlson, to serve as a special guest goaltending instructor. For the remainder of his life, he spends a week at the camp. He usually brings along company. If not Kerstin, he could almost always convince one of his hockey buddies to come along.

“He was unbelievably generous with his time to arrange to come and instruct the goalies, and he was enormously popular with the little kids,” Ohlson says.

TRAINING CAMP 1984

In the mid-1980s, players and teams begin to place much greater emphasis on off-season conditioning. It’s no longer good enough to for players to “work their way into shape” at camp after spending the summer fishing and drinking beer.

Soon, the acceptability of coming in to camp in less than peak condition will go the way of players without helmets.

The Flyers, under the auspices of Pat Croce, are one of the NHL clubs at the forefront of the movement toward greater physical fitness. Training camps become shorter, but more intense. Pelle is not a big fan of the change.

“Pelle never enjoyed that. He couldn’t turn on to the idea that he could be an even better goalie with harder physical conditioning. He didn’t want to know from it in the beginning,” recalls Dave Poulin.

Adds Reino Sunberg, “The Flyers had players undergo physical tests before the start of camp. Pelle said, ‘Ah, it’s cool. I’ll be fine.’ He was naturally strong. But when the Flyers started doing their two-mile runs, Pelle was almost always last.”

When Keenan took over as coach, he connected fast with Pat Croce. Together, they really elevated the expectations of what the players needed to do. They had the players gather and they took the players’ pulses before after practice, measured their body fat and did other tests to measure conditioning. They also paid attention to things like how much water players drank.

Croce then creates personalized fitness plans for different players. Pelle gets nabbed for having a little too much fun during the summer.

“Because Pelle was seldom in really good shape when he came to camp, it gave me a reason to make sure he puked. I gave him hell,” Croce recalls with a grin.

Among other exercises, the players who aren’t in top shape have to put in extra time on stationary bikes. Croce keeps Pelle pedaling for what seems to be an enternity.

“Pelle thought it was cruel and unusual punishment,” Kerstin says.

Even though he privately grumbles about the regimen at first, Lindbergh does everything he’s asked, and gets into the best shape of his career. As he notices his stamina increaing, Pelle credits Croce for helping him remake his training

Says Ted Sator, “To this day, I can see his strength when he was doing squats against a wall, as if he was sitting on chair – only without a chair. And he sat there three minutes at a time.”

Part of the reason why Pelle buys into the routine that it comes with Bernie Parent’s seal of approval.

“Bernie told him it was good to hold the position as long as possible, because he wanted Pelle to be strong in his abdomen, back, and diaphragm,” says Sator. “Bernie’s word was gospel to Pelle.”

During the season, Pelle backs off on exercises and much prefers short on-ice practices to some of Keenan’s lengthier torture sessions. But Sator says that the coaching staff had no problem with it.

“I think it’s a natural part of being an intensely competitive goalie like Pelle was. There aren’t many goalies who want to be peppered with shots at practice. They’d rather save themselves for the games. Pelle started 65 of our 82 games that season, plus a long playoff run. When a starting goalie plays that many minutes, he doesn’t need a lot of training. He just has to stay fresh,” says Sator.

*********** ALUMNI BIRTHDAYS: SALESKI AND SUTHERLAND

Don “Big Bird” Saleski turns 65 today. A member of the Broad Street Bullies teams that won the 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup championships and reached the Finals again in 1976, is best known as one of the team’s secondary fighters after Dave “the Hammer” Schultz and Andre “Moose” Dupont.

In reality, Saleski was not a particularly good fighter and not was not a natural role for him. Over his career, Saleksi worked hard under the auspices of Fred Shero and made himself into a solid two-way checking forward. Saleski, who had a career high 205 penalty minutes in 1972-73, never even reached 100 penalty minutes again after the 1974-75 season. Instead, he became a valuable penalty killer and checking forward who was adept at using his 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame to win battles for the puck.

Saleski even managed to put up three consecutive 20-goal seasons from 1975-76 through 1977-78. Saleski also reached 45-plus points twice, topping out at 47 points in 1975-76 and 27 goals in 1977-78. The Flyers traded him to the Colorado Rockies on March 3, 1979 in exchange for the 1979 second-round Draft pick the club used on the selection of defenseman Blake Wesley.

Bill Sutherland, an original Flyer from the inaugural 1967-68 season, turns 80 years old today. The Flyers acquired his rights from the Quebec Aces when they purchased the team to be their first AHL farm club. Sutherland, who tallied 20 goals and 39 points in the team’s first season, is the answer to the oft-asked trivia question about who scored the first regular season goal in Flyers franchise history. That anniversary will come up tomorrow.

On Oct. 11, 1967, the Flyers suffered a 5-1 road loss to the California Golden Seals on opening night for the two NHL expansion franchises. Sutherland notched the only Philadelphia goal of the game, scoring at 10:07 of the second period to briefly tie the score at 1-1. Leon Rochefort and John Miszuk earned the assists.

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

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