Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Practice Updates, Sanheim, Phantoms, Quick Hits



With three practice days and a gameday morning skate to go until the team returns to game action against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, the Flyers conducted a somewhat training camp-like practice session at the Skate Zone today after an off-day on Monday. The team had a skating-intensive segment of practice, five-on-five forechecking, and a segment where players worked with a net on the half boards.

Prior to practice, injured players Luke Schenn (left shoulder) and Ryan White (rehabbing after preseason surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle) skated on their own with assistant coach Ian Laperriere. Defenseman Andrew MacDonald (lower body injury, suspected to be his right knee) was initially slated to skate today but did not participate.

Flyers coach Craig Berube, who has not on the ice until the full practice began, initially said after practice that MacDonald skated briefly with the other rehabbing players but later corrected himself. The coach denied that MacDonald suffered a setback but said the player is not close to returning to the lineup.

Apart from Carlo Colaiacovo re-entering the starting defense lineup in the absence of Luke Schenn, Berube stuck with a mid-game line change he made in Saturday’s game against the Avalanche: Jason Akeson skated on the right wing of Vincent Lecavalier’s line with R.J. Umberger on the left wing. Chris VandeVelde moved to fourth line right wing.

“Vinny and R.J. need to play with a playmaker to get them the puck,” Berube said. “Akeson can make some plays with the puck, so we will see how that works.”

Asked about the play of Umberger, who has one goal and three points in 14 games this season, Berube defended the player’s overall performance and said he has no current plan to move him down in the lineup.

“He adds size, he kills penalties and he can play defense and do little things right,” said Berube. “He’s scored some goals in this League, too, and I think he will still score some goals. He has to get to the net and someone has to get him the puck.”

Steve Mason is likely to be in goal when the Flyers face his former team on Friday. On the ice early as is his norm, Mason broke in a new pair of pads. Former Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, out with a broken hand, is expected to out until next week. Bobrovsky should be ready to go by the time the Flyers play Columbus again at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 22.

In tomorrow’s blog, I will have an item on the evolution of Jakub Voracek as an offensive player. Voracek talked today about various things he’s learned from experience as a player. It is sometimes hard now to recall that, early in his NHL career with Columbus and even his first season with the Flyers, it was often said of Voracek that he was too reluctant to shoot the puck. Voracek discussed the different elements that have combined to make him into the player he has become, with the common denominator being that it comes down to a product of experience.

“It’s not just hockey, it’s like life,” said Voracek. “You don’t do everything the same way now you did when you were 18 or 19 years old. You get experience and you learn.”

I asked both Voracek and Claude Giroux if they have to make any adjustments to playing with a left winger (Wayne Simmonds) who is playing on his off-wing. The various left wingers on their line — Scott Hartnell prior to his trade to Columbus, Michael Raffl, Brayden Schenn, VandeVelde, etc — have all been left handed shots. Simmonds is the first righthander.

“For me, it’s not really an adjustment,” said Voracek. “For Simmer, it’s a bit of adjustment because he has to take more passes on his backhand.”

Giroux noted that he’s actually playing with two players on their off-wing — the lefthanded shooting Voracek on right wing plus Simmonds — which is not the norm. The Flyers captain said that one of the benefits of having multiple practice days before the next game is for Simmonds and the line to work together. Giroux, who admitted that he hates long schedule breaks, said that he especially enjoys playing with Simmonds and Voracek because he considers both close friends.

Putting the whole day in perspective for everyone, was the presence of a special visitor at practice. The team welcomed 19-year-old Jackie Lithgow to practice and the locker room. For those unfamiliar with Jackie’s story, he is the Bloomsburg university student who was viciously attacked and left with skull fractures and brain injuries while simply trying to break up a fight at an on-campus party crashed by four football players from Kutztown University.

Jackie, a dedicated Flyers fan, has been living in the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital after undergoing numerous surgeries and being comatose for a period of time. He cannot yet walk and is just starting to regain speech but is aware and responsive. Today was his first day out of the hospital where he’s residing. He was accompanied by Flyers ambassador Todd Fedoruk, occupational therapist Paula Bonsall and his parents. It was Fedoruk who arranged the meeting.

To a man, the Flyers players and coaches took time to visit with Jackie and his parents, fussing over him and making him the star of the day. Jackie, whose favorite player is Simmonds, sported a number 17 jersey, and got to meet the power forward along with the rest of the team. Brayden Schenn jokingly told Jackie that Simmonds is his favorite player, too. Meanwhile, Mason presented the young man with one of his goalie sticks and the entire team signed a jersey. Photo courtesy of Zack Hill/ Flyers


After taking a complete off-day yesterday, the Flyers resume practice today at the Skate Zone in preparation for a home game on Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Practice starts at 10:30 a.m. EST.

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald (lower body, believed to be a right knee injury) is expected to participate in practice today. He resumed skating at last Thursday’s morning skate prior to the team’s win over the Florida Panthers.

A full update on practice and the team’s outlook for the games ahead following the current five-night hiatus will be posted this afternoon. FLYERS PROSPECT UPDATES

* Super Series: Flyers 2014 first-round pick Travis Sanheim recorded the primary assist on Team WHL’s late third-period go ahead goal in a 3-2 shootout loss to Team Russia in the first game of the annual Subway Super Series. At 17:35 of the third period, Sanheim’s blueline shot on goaltender Igor Shestyorkin produced a juicy rebound that forward Cole Ully immediately potted to put Team WHL ahead 2-1. Sanheim finished the game with the one assist, a plus-one and two shots on goal.

Unfortunately, for Team WHL, the lead was short-lived. With 1:17 remaining in regulation, Konstantin Okulov knotted the score at 2-2. The Russian side went on to prevail in a shootout (4-3) that went 11 rounds before Vladimir Bryukvin’s goal ended the skills competition.

A member of the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen, Sanheim was paired on defense with Winnipeg Jets’ 2013 first round pick Josh Morrissey (Prince Albert Raiders). The duo was quite effective in using its mobility and passing ability. However, Sanheim did not receive any power play time for the WHL side. His third-period ice time was rather limited. Shea Theodore was the only Team WHL defenseman who got an attempt during the shootout.

The western Canada portion of the Super Series concludes tonight in Brandon, MB. Game time is 7:00 p.m. EST. The series shifts to Ontario on Nov. 13 and Nov. 17. The Flyers currently do not have any prospects in the Ontario Hockey Hockey. The series concludes with Team QMJHL taking on the Russians on Nov. 18 in Bathurst, NB and Nov. 20 in Rimouski, QC. Flyers prospects Samuel Morin (Rimouski) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (Val-d’Or) were selected for Team QMJHL.

* In talking to several people in the Flyers organization, the club feels that center Nick Cousins has made significant progress from his first to second pro seasons. They are pleased that he is putting up points — a team high 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 11 games — but there has also been progress in his all-around game by keeping his feet moving more consistency.

With that said, he still has some lapses where he reverts to the “glide mentality” and he still some slip ups in discipline (such as the boarding major and game misconduct he received in the first period of last Friday’s game in Manchester). There is also room to add a little more power and strength. Overall, however, the feeling is that he is now on the right track whereas there was some concern last year over whether he was going to make a successful transition from junior to pro hockey.

* Scott Laughton has cooled off offensively since his early season outburst for the Phantoms but the Phantoms rookie has played solid two-way hockey in his 11 games for the Phantoms to date (despite his minus-three at even strength. As with Cousins and many other young prospects, there is room for Laughton to continue adding muscle. The instincts and work ethic are there but he sometimes loses puck battles against bigger and more experienced forwards that Laughton usually won during his junior career with the OHL’s Oshawa Generals. Offensively, he has produced five goals and 11 points. He’s been a bit unlucky in the assist category, as he easily could have six or seven assists (instead of three) on excellent scoring chances that he’s set up for teammates that haven’t been finished.

* Robert Hägg started out the season very well for the Phantoms but struggled a bit when the team was racked with injuries and callups. His responsibilities increased significantly and the absences of second-year pro Mark Alt (shoulder injury) and fellow rookie Shayne Gostisbehere (NHL callup to the Flyers and then a torn ACL in his second game back with the Phantoms) have forced the 19-year-old to take on a bigger all-around burden.

The organization would like to see him aggressively embrace that role, set the bar for himself as high as possible, and learn from it even if there are some ups and downs. One encouraging sign has been his work on the power play and ability to put shots on net.

The main issue with Hägg has never been his physical tools — which are excellent — or his willingness to accept coaching. Rather, it’s the fact that he naturally walks that fine line between being calm and poised and being too laid back.

Last week, he took an undisciplined retaliatory slashing penalty in a game in Worcester. While the penalty was a bad one, some were happy to see him play with a burr under his saddles because that is not always the case. It’s a question of how that spark gets channeled and whether Hägg can bring that out in himself. His defensive work has been decent but could stand to be more consistent.

* Rookie Taylor Leier has shown an encouraging willingness to use his speed effectively and compete even as he gives up size to many opponents. As with Laughton, the two-way instincts are there but a little more strength is needed as he adapts to the pro game. Leier scored goals in back-to-back games last week. He is a player who can make positive contributions even when not scoring. It’s a matter of gaining experience.

* Collegiate prospects: HockeyBuzz NCAA hockey blogger Bob Herpen has an update on several Flyers prospects in the collegiate ranks.

*********** QUICK HITS: NOVEMBER 11

* Alum birthday: Czech forward Martin Hostak turns 47 today. The Flyers’ third round pick (62nd overall) in the 1987 NHL Draft came over to North America in 1990 after the Velvet Revolution brought about the fall of communism in the former Czechoslovakia. He was a prolific offensive player for Sparta Prague and the Flyers were excited by his combination of size (6-foot-4, 200-plus pounds) and skill.

Unfortunately, Hostak struggled to adapt to the North American game and produced just three goals and 14 points in 55 games over parts of the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons with the Flyers. He rarely used his size to his benefit and mostly hung around the perimeter. However, Hostak did show a willingness to backcheck.

Upon his return to Europe, he played mostly in Sweden and for the Czech national team. He was something of a fixture in Sweden with Modo at the time local products Peter Forsberg and Markus Näslund were rising young stars with the team. Later, Hostak had a successful stint with Luleå HF.

* Today in Flyers history: On Nov. 11, 1981, the Flyers and Calgary Flames made a swap of their team captains. The Flyers sent center Mel Bridgman to Calgary and received big defenseman Brad Marsh in return. Marsh went to play seven seasons for the Flyers and was a both a team leader and effective defensive defenseman on clubs that reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1985 and 1987.

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