VOORHEES, N.J. – Matt Read can read the handwriting on the wall and basically it says it’s do or die time.
Just a few months away from unrestricted free agency, the 31-year-old wing has gotten an unexpected chance to prove he still belongs in the NHL.
Called up last week from the Phantoms, where he’s been in exile most of the season, Read has performed well in a pair of games, including Saturday’s 2-1 win over Winnipeg.
“This is my last life,’’ he admitted after Sunday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “Every day I’m trying to earn something for the future. If something slips away or if I don’t play as well as I can, it could be the end of my NHL career. You never know. So I’m fightin’ for my hockey career here. Have fun with it at the same time.’’
Read, signed as a free agent out of Bemidji State on March 24, 2011, got off to a fantastic start in his freshman year, posting 24 goals, 47 points and a plus-13. He finished fourth in the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) voting.
He would follow that up with a 22-goal campaign in 2013-14, but then suffered a high-ankle sprain early in the 2014-15 season and never regained his form.
Early this season, he was sent down to the Phantoms. Few thought they would ever see him again in a Flyers uniform but the team decided it needed someone to kill penalties and perhaps provide a spark.
General manager Ron Hextall is showing some faith in Read as the Flyers hit their final 13 games. The GM believes another experienced hand won’t hurt.
“Yeah, you know that was kind of the talk with Hexy when I got called up,’’ Read explained. “I’m just hoping to get an opportunity and run with it. Go out and do the little things that allowed me to stay in the lineup. Hopefully help this team go on a little run here. Go on a playoff run.’’
Like rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim, the important thing for Read was to keep a positive attitude with the Phantoms.
He did that, posting just 16 points in 33 games but providing a solid two-way presence in Lehigh Valley’s lineup.
“At the end of the day you are playing hockey,’’ Read said. “It was a humbling experience going down to the A for most of the year. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot of different things, life lessons.
“Now I’ve got the opportunity up here. Like I said, I’m going to give everything I’ve got every shift. I won’t let another opportunity slip away.’’
Making it even a little tougher for Read in Allentown was the decision to keep his family in the Philadelphia area.
“You know it was a tough couple months,’’ Read said. “The family stayed down here for the most part. I said if I get another opportunity, I’m not going to let it happen again. I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m on the top of my game. Little things out there that make me successful and at the end of the day help this team out.’’
He says it was just a matter of finding his game again.
“I had a good talk with Hexy when I got sent down,’’ Read said. “I just had to kind of figure out my game. Play with speed. Do the things I did back in the day. I felt in the ‘A’ I gained some confidence. Just skating hard, having the puck and doing the right things. Hopefully that confidence in my game will continue while I’m up here.’’
Read wants to get back to the highly mobile player he once was and believes that can happen.
It starts with a strong work ethic.
“There was just something missing (the last couple years) and now, for me, it’s just being the hardest working guy on the ice everyday,’’ Read said. “Let the smarts kind of take over, but do the right things out there. At the end of the day, if you’re doing your little job and help the team win, that’s as much as I can do now.’’
Hextall believes Read can contribute.
“He played very well down there,’’ Hextall said. “His production was good, but he was playing strong hockey. It’s only been two games (here) but he played extremely. He appears to be a hungry player now. He’s given us a solid two-way guy, he’s done a good job.’’