VOORHEES – Scott Hartnell was one of the most popular Flyers of this century, so it’s no surprise he left a lasting impression with his teammates.
With Hartnell’s other significant team, Nashville, in town, the Flyers planned a night to honor their former star, who played here seven seasons and made all the guys around him better.
One of those was a young Wayne Simmonds, who arrived on the scene for the 2011-12 season when his game was still a work in progress.
“When I was a younger player in this league and watching guys I tried to emulate my game after, ‘Hartsy’ was one of them,’’ Simmonds said after the morning skate at the Skate Zone.
“He was rough and tough, he could fight if he had to. . .he scored goals at the same time. I think he was really good at getting the other team off their game. He had a heck of a career and he’s an even better human being.’’
Scott Laughton also has fond memories of Hartnell. When Laughton first came to the Flyers, Hartnell put him up at his place in Haddonfield, N.J. for a couple weeks (after the season resumed following the 2012-13 lockout) until the kid could get his feet on the ground.
“He was awesome for me as an 18-year-old coming in,’’ Laughton said. “He showed me the ropes, cooking meals, things like that.
“I didn’t have to be in the hotel by myself. I owe him a lot for that. He kind of took me under (his wing) and showed me the way it’s supposed to be to be a pro.’’
Laughton agreed with Simmonds that Hartnell brought that edgy element that every team needs.
“He did everything,’’ Laughton said. “He agitated, he scored goals, timely goals. He was loved by the fans. Such a special player – to be in the community the way he was, to connect with the fans, I think (Thursday) night is going to be a special night for him.’’
Hartnell started his own charity “Hartnelldown.’’ Every time he hit the ice he would donate a certain amount of money to charity.
“He was one of the greatest guys I’ve played with,’’ Simmonds said. “You know when I first got here, I didn’t know very many people. He took care of me.
“I owe a lot to him. I continue (to be friends). When we were in Columbus, I went to his house for dinner. So we still remain friends. He’s an awesome guy.’’
Hartnell dropped the ceremonial first puck and later spoke to the media during the first intermission.
He acknowledged that both his charity work and his care for young players were part of a natural process.
“The fans around here are awesome,’’ Hartnell said. “People support you no matter what the cause is. As long as it goes for a good thing. The Hartnelldown thing was awesome. Bringing some kids from some not so great areas to go to hockey camps and things like that; to see them participating in a camp that I was (involved in) was pretty special, I was pretty happy about that.’’
As for his treatment of rookies, it was paying off a “debt of gratitude’’ so to speak.
“Yeah, Scotty (Laughton) stayed at my place for a few weeks, then went back to junior,’’ Hartnell said. “It’s nice to have guys over. When I was younger, I had older guys take me under their wing. You want to pay it forward in that respect. Make sure they’re treated the right way. Make sure they’re looked over. It’s nice to have a home-cooked meal because a lot of these kids don’t cook. They’re just going out eating garbage food. It’s nice to have a home-cooked meal.’’
James van Riemsdyk was another player Hartnell helped along. JVR arrived a wide-eyed kid in 2009-10.
“He was a big help to me, especially my first year and we’ve been friends ever since,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “He’s always been someone I’ve been able to call and rely on.’’
Hartnell is now working as an analyst for the NHL Network and spending time with his family, including new son, Wesley, who just turned seven months.
“I’m just enjoying retirement right now,’’ he said. “It’s nice to not have an alarm clock. Just the son crying. I’ve been busy for so many years, it’s nice to have some freedom to do nothing.’’
There were a few humorous moments (what else would you expect from Hartnell) during the evening, such as a videotape of Hartnell and mascot Gritty playing rock, paper, scissors. Gritty lost and had to walk outside the Wells Fargo Center holding a sign that read: “Scott Hartnell is cool.’’
“Gritty is amazing, he’s my best friend,’’ a smiling Hartnell said. “I love him. He’s pretty cool. Seeing him live, doing what he does. He brings a lot of smiles to the city and that’s what you care about.’’
The list of players and ex-players to provide video tributes included Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere, Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Sean Couturier, van Riemsdyk and Simmonds.
Hartnell’s career highlight in Philly?
“Probably that whole playoff run (2010), the comeback against Boston,’’ Hartnell said. “So many good times, so many good memories. That would be the highlight of my career, for sure.’’
Jori Lehtera, who is going through some legal issues following a drug incident at his house back in Finland (he wasn’t home at the time), has received a hearing date. Lehtera skated with the team on Thursday but did not make himself available for comment. . .Phil Varone, who was sent back to the Phantoms on Wednesday, was called back up on Thursday.