It’s a Monday morning practice and the Flyers, like most people in any line of work, are a little slow getting the old engines started.
Players skate slowly in small circles, juggling pucks on the blades of their sticks, almost waiting for something to happen.
And then, suddenly, it does. Interim head coach Scott Gordon, who has led his team on a remarkable 18-6-2 run since Jan. 12, materializes at the blue line at the Skate Zone.
He wants to speak with a certain segment of his players and he doesn’t have to blow a whistle to get their attention.
They skate over toward him with enthusiasm, seemingly almost eager to hear what he has to say.
This, in our words, is called a strong player-coach bond. It is built on trust. For some, it goes all the way back to when some were players on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms when Gordon coached there.
Last season he told them to do things a certain way and they listened.
Then all they did was go out and make it to the American Hockey League’s conference finals, something a Phantoms team had not done since they were the Philadelphia Phantoms, when they won the Calder Cup under John Stevens way back in 2004-05.
So when Gordon was hired to replace Dave Hakstol back in mid-December, the Flyers knew he could coach.
After that initial 0-6-2 bump in the road – which could be attributed to getting to know Gordon’s system – the Flyers went on their current tear.
The point here is that Gordon’s coaching style fits this group of players to a tee.
He’s already worked with most of the young players, so they know what he wants and he knows what makes them tick.
Also, Gordon has worked with stars before, like John Tavares on the Island a decade ago, so he understands how players such as Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek and Sean Couturier operate.
And Gordon is an ex-goaltender, so if there’s anyone who can successfully juggle the egos of three netminders (Carter Hart, Brian Elliott and Cam Talbot) at the same time, it’s him.
All this said, we believe Gordon deserves the interim tag removed from his title at the end of the season, whether the Flyers complete their comeback or not.
If the Flyers don’t come away with a win on Sunday night at Pittsburgh, their playoff hopes are just about over.
That shouldn’t matter, as least as far as Gordon’s future is concerned.
Now just about everyone has heard the rumors that the Flyers are interested in hiring three-time Stanley Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville, late of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher insists he has not had contact with Quenneville, who was let go earlier this season, mainly because Quenneville technically is still under contract.
The rumor mill (aka, the Twitter world) continues to bounce around the idea that Fletcher and Quenneville have some sort of wink-wink understanding and that he will be behind the Philadelphia bench next season.
No one here is saying that would be a bad choice.
But for our money, we would go with Gordon. And so would a lot of the Flyers’ players. You wouldn’t need a whistle to get them to come over and give you an endorsement for him, either.
>Voracek suspension not justified
The Voracek suspension for somehow trying to protect himself from a forceful collision with New York Islander defenseman Johnny Boychuk last Sunday is well behind us now but the injustice of the two-game ban continues to leave a bad taste.
Watch replays of the incident carefully, then read NHL Rule 56.1 regarding “Interference.’’
It states: “A player is allowed the ice he is standing on (body position) and is not required to move in order to let a player proceed. A player may “block’’ the path of an opponent provided he is in front of his opponent (and moving in the same direction, which Voracek was, since he had his back to Boychuk before the contact). A player is always entitled to use his body position to lengthen an opponent’s path to the puck, provided his stick is not used.’’
So far, so good.
The rule goes on to say a player cannot “take advantage of his body position to deliver an otherwise illegal check.’’
Fine. Voracek sensed Boychuk was coming, turned and guarded himself by raising his shoulder.
Although Voracek was assessed a major five-minute penalty, he did not receive a game misconduct penalty, which should have been applied if Boychuk was injured (he didn’t finish the game and didn’t play the next game).
According to Rule 56.5: “When a major penalty is imposed under this rule resulting in an injury of an opponent, a game misconduct shall be imposed.’’
To summarize: Voracek received the maximum suspension, even though this was the first one of his career; Boychuk somehow had enough strength to point at Voracek in a menacing fashion on the way to the treatment room and finally, where were the officials last season when Boychuk sucker-punched 19-year-old Nolan Patrick?
We say, suspension be damned: If someone is going to take a run at a player, aggressor beware. Do a pre-emptive strike, just as six-time Stanley Cup champion and Hall of Famer Mark Messier used to do when someone was about to hammer his face into the glass – turn around, use two hands to put your stick under his chin and then the word gets out not to try that garbage anymore.