VOORHEES – It started out like any other Sam Morin day, driving to the rink, sipping a coffee and getting ready for another dreaded “bag skate.’’
Then the big defenseman, who likes to blindside opposing forwards out on the ice, got ambushed himself.
He ambled into the Flyers’ locker room, sat down and started to hear the rumors that he was making his season debut on Wednesday night against Toronto.
Let him take it from there:
“I had no idea,’’ he said after the Wednesday morning practice at the Skate Zone. “They didn’t tell me. I wasn’t even ready for it. I was driving here, having a normal day, getting ready to bag skate. Having a cup of coffee. There were some rumors going around the room that I was playing. I was like: ‘What the hell?’
“Then on the ice, I was like (talking to assistant coach Kris Knoblauch). . .’am I playing?’ Do you want to tell me? I couldn’t figure it out. I was so happy. I got a good night of sleep last night too, so I feel good.’’
This is a very big deal for the 23-year-old, 6-foot-7 defenseman. He’s been sidelined since last May when he suffered a torn ACL in his knee during a Phantoms playoff game.
In some respects, that makes Wednesday night’s game bigger than his NHL debut a couple years ago.
“I think it is bigger,’’ he said.
“Last year was pretty hard. You make the squad at the beginning of the year and then you get sent down. Then I got bad luck. It was just a tough year last year and then this year because of my knee.
“Now I’m healthy and I’m ready to go back into it.’’
The former first-round draft pick knows he can’t come flying out of the gate willy-nilly. To that end, coach Scott Gordon will deploy a seven-defensemen line-up and probably spot Morin in certain situations.
It’s been a long road back for the Quebec native.
Asked about the toughest part of the rehab process, he smiled.
“The bag skate (no pucks),” Morin said. “This month was just about me alone on the ice, getting to skate, it was really hard. It was the hardest part, I think. I just need to be ready. I was trying to keep a smile on my face. But it wasn’t easy. Wake up, put a smile on your face and try not to show it.’’
The strategy for the Maple Leafs is simple.
“I can’t do too much, (can’t) run at the guys, hit everything and then be out of position,’’ he said. “I think I need to take a good breath, just play my game and have fun.
“Obviously I know the pace, because of the practice. I know it’s hard, I know the guys are good. I’m not naïve, I know it’s going to be hard tonight. I don’t think I’m going to go out there and destroy the league, be the best player out there. I just need to be calm, play a simple game.’’
Gordon and his staff have been contemplating this move for a while, waiting for the right spot.
Facing elimination from the playoffs (a regulation-time loss to the Leafs will do it) did not seem to factor into the decision to play Morin.
“It’s been a long road back for him,’’ Gordon said. “And it’s great that he’s able to get in. For all the hard work he’s done, to get rewarded and play some games this year just to kind of ease the burden of having not played for much of the year and get ready for training camp next year.’’
>Raffl pleased with signing
Michael Raffl, 30, avoided free agency by agreeing to a two-year contract which will pay him an average of $1.6 million per year.
“I’m happy we got it done,’’ he said. “It (Philadelphia) is home for me now, I’ve been here six years. I absolutely love it here, I think we have an exciting young group coming up. I just want to be successful.’’
Gordon likes what Raffl brings to the table.
“He certainly has a lot of versatility,’’ Gordon said. “He’s played (a lot of roles) – special teams, first-line, fourth-line roles. Because of that versatility, he’s a guy who gives a coach some flexibility if you have injuries or situations that come up over the course of the year.’’
Raffl said his optimism stems from the Flyers’ strong finish to this season.
“It’s way more fun when you have some success with the guys,’’ he said. “It was pretty miserable to start the year like that when everybody knows you’re capable of being a playoff team. The second half was way more enjoyable for everybody in here. That played into my decision (to sign) as well.’’