VOORHEES – Opening night is like no other, when memories are created which can last forever.
Rookies Connor Bunnaman and Carsen Twarynski were already friends when they found out the night of Oct. 3 in Prague, Czech Republic that they were in the Flyers’ starting lineup vs. the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 4.
Talk about endless high-fives.
While both eventually wound up playing most of the season in Lehigh Valley with the Phantoms, the dream of that game in Europe remains fresh.
Now, with the Flyers about to embark on another “trip,’’ – this one to Toronto for the Stanley Cup playoffs – Bunnaman and Twarynski are at least battling for a spot on the team’s expanded 30-man roster.
While they might not get into the opening night game against the Boston Bruins (in the round-robin tournament) on Aug. 2, just being part of the whole experience should prove invaluable.
And who knows? If a veteran player or two gets injured on the road to the postseason, one or both of the freshmen could see some game action.
These 22-year-olds are so tight now that Bunnaman invited Twarynski to stay at his place during the pandemic pause.
No doubt there were plenty of stories about Prague to be told. Like how excited they were leading up to the big moment.
“We talked about it the night before (Oct. 3) when we both found out we were going to make the opening night roster,’’ Bunnaman said after Sunday’s day seven of training camp at the Skate Zone. “We just thought back to draft day (2016), we both came up to the box where everyone was at the same time. We met each other and met each other’s families. From there, we became friends. It’s been a long ride and been a cool one.’’
Twarynski was a third-round (82nd overall) pick and Bunnaman was a fourth-rounder (109th overall)
While Twarysnki, a wing player, has shown flashes of offensive process, Bunnaman, a center, might be the more well-rounded player.
He was a noteworthy plus-7 with only two penalty minutes in 21 games with the Flyers and he might have stayed around longer if not for the trade deadline pickups of pivotmen Derek Grant and Nate Thompson.
Being a competent two-way player is a source of pride for Bunnaman, who looked comfortable at fourth-line center with the Flyers.
“That’s a huge part,’’ Bunnaman acknowledged. “Being defensively responsible and the coach has faith in me he can put me out there in tough situations and not get scored on.’’
The twosome reunited during the pandemic for a few weeks in Ontario.
“He came to my place to quarantine for three weeks, just wanted to make sure he gets over the border kind of thing, so there was no problems coming back once the quarantine’s over,’’ Bunnaman said.
“My room’s in the basement. My old room is now my nephew’s room when he comes over. Carsen was staying up there. We were locked down pretty good. Just kind of played video games. Chipped golf balls in the backyard. Went in the pool sometimes when it was nice out. That’s basically it.’’
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Twarynski, who hails from the Calgary area, has looked impressive in training camp and figures to have a bright future with the organization.
It’s the same stuff he showed in the team’s first training camp back in September which earned him that spot against the Blackhawks.
“I just work hard, played my game and was simple on the ice,’’ he said. “I’m a respectful guy in the room and on and off the ice. I just have to have my good work ethic that I’ve had my whole life and play simple to my game. That’s the only thing I will take from that training camp into this one. I just got to work hard and be myself and do whatever it takes to help this team win.’’
In some ways, that opening night in October seems a long time ago. But it did lead to a good taste of the NHL and he eventually got into a total of 15 games.
“This year’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for me,’’ he said. “A lot of ups and downs and a lot of good lessons I’ve learned. The things I’ve kept in my brain. Just from that camp, like I said, playing a couple games in the league this year, the high pace.
“It takes a lot of work to get there and it takes even more work to stay up. I learned both those lessons this year. Those are two big things that I’m going to take and keep with me for as long as I will play. I will know those two things.’’