Tony DeAngelo claims he’s in the midst of a new phase in his hockey career and what better place to continue it than in the place he grew up, South Philly.
Yes, right in the neighborhoods where they shout “Yo, Adrian!’’ the new Flyer defenseman learned about life on the streets and how to interact with all sorts of personalities.
He developed a passion for sports but sometimes that emotional approach, particularly ice hockey, got him into a bit of trouble once he reached the National Hockey League with the New York Rangers.
Like the incident a few years back when he confronted former Blueshirt backup goaltender Alexandar Georgiev in the tunnel leading to the team’s locker room and went all “Rocky’’ on the netminder. That incident ultimately led to a lengthy suspension and paved the way for his exit from the Big Apple.
But since then, the 26-year-old backliner has worked hard to clean up his act, including last season’s spotless performance with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Speaking at the second day of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said he did “due diligence’’ on DeAngelo’s background and believes a “more mature’’ player will have no problem competing in his hometown.
Plus, veteran coach John Tortorella is a no-nonsense bench boss, so the odds are any point of contention will be addressed early before it can balloon into something significant.
In a media Zoom call on Saturday morning, DeAngelo confirmed whatever happened in the past shouldn’t be used to judge where he is now.
“A lot of the things I got in a little trouble for stem from I walk the line pretty tight,’’ he said. “I’m a competitive guy, a fiery person. And that’s because I want to win.
“I think sometimes I’ve gone a little overboard. I would be the first one to admit it. I’m not at fault for some of the stuff that’s happened, but (over the last year) I’ve matured a lot, did a better job. I had a year off, played just six games two years ago; just sitting around waiting to get back in.’’
DeAngelo’s departure from Carolina was amicable. He and his agent couldn’t reach an agreement on a contract extension and that made him an attractive trade candidate. Fletcher was more than happy to send a 2022 fourth-round draft pick, a conditional third-rounder in 2023 and a second-rounder in 2024 to Carolina for DeAngelo’s services.
“When I had my opportunity to get back in the league and go to Carolina, I just took advantage of it,’’ said DeAngelo, officially a native of nearby Sewell, N.J. “I tried to mature. I still try to play with that fire, that passion but I held the line on it (temper) really well. Never in doubt and I know it’s going to continue to go that way. So I don’t have any concerns.’’
There was one other bad memory from DeAngelo’s junior hockey days when he was accused of making “racist and homophobic’’ remarks that also got him into hot water. He said some of that was not accurately portrayed in the media and not fully explained in context.
Of course, the fine folks in South Philly would like to hear what happened from the horse’s mouth.
“I think some of the stories putting out there are inaccurate,’’ he said. “I’m absolutely not racist at all. There was something I said back in junior that people don’t know what it is and I’m not going to go into it.
“But it was something I regretted. It was a friend of mine on my team, we had an argument and we remain friends. The other stories that have come out here are totally false. I think that’s why the teams in this league have known that. You get some pushback because there’s some stuff that goes out there that’s inaccurate but I think the people are going to get to know me well and really enjoy my game and kind of the person I am off the ice, too.’’
The family connection with South Philadelphia might just bring some badly needed energy to the crowds at the Wells Fargo Center, too.
“My whole family is from South Philly,’’ he said. “I was actually the only one born in Jersey. But we’ve been back in South Philly for like 10 years now. My brother has a house in South Philly, my sisters, my grandparents both live in South Philly. We’ve been here forever and we’ve been diehard Flyers fans until the day of my draft (in 2014, chosen by Tampa) when I didn’t get picked by the Flyers. Now we’re happy to get back on board.’’
DeAngelo actually enjoyed his best season as a pro last year under coach Rod Brind’Amour with the Hurricanes. Carolina stormed to the Metropolitan Division title and lost a tough seven-game series to the Rangers in the conference semifinals.
His 51 points might have been two fewer than his 53 with the Rangers in 2019-20 but his plus/minus zoomed from plus-12 to plus-30. That’s the kind of number the Flyers can use on a somewhat shaky backline.
In some respects, Fletcher wanted DeAngelo not only to fill a void left by the trade of veteran Justin Braun but the uncertain status of Ryan Ellis (pelvic injury) which kept him out almost all of last season.
DeAngelo wound up signing a two-year, $10-million extension with the Flyers.
“There was mutual interest on our side,’’ he said of the Flyers’ courtship. “From my end it was pretty quick and I was happy to get it done.’’
His role with his new team?
“I think my game hasn’t changed, it’s an offensive-style game,’’ he said. “Puck-mover but I play hard. There’s a toughness to my game that I think I can bring as well. I continue to get better on that (defensive) side of the puck and I want to continue that here.’’
Best guess here is Flyers fans can’t wait to see how an emotional but more mature DeAngelo plies his craft where it all began.
Or as Rocky’s manager once proclaimed: “What are we waitin’ for!’’