PHILADELPHIA – John Tortorella isn’t a big fan of optional morning skates so when he sees rookie Noah Cates, one of his favorite project players, out there zooming around the ice with the A.M. patrol, the coach almost has to turn his head.
The 23-year-old Cates has played so well in his first full season in the NHL that Tortorella hesitates to want to change a successful routine.
During Sunday’s early hours, there was Cates wheeling around the Flyers Training Center rink in preparation for a big matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs that evening.
If Cates was nervous about a first-line matchup against Toronto superstar center Auston Matthews, he wasn’t letting it show when the media questioned him about it after the workout.
Tortorella has watched the Stillwater, Minnesota native improve throughout the season. Cates is one of only five Flyers to have played in all 39 games this season. He’s posted four goals/16 points with a plus-3.
Thing is, since his first year of college hockey at the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018-19, Cates has never played more than 40 games in a season. So there might be some concern he could start to wear down in the second half of the Flyers’ season.
“It bothers me he’s out on the ice,’’ half-kidded Tortorella, nodding toward the rink from his seat in the FTC media room. “I’m going to outlaw those things because it’s routine for those guys. It’s just so wrong.
“I didn’t know anybody when I came here, I didn’t know Noah Cates. He has grown into the position (of a top line center), deservedly so. We try to be as fair as possible with our assessments of players and give them ice time accordingly. Everything he’s getting he deserves.’’
Cates realizes he might have to start cutting back on the morning skate routine. It’s an 82-game grind and he’s not even halfway there yet.
“You have to take advantage of the off days and be smart,’’ Cates said. “He (Tortorella) kind of got on us about morning skates. But if it makes you feel good mentally, you got to do it. You just have to be smart.’’
Preparation and consistency are two words which pop up on a regular basis when Cates talks about how he goes about his daily routine. And if it means getting out there for a morning skate to achieve that, so be it.
“Those (preparation and consistency) have been a big challenge for me,’’ Cates said. “It’s just something you have to look at every day.’’
As for the task of taking on some of the league’s best centers, Cates welcomes the responsibility.
Like a Scott Laughton, he gets as big a kick out of stopping goals as he does scoring them.
Cates was asked what he and the coach have talked about regarding morning skates. Cutting back has been one topic.
“Definitely, moving forward I will,’’ Cates vowed. “I like to think the hockey gods reward you for putting the work in. I think when you’re younger you have to put a little more work in.’’