VOORHEES, N.J. – Since joining the Flyers in 2011, Sean Couturier has experienced much more winning than losing when he’s in the lineup.
Which brings us to the last season and a half when a pair of back surgeries sidelined the 30-year-old center. In his absence, Philadelphia fell to near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.
While the team is in full rebuild mode now, everyone from the owner to the stickboy is anxious to get Couturier and another talented forward, Cam Atkinson, back in the lineup.
Plenty of eyes were riveted on Couturier and Atkinson at the Flyers Training Center on Thursday morning when they took part in the first day of training camp.
Interested parties were watching Couturier to see if he looked like his old self. Skating-wise, he appears fine. But no one will really know for sure until he takes part in his first preseason game, probably sometime next week when the Flyers visit New Jersey, Long Island and Boston over a five-day stretch.
To take it one step farther, the real test will come when the Flyers officially open their 2023-24 season at Columbus on Oct. 12.
In the meantime, just having Couturier and Atkinson back in the lineup should give the Flyers a fighting chance to avoid a fourth straight non-playoff season.
“It felt good out there,” Couturier said. “I think our group did pretty well. We were pushing each other. I worked hard this summer to go through camp and play an 82-game season.
“I was pretty nervous about it but once you get going, you just grind and battle through it.”
From a mental, emotional standpoint, Couturier believes he can pick up where he left off. But he won’t really know until he gets into game action.
“I passed all my physicals yesterday, which is not a surprise,” he said. “This (first day of camp) was a big test I think. This is hard on the body, it’s tough mentally. I thought it went pretty well. I’m fine with day one. I just have to build on that. The next thing up is probably scrimmages, then exhibition games, regular-seasons games. When the real games come, that’s when it will matter for sure.”
Having been through back surgery twice, Couturier knows he has to be a bit more prepared, a little more cautious moving forward.
“I’m good but it’s something that I’ll always have to take care of my body a little more than I used to,” he said. “Not that I didn’t take care of my body. After two back surgeries, it takes a little more pre-hab or taking care or just to make sure I maintain my health, that I feel good on a daily basis.”
At the same time, he can’t play the game tentatively.
“Mentally, that’s going to be the big thing to get over,” he said. “Just play that first game, get hit, get crushed into the boards and see how it feels. That’s kind of what I want. Everyone’s confident that everything is going to be OK, doctors, trainers, so I’m not too worried. To actually feel it and go through it, that will probably clear my mind, that’s for sure.”
Of course there are doubters. Couturier says those can be motivators.
“Yeah, definitely,” he said. “I mean, they have their reasons to have their doubts. But I know the kind of person I am, the character I have. Not only to them but myself I want to prove to be the player I was if not better. That’s always a little extra motivation when you hear some doubters.”
The return of Couturier and Atkinson should help resurrect some special teams that weren’t very special. The power play was last in the NHL and the penalty kill wasn’t much better.
What can the vets provide? Lead by example.
“We’ve killed a lot throughout the years,” Couturier said. “We have a younger team but I think we have a lot of potential. I think definitely we can teach some things to the younger guys. I think it’s more just leading by example. Doing things right on a consistent basis. Making the guys understand the accountability that comes with playing in the NHL and the meaning of each shift, each little detail. If guys can learn off of that, I think it’s good.”
Atkinson goes along with that idea of setting a good example.
“I mean talk is cheap, right?” Atkinson said. “We, ultimately as players, need to go do it. Prove people wrong. I think every guy needs to look in the mirror and no matter what you did last year, good or bad, we all have to take a step forward and push each other and hold each other accountable.
“It’s going to start in practice. I think we have to be the hardest practicing team. That’s kind of what ‘Torts’ (coach John Tortorella) has instilled. That’s what I learned when he got hired in Columbus a long time ago. You practice how you play. I think that’s what I’m most excited about, to drive the bus that way. I take a lot of pride in those situations where I’m depended on power play, penalty kill. It’s an honor. Adding ‘Coots’ and I back, it’s only a bonus.”