Blocking shots prowess a big part of Flyers’ success

Garnet Hathaway

VOORHEES, N.J. – In hockey, blocked shots are the ultimate sacrifice.

Say what you will about goaltenders facing 100 miles-per-hour slap shots. At least they’re equipped with overloaded leg pads, chest protectors and facemasks.

Regular position players? Hey, buddy, you’re pretty much on your own.

Speeding pucks with potential lethal harm haven’t stopped the Flyers’ regular skaters from stepping into harm’s way.

Prior to Thursday night’s game against Winnipeg, they were ranked fourth in the National Hockey League in blocked shots with 907.

In that game, forward Garnet Hathaway blocked two missiles off Jets’ sticks on the same shift.

Meanwhile, defenseman Nick Seeler leads the NHL in terminations with 150.

When Hathaway skated back to the bench after his significant contribution, he was greeted with smiles all around.

Of course, the beneficiary of all this bravery is none other than new No. 1 goaltender Samuel Ersson. He appreciates these sacrifices and indicates it does wonders for team spirit.

In fact, Ersson, Hathaway and Seeler are in agreement that limiting shots on goal directly correlates to team success. It indicates that everyone has “bought in” and nothing beats that sense of esprit de corps in a game where nothing less than full effort matters.

“It’s a huge part of our team, our identity,” Ersson said after Friday’s practice at the Flyers Training Center. “I mean it’s a big reason why we’re so successful on the penalty kill (second in the NHL) and other parts of the game.

“We don’t allow a lot of shots per game. And again, that’s a huge thanks to how good we are in the shots’ lanes. When a guy puts his body on the line like that, I feel like it brings so much energy into the group and on the bench as well. You feel as a goalie it definitely gives you energy, too, how the guys sacrifice their bodies.”

Coach John Tortorella appreciates what these footsoldiers risk for the good of the team. He’s a big believer in a team-first approach.

“It (a blocked shot) is part of playing defense and something we talk about all the time,” the coach said. “It’s something we show tape of all the time. That’s a big part of the game.

“ ‘Seels’ is one of the best in the game at it. You watch, when we block a shot, you look at the bench right after, what it does for the bench. It’s a really important part of the camaraderie. And it’s a big part of keeping the puck out of your net. We’ve got some good guys here and everybody. . .I mean if you don’t do it, you aren’t going to play. Everybody has bought into that and I think everyone encourages one another.”

Hathaway seemed none the worse for wear after his showdown at the Wells Fargo Center corral.

“I know exactly how excited the bench gets when ‘Seels’ blocks 12 a game or something,” Hathaway said. “You look at how well ‘Ers’ is playing for us. He had a shutout going for a long time (Thursday night). Made some great saves in big moments, like when you make a mistake and you can rely on a guy like that.

“I think it’s just that trust between guys. If you lay down for me, I’ll lay down for you. That’s the group we have, the guys who have been here and how well they’ve helped new guys acclimate. When it comes down to blocking shots, it comes down to ‘Seels.’ All our guys block shots but you need to highlight how willing he is to do it and what it means to our team.”

Seeler has been a valuable cog in this machine but his contract runs out at the end of the season and there have been rumors he will be on the market between now and the NHL trade deadline on March 8.

He will turn 30 in June, so there’s that to consider in terms of a long-term contract. But while he’s here, there’s no doubt he will continue to dive into danger without a second thought.

“I think blocking shots means guys are just buying in,” Seeler said. “When guys are selling out like that, putting their bodies on the line, it means we’re doing some good things and guys are buying into the style we want to play.

“It gives us a boost. Those two blocks (by Hathaway) were a couple of great ones.”

While there is risk for injury by stepping in front of a blue line bomb, one has to believe most shots are below knee level and don’t present a great health risk.

A shot blocker almost becomes a second goalie, without all the fancy equipment.

“You don’t want any shots to get to the net,” Seeler said with a smile. “That’s kind of our main goal. I think we’ve done a really good job of that this year of not letting pucks get through this season. Guys are putting their bodies on the line.”

What makes Seeler so effective? Does he actually go out of his way to get in front of pucks?

“You do anything you can to get in front of it,” he said. “You try to read where the shot is going to come from, try to read their body language and when they’re going to shoot. At the end of the day, it’s just getting in the way of it.

“Blocking shots is a big part of our game. When the team is on, you can see that. . .guys are laying out and doing the right thing. You might get one in the ankle but you have to get in front of it.”

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About Wayne Fish 2452 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.