At outdoor game, Tortorella trusts Flyers will stick to business

Travis Konecny (left) and Sean Couturier share a laugh during Friday's press conference for Saturday's Flyers-Devils Stadium Series game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (Photo by Wayne Fish)

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It’s not just another game but that’s the way the Flyers have to treat it.

      Most of the Flyers talk on Friday at MetLife Stadium centered on their thoughts about Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the New Jersey Devils.

      Some of the young Flyers haven’t played in an NHL-caliber outdoor game yet. Others maybe just one or two. Either way, the team knows there are two points out there, against a Metro Division rival no less, which are just too important to ignore.

      Coach John Tortorella trusts his players to find the right balance to mix business with pleasure. He didn’t have to say anything to his players.

      “I leave them alone,” he said after Friday’s practice. “We had our practice. We probably won’t meet tomorrow. I trust our team. I want them to enjoy the experience. They’ll be ready to play. I don’t have to worry about that.”

      After the skate to test the ice surface and get accustomed to the sight-lines, goaltender Samuel Ersson was among a number of Flyers who headed back to the locker room all smiles.

      “It was surreal,” said Ersson, one of several Flyers wearing football-style black stripes under their eyes to counter the sun glare. “It’s going to be a very fun experience.”

      Ersson grew up in Sweden and said the last time he played an organized game under the sky was back when he was about 14 or 15 years old.

      “It was nostalgic going out there,” Ersson said. “It brings up the roots where you came from, where you started. So definitely a surreal feeling.”

      The 24-year-old netminder fully understands the importance of this game. The Devils are one spot below the Flyers in the standings and the Philadelphia players don’t want to give an inch.

      “We know that,” he said. “We want to enjoy the experience, soak in the moment but at the same time we have a job to do. There are two important points on the line and we very much would like to grab them.”

      Ryan Poehling, who just signed a new two-year contract extension, should flourish in this environment. He’s one of the team’s best skaters and speed will be a big factor in this game.

      In response to Tortorella’s intention of not addressing the players about the importance of the two points but rather leaving it up to the players, Poehling nodded. It’s all about trust.

      “Every challenge he’s sent our way, we’ve handled it well,” Poehling said. “I think it’s nice to have that trust from a coach-player aspect. As a locker room, we have a lot of good guys here. I think we just respond well to what he wants. He knows that. It means a lot to us as players to know we can’t take it for granted. So it’s been good for us.”

      The Flyers had a chance to let their families skate on the rink for about a half-hour after practice and  Tortorella said that opportunity was a big part of the whole weekend experience.

      “My whole focus is first of all making sure that the families get out there on the ice,” the coach said. “The NHL did a great job the past 24 hours getting us on the ice. The important part today is getting the families out there with them (the players).”

      >Couturier embraces challenge

       Whenever a player is named the new captain of a hockey team, there’s always that magnifying glass affect. Everyone watches to see if the player will change a bit, perhaps become a bit more vocal, and embrace the challenge of being the emotional leader of the team.

      “We’ve grown together this year,” Couturier said. “I believe everyone can lead in their own way. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. If I can set a great example for the younger guys and help out, that’s great. If there’s a message to be spoken at any point I won’t be shy to speak up.”

      Couturier took a slash to his knee with about six minutes left in the Toronto game. But he says he’s good to go against New Jersey.

      “Just a bruise,” he said. “Got me in the area where I didn’t have any padding. It’s all good.”

      >York feeling better after big hit

      Defenseman Cam York, who had to leave early from  Thursday night’s game in Toronto after a big hit from the Leafs’ Simon Benoit at 4:24 into the third period, took part in Friday’s practice and later said he feels well enough to play against the Devils.

      However, he still needs medical clearance before lacing on the skates. Of his possible playing status for the Saturday game he said: “I’m not sure yet.

      “I don’t know how much I’m allowed to say to be honest,” he said. “I feel pretty good. It was never my head. Some people were saying it might be my head but my head is fine. It’s an upper-body thing.”

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About Wayne Fish 2473 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.