VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The Flyers quietly hired a skills coach, Angelo Ricci, in September, and they hope he can help the players improve in various areas – shooting, stickhandling, skating, winning more puck battles, to name a handful – and that it will lead to more victories.
Hey, when you haven’t won a playoff series since 2012, it’s worth a try.
When the Flyers are home, Ricci gives the players individual instruction before or after practices held in Voorhees. The players can ask him to work on specific areas they feel need upgrading, or he can make suggestions based on what he has seen.
When the team is on the road, Ricci does the same routine with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Flyers’ AHL affiliate.
Ricci was hired by the Flyers after new coach Alain Vigneault suggested to general manager Chuck Fletcher that a skills coach would make the team better. Vigneault had one when he coached Vancouver and the New York Rangers. Fletcher agreed with the idea, and Ricci, who held a similar role with the Buffalo Sabres, was hired as a full-time coach.
“Players always loved it, so when I came here, I thought it was the right thing to do,” Vigneault said the other day. “Players love working on different skills you need throughout the game, not just the shooting and the passing, but sometimes the quick turns and taking pucks to the net. Shooting on the fly.”
Vigneault said he got “feedback from people who knew Angelo. I got a report from [Avalanche GM] Joe Sakic, who spoke very highly of him” from their days together with the Colorado Thunderbirds AAA team, “made the contacts, talked to him a couple times, and met him down at the draft, and we got him signed and brought him aboard.”
James van Riemsdyk had a skills coach during his years with the Maple Leafs.
“It’s a really nice resource to have,” the Flyers’ 30-year-old left winger said. “It’s nice to have it in-season, too. We had it more in the offseason in Toronto.”
Practices aren’t as frequent these days because, with rugged schedules, there’s a strong belief that teams should get lots of recovery time after games, keeping them fresher and more effective.
When you do have practices, “you want to maximize your time on the ice and work on your skills,” van Riemsdyk said. “You want to keep feeling comfortable with puck touches and things like that. He’s an awesome guy and he’s super receptive to work on pretty much whatever you want to work on. I work on collecting pucks off the wall and just being more comfortable carrying the puck in different situations in the offensive zone. He has different drills for that.”
The Flyers have many areas that can be improved, including getting off more shots. They were 21st out of 31 teams in shot attempts while playing five-on-five last season, though their accuracy was a solid 11th in the league (an 8.3 percent success rate).
Defenseman Ivan Provorov has worked primarily on stickhandling and shooting drills with Ricci.
“Sometimes, you want to shoot a little more, and you stay after practice and work on that, shooting through screens and stuff like that,” said Provorov, who scored the Flyers’ first goal at the Wells Fargo Center this season as Oskar Lindblom set a screen in front.
It will be interesting to see if Ricci’s stickhandling drills, along with drills that give the players quicker sticks on defense, produce results. The Flyers were 18th in the NHL in giveaways last season, and they were only 29th in takeaways.
Attention to such details can help prevent a team from falling behind early. The Flyers had just a .222 winning percentage (24th in the NHL) when trailing after the opening period last season.
Most of the Flyers talked about Ricci’s infectious enthusiasm and how they like to be around him while learning.
“You have to be an upbeat, positive guy when you’re doing skill work with the guys and making sure everyone is feeling confident, and he does a good job with that and keeping everyone smiling,” said right winger Travis Konecny, who has done extra sessions with Ricci to work on shooting off the rush. “His drills are great. They’re the type of drills that don’t tire you out, so you can get a lot of reps in. He’s been great so far.”
“He’s got high energy and what he does can only add to the toolbox for the organization,” center Scott Laughton said.
The Flyers wouldn’t make Ricci available for an interview, but his pinned tweet on his Twitter account gave a hint of his personality.