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A gift or a curse? The Flyers have a five-game point streak interrupted, get mixed COVID news during 11-day break.

While many Flyers were left frustrated at the break's timing from a momentum perspective, it also meant added time to recover for players such as Kevin Hayes and Morgan Frost.

Flyers center Morgan Frost returned to practice Tuesday after 14 days out while in the COVID-19 protocol.
Flyers center Morgan Frost returned to practice Tuesday after 14 days out while in the COVID-19 protocol.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Just before Flyers players, coaches and staff took off for the holiday break, general manager Chuck Fletcher said he told them all, “Let’s hope nobody else gets sick.”

“So that talk didn’t go so well,” Fletcher said Monday with a little laugh.

The break, both from practice and games, stretched much longer than the team expected. The NHL is always off for Christmas Day, and the Flyers schedule this year already had a built-in three-day break between practices and five days off between games. But with the team’s final two games before the break postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, the Flyers ended up with five days between practices and 11 between games.

» READ MORE: Kevin Hayes hopes for reset after returning from COVID protocols

While some players went home during the break, others stayed local. But no matter how careful the players were, Fletcher acknowledged that, with the pandemic “raging” again, anyone could catch the virus anywhere. And so, upon the team’s return, five players — Sean Couturier, Ryan Ellis, Carter Hart, Scott Laughton, and Derick Brassard — and two staffers were added to the COVID-19 protocol list.

The extended time away from a regimen that keeps players and staff members mostly exposed to the same people and involves daily testing presented challenges in keeping everyone safe. But it also provided the players already in COVID-19 protocols a chance to recover and return without missing too many games.

Forward Max Willman, who tested positive on Dec. 18, was present at the Flyers’ first practice back on Monday. He acknowledged it was frustrating for him to have to miss a game right as he was getting comfortable at the NHL level. But with the Pittsburgh Penguins game postponed by the NHL’s pause and then the Washington Capitals game postponed due to COVID-19 concerns, Willman ultimately missed just one game instead of three.

Luckily, Willman was asymptomatic and, other than having to get his legs under him, he said he felt good upon his return.

The next day, Kevin Hayes and Morgan Frost returned. Like Willman, Hayes was asymptomatic and was shocked he tested positive. He went into quarantine and came back ready to play. Frost, however, felt “lousy,” but he still kept active through his quarantine. He said he did “a little body workout” and walked around outside for fresh air. When he returned, he went through conditioning. Both he and the trainers determined he was ready to be slotted into Wednesday’s lineup.

The break might even have been good timing for those who tested positive, Fletcher said. Many of the Flyers who have had the omicron variant have been asymptomatic or have had mild symptoms, and since they were gone so long, the players could have caught COVID-19 before they returned and tested.

“So, again, maybe a couple of these players may be able to return a little quicker than 10 days,” Fletcher said Monday. “But right now, the coaches had a good practice today, working on some fundamentals. And we’re just working on getting this group ready to play and try to build off some of the success before the break.”

Just as Willman felt some frustration at being cut off right as he was finding his stride, the Flyers as a whole felt they had finally gotten something going following their 10-game losing streak. They had won four of the five games before the postponements, and they had earned at least a point in all of them. Then their final two games were postponed, and they were sent on break three days early.

“I think we felt good about our game,” captain Claude Giroux said Monday. “We were doing a lot of good things. We had momentum. Obviously, it’s not that great when you get a break when you’re feeling good about your game.”

The players who tested positive weren’t the only ones who had to find ways to stay in shape over the break.

“It’s also important to stay on top of nutrition and sleep and staying in shape,” Cam Atkinson said. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get on the ice, but I was able to ride the bike and do other things to get a sweat.”

Despite the new list of positive tests, Hayes said the team is trying to keep thinking positively, and Atkinson showed that mentality when he reflected on the break. He said that while it cut into their momentum, it was also a time to heal and an opportunity for players who needed it to hit the reset button.

» READ MORE: Getting healthy the biggest key for Flyers push to make the playoffs

The team had two practices before embarking on a four-game road trip with three games in four days, including a back-to-back. The break made both those practices even more important as the team tried to “get back on track as fast as we can,” Giroux said. Fortunately, both practices were productive, Atkinson said Tuesday.

“I think we’re ready to rock and roll,” Atkinson said.

From what Hayes observed Tuesday, some of that momentum has carried through the extended break and appeared in the Flyers’ final practice before they hopped on a plane to Seattle.

“We’ve been able to battle back in these last five here and had a pretty good groove going,” Hayes said. “I think guys are really excited to get back on the ice and kind of keep trending towards the right way.”