At 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, 10 hours before puck drop between the Flyers and the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, former Flyers winger Jake Voráček made himself right at home at the Wells Fargo Center.
Fresh out of COVID-19 protocols the night before — 11:30 p.m., was when he got the call that he cleared — Voráček touched down in Philadelphia Thursday morning to join his Blue Jackets teammates who arrived the previous evening. After he rushed to the rink with morning skate two-and-a-half hours away, Voráček made a beeline for the Flyers’ locker room to say hello to his former teammates and coaches.
“I didn’t get kicked out, so that was good,” Voráček cracked.
Unquestionably, 10 years of service to the orange and black warranted a hearty welcome from the current Flyers contingent. This offseason, Voráček was traded back to the Blue Jackets, where he began his NHL career, in exchange for winger Cam Atkinson.
He was a fixture in the Flyers’ top six, on the power play, and in the hearts of fans, despite the occasional Twitter clash. That was all part of the package when dealing with Voráček, according to former teammate Scott Hartnell.
“His interactions with the fans, like it or not, on Twitter when he would call people out for saying the ‘Woo!’ and ‘They’re not shooting the puck,’ ” Hartnell said. “He gets fired up easily. That’s just a great quality to have in my opinion.”
That passionate nature shined through in everything that Voráček did on and off the ice while in Philadelphia. In franchise history, Voráček ranks fifth in in assists (427), 10th in points (604), and 10th in games played (727).
From playing hockey to tennis to soccer to cards on the team plane, Hartnell said Voráček gave everything his best effort. If Voráček fell short of his goals, “It really bothered him, right? And he didn’t want to do that again,” Hartnell said.
On Thursday morning at the Blue Jackets’ morning skate, Voráček approached each drill with that same sense of intensity, especially on the power play. From the blue line, defenseman Zach Werenski passed the puck to Voráček, who walked the puck in from the top of the right face-off circle and scored on a wrist shot.
Voráček pumped his arm in celebration and skated back to the neutral zone, where his teammates and coaches met him with stick taps and high-fives. That competitive trait, exhibited in practices and games, is one that Flyers captain Claude Giroux cherished in his former assistant captain.
“His will to want to win,” Giroux said. “It was infectious. He’s that player that you can rely on when the game’s on the line.”
Voráček’s intensity wasn’t the only characteristic that his former teammates found infectious after he arrived in Philadelphia in 2011 from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade . Hartnell said he instantly found himself drawn to Voráček’s personality.
“The charisma that Jake had just off the ice and the player that he was on the ice,” Hartnell said. “Everyone just gravitated towards him and you wanted to be around Jake all the time. You didn’t know what he was gonna say or do or whatever.”
A massive Bruce Springsteen fan and a notorious locker room DJ, Voráček begged Hartnell five years ago for permission to sing on stage at Hartnell’s wedding. Although Hartnell gave him the green light to sing one song, somehow Voráček got away with performing two: “With or Without You” by U2 and “Atlantic City” by Springsteen.
Then, Hartnell felt the heat from the wedding band, who told him it was time to give Bono “the hook” to get off the stage.
“[Voráček] goes, ‘This is what the people want, Scotty. I’ve gotta keep singing. This is what the people want,’ ” Hartnell said. “And I was like, ‘Well, we paid a lot of money for the band, too. I think they want the band, too, because everyone’s been dancing, you know?’ ”
Coincidentally, Voráček met Hartnell’s former Blue Jackets teammate Atkinson at that wedding, possibly for the first time — “Maybe,” Voráček said. “I don’t have a pretty bright memory from weddings.”
The nature of the Voráček-Atkinson trade, one-for-one between top-six wingers, didn’t come as a shock to Voráček. He understood that both teams needed to add fresh talent, and so far, the trade has worked out for each party. Through 34 games this season, Voráček has registered one goal and 24 assists for the Metropolitan Division’s fifth-ranked Blue Jackets.
Meanwhile, Atkinson has become a mainstay on the Flyers’ top line alongside Giroux and winger Joel Farabee. In 39 games played, Atkinson has scored a team-high 15 goals and notched 14 assists this season.
“Cam is having a good season for Philly, I would say I’ve been pretty strong in Columbus as well,” Voráček said. “So when you look at it this way, it’s been good for both teams, but obviously, the standings isn’t as good as we expected and I think Philly is the same way.”
Despite the special memories created while spending a decade with his friends “in one of the best sports towns in the world,” Voráček has moved on from the trade and is fully present in his new role in Columbus. He’s even bracing himself for a few chirps from his former teammates, possibly from center Scott Laughton.
Still, Voráček found comfort in the familiar sights and faces upon his return to the Wells Fargo Center. It remains a second home for the former Flyer.
“I’m always gonna remember Philly,” Voráček said. “It’s gonna hold a special place in my heart.”