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Flyers winger Joel Farabee cleared for contact, could play in season opener

Farabee, who underwent disk replacement surgery in his cervical region in June, was initially expected to miss the start of the season.

Joel Farabee, who was expected to miss the start of the season, might be back for opening night after all.
Joel Farabee, who was expected to miss the start of the season, might be back for opening night after all.Read moreAlejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer

As Joel Farabee buzzed around the practice rink on Friday, his teammates prepared to body check him before pulling up short, wary of further injuring the young forward who underwent disk replacement surgery in his cervical region back in June.

“A couple of guys were like, ‘Can I hit you?’” Farabee said. Having been cleared for contact during his appointment Thursday, Farabee can now reply, “Yeah, go for it. I don’t really care.”

» READ MORE: Projecting the Flyers’ opening-night roster after the latest round of cuts

When Farabee, 22, had the surgery on June 24, he became just the third NHL player to do so, joining Vegas Golden Knights star Jack Eichel and Chicago Blackhawks center Tyler Johnson. After getting Eichel’s number from Kevin Hayes, Farabee reached out to him for advice.

“I was a little nervous heading into the process, but, you know, talking to him made me feel a lot better,” Farabee said. “After talking to Jack, I felt really confident in the surgery.”

The estimated recovery time was three to four months. Armed with advice from Eichel, Farabee put his head down and went to work, rolling together his rehab and his offseason training. Through the summer, he stayed by the Flyers training center, where strength and conditioning coaches Dan Warnke and DeRick O’Connell walked him through training. That said, he had no real expectation of making it back in time for training camp.

But when camp rolled around, Farabee was out there on the first day, participating in the 15 straight minutes of conditioning skating. He had returned to the ice in August, and, while he was in worse shape than normal, he still kept up.

“I was a little nervous for skate tests and all that stuff,” Farabee said. “But once you’re out there with the guys, it kind of helps, so it wasn’t too bad at all for me.”

Farabee’s participation slowly increased from non-contact drills to light contact drills. Even before he was cleared Thursday, he started feeling strong enough to initiate some contact of his own, staying after practice to work on drills with his teammates in front of the net.

Initially projected to miss the first few games of the season, Farabee now is a possibility for the season opener. He attributes the strength built in coach John Tortorella’s difficult practices to helping him come back faster.

For a team that’s missing No. 1 center Sean Couturier and first-pair defenseman Ryan Ellis, as well as potentially winger Cam Atkinson, Farabee’s potential return is even more significant.

“I don’t know him that well,” Tortorella said. “But, again, I’ve watched him from afar, and I just watch how he carries himself. I think a little bit of that is he says, ‘I’m just going to get through it.’ And I think he plays hard. I think he just carries himself the right way. Really important guy for us.”

And now that Farabee no longer has to focus on getting back, he can focus on getting better.

“For me, it’s always kind of just been consistency,” Farabee said. “I feel like I’ll have good stretches, and then I’ll kind of go quiet for a while. I think even more this year with the difference in the lineup between last year and this year, I think just trying to be a guy that can be relied on, night in and night out.”

Trimming the edges

When the Flyers took the ice Friday morning, goalie Troy Grosenick and veteran defenseman Kevin Connauton were missing. Partway through practice, the Flyers announced they had placed both players on waivers with the purpose of loaning them to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

There are now three goalies and eight defensemen left in training camp. The top four defensemen are set with the other four competing for the fifth and sixth spots. But the goalie situation for the season opener is far from set, Tortorella said. Starter Carter Hart has been dealing with a lower-body injury, and now Felix Sandström is, too. Samuel Ersson has impressed, but, at 22, he could benefit from having regular playing time in the AHL.

Ersson came into camp with two goals — to prove to himself that he’s healthy enough to play and to make a statement. He said he’s OK with spending some more time in the AHL, especially since he’s still adjusting to the North American game, but having made it to the final three, he’s not letting up.

“It’s obviously fun that they like what they see,” Ersson said. “Trying to not overthink it, just go out there, take it day by day, and just work hard and kind of see where it goes.”

» READ MORE: Flyers roundtable: Analyzing the Cam York decision, the roster battles to watch ahead of opening night

Both Hart and Ersson participated in practice. Sandström participated in a rehab skate.

“We’re gonna give it more time,” Tortorella said. “What the goaltending situation ends up [being] on opening night, I still don’t know.”


The Flyers have the day off Saturday — so Tortorella ran them extra hard, making them do sprints to finish practice. Even the goalies had to participate, and Ersson and Hart shared their own little celebration when they finished. ... Tortorella hasn’t gotten around to checking out any of the other Philly teams, although he said he respects the city’s sports tradition. Farabee, however, was sporting a Phillies hat and said most of the team will gather to watch the game. ... Center Artem Anisimov remains on a professional tryout as he works his way back from a lower-body injury.