There seemed to be more pace, more intensity Wednesday during the Flyers’ third day of Training Camp II in Voorhees.
The players are slowly getting their rhythm back as they look ahead to a July 28 exhibition game and then the restart of the season Aug. 2 in the round-robin tournament. The playoffs begin Aug. 11.
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Alain Vigneault, named a coach-of-the-year finalist Wednesday, said he likes the leadership and focus his veteran players have shown since camp started Monday.
“If you look into their eyes, they want to be here. They want to put in the work. They want to get ready,” he said after Wednesday’s sessions ended. “They’re really looking forward to this challenge and this opportunity. I like the spirits. I like the mood and I like our guys right now.”
The camp, which will include intrasquad games Saturday morning, will run until July 26, when the team heads to the “bubble” in Toronto. Two days later, the Flyers will face the Penguins in their only exhibition game before the seeding tournament starts with a matchup against powerful Boston.
“Everything is kind of accelerated with a shorter camp and then meaningful games [right away],” veteran defenseman Justin Braun said.
Braun said Vigneault was “pushing” the pace but “not going overboard. We don’t need guys pulling groins and getting hurt. So far, it’s been a good mix of flow drills and battles. Just getting the tempo and speed up. ... I think guys are really dialing in to try to get things back to where it should be.”
The Flyers’ core, which includes Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Sean Couturier, has been together a while, so the team has a strong chemistry, one that got even better because newcomers Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Braun, and Tyler Pitlick have fit in so well.
“This team is really good off the ice,” said left winger Michael Raffl, referring to the players’ relationships, “and even stronger on the ice. We have a great bond. I am not even nervous going into a bubble for two months with these guys. It should be a good time.”
One of the most important ingredients to making a long Stanley Cup run, Hayes said, is a team’s unity.
That favors the Flyers, he believes.
“I think a major key to winning series and winning games is to have the tightest team,” said Hayes, who finished second on the Flyers with 23 goals during the abbreviated season. “You don’t want to be pointing fingers when things go wrong, and I don’t think that happens in this locker room.
“You have older guys who kind of run the locker room and make sure everyone is accountable. I think our best players are our older guys. Then you have young guys like T.K. [Travis Konecny] and Hartsy [Carter Hart]. If you’re a 10-year veteran or a 50-game rookie, everyone is held accountable and you’re allowed to hold each other accountable. I think that’s why everyone is so tight.”
Despite being in his first year with the Flyers, Hayes has galvanized the locker room with his outgoing and sometimes zany personality. The players seem to feed off him.
“Everyone has a good time, on and off the ice,” Hayes said. “We’re always joking around. Rookies don’t feel like rookies. Obviously they’re younger than everyone, but they’re pulling the rope just as much as everyone else. You have your first-line guys doing their job, and you have your fourth-line guys doing their job. That’s what makes teams win, especially going into the playoffs.”
Hayes said the team is still enjoying itself but has been more focused in the first few days of camp.
“I think everyone realizes right from Game 1, we need to be at our best,” he said.
Hayes added it’s “still fun here every day. I make sure of that.” But he added it’s “definitely more serious” now that the playoffs are almost here.
“The coaching staff knows it. Players know it. Management knows it. Everyone behind the scenes knows it. ... You can be as serious as you want to be, but you have to enjoy it along the way.”