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How Wayne Simmonds affected the Flyers | Marcus Hayes

Fiery, sensitive, combative, caring: The soul of the franchise, remembered

Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, February 11, 2019 in Philadelphia.
Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, February 11, 2019 in Philadelphia.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

It seemed difficult for many Flyers to verbalize their appreciation for Wayne Simmonds, who was traded at the deadline Monday to Nashville. So, we asked several of them to give us a Wayne Train story.

They delivered.

His longtime roommate surely has enough material to write an entertaining book, but Jake Voracek wouldn’t dish the juiciest dirt. He did reveal that the Flyers’ cornerstones -- Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and himself -- have often bickered, as brothers will do:

You’ve got to realize, we were roommates for three years, so I have a couple stories that I can’t really tell. You know, though, we were in each other’s face a lot. I don’t think anyone would really expect that. Two or three times a year we absolutely went at it. We almost got in a fight. On the bench, or in the locker room. Same [stuff]. Hockey stuff. The advantage of that -- the mentality we have, with me, Simmer, G, Coots have -- is that even when you go at it, you come together two minutes later and talk about the play, like nothing happened. Because there’s a lot of emotions. We always took the positive out of it. We were hard on each other, in a good way.

We never grabbed each other. I’m crazy when I get mad, he’s crazy when he gets mad, so it would probably get ugly. I would probably end up losing. He knew I was strong, and I knew he had a long reach. We never took a swing at each other. When [stuff] hits the fan, we’re hard on each other. But in a good way.

Voracek, Brayden Schenn, and Simmonds arrived in Philadelphia together via trades in 2011, centerpieces of the franchise’s reconstruction. Paul Holmgren, now the team’s president, was then the general manager. Simmonds was considered the least significant piece. As it turned out, he was invaluable. He averaged 26.7 goals in his first seven seasons and was an All-Star in 2016-17, when, said Holmgren, he showed the world he could do it all:

Wayne Simmonds is noted for his fearlessness, his toughness; the determination and grit he brings to a lineup. But the one thing that stands out in my mind was Wayne was selected to play in the All-Star game in Los Angeles a couple of years ago. He had the opportunity to show he was also a skilled player. I believe he scored three goals and won the MVP. I think that was a real moment for Wayne: Where he could -- amongst other stars in the league -- show that he’s not bad in his own right.

More than anyone else, Simmonds counseled high-profile prospects. Young defensemen Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim both said Simmonds told them to not let mistakes linger in their minds. Provorov and Couturier said Simmonds encouraged them, as players with hearty work ethics and prominent roles, to be more assertive leaders. Simmonds also told Provorov to make sure he didn’t return too quickly from the shoulder injury he suffered in the 2018 playoffs. Simmonds, who battled through injuries as well as any Flyer, understood that playing hurt and playing injured were two very different things; even for Giroux, whose safety and health -- both physical and mental -- Simmonds undertook to ensure:

Multiple times he made me feel safe on the ice, but there was more. Like, when I had my really bad season three years ago [when Giroux’s production was diminished by offseason surgery], Wayne was one guy who really supported me. He would come and make sure I was OK. That’s just the kind of teammate he is.

Of course, the Wayne Train often brought the pain. Sometimes the entertainment value of his exploits were unintended, as was the case on New Year’s Day 2017, when he startled Flyers rookie Travis Konecny with an impromptu strip tease in Anaheim, perhaps Simmonds’ most famous incident:

What first comes to mind is how he always had everyone’s back on the ice. My favorite story from Simmy is when all his gear came off, in Anaheim I think it was. My first year. He got in a fight with Kevin Bieksa. HIs shoulder pads came off. His T-shirt came off. And he was standing on the ice with nothing on. That was pretty funny.

Simmonds had a hard-nosed persona long before disrobing in southern California. His second game as a Flyer, on Oct. 8, 2011 in New Jersey, established him as a tough-guy force with his new team and left rookie Couturier in awe:

But when he first got here, everyone knew he was tough, but not that tough. His first fight was with David Clarkson. He just beat the crap out of him. Clarkson was pretty tough, but Wayne beat him up pretty bad. Made a name for himself. Next thing you know, he was considered one of the toughest guys in the league.

However rugged Simmonds is on the ice, he is equally nurturing when the skates come off. Whether he’s welcoming a new player or making it easier for a fledgling broadcaster, Simmonds is sensitive to the challenges of the people around him.

Radko Gudas, who went undrafted in 2009, was a 19-year-old invitee to Kings camp that year fresh out of the Czech Republic. Gudas didn’t make the team, but Simmonds, a second-year player and just 21 himself, paid Gudas attention nonetheless. Simmonds did the same six years later, when Gudas arrived in Philadelphia via trade.

My first year in America, I got invited to LA camp. I didn’t really speak English at the time, and I was really shy. There was one guy who made me feel comfortable being there. I didn’t know many people, but there was this one guy who would always stand up and shake my hand; give me a high-five; give me a little feeling of belonging. It was Wayne. I went on my path and he went on his. I got traded here, and him and Jake were the first guys to welcome me. It was like we never missed a beat.

Gudas got to know Simmonds so well he can order his pregame meal:

Penne pasta with chicken in it. A house salad with prosciutto -- no cheese. And on the road, we enjoy a pretty nice slice of meat. A steak. Maybe a steak for two.

In 2013, Simmonds treated Michael Raffl the same way, making the transition easier for the 24-year-old Austrian rookie, who had played in Sweden the previous two seasons:

I’d just got here. You don’t know anyone. He was the first guy to come up and have a good chat with. A month later, at the rookie party, he was the guy who showed me around a little bit. It was one of the nicest things anyone has done for me. It’s not easy coming in, you know? I was kind of shy, and with the big boys all of a sudden. Simmer was easygoing from the get-go. I loved that about him. I try to take things from certain guys and apply them to myself. I took that from him, for sure.

And no, you didn’t have to be wearing the orange and black to warrant Simmonds’ kindness, as Flyers broadcaster and analyst Chris Therien can attest:

I’d been doing radio for a couple of years when Wayne was traded here. But he understood I wasn’t trained. I was a former player, I had been a good guy in the room, but it’s different; it’s hard to ask questions and stuff. For that I’ve always been grateful to Wayne. And any time there was a bad game, something something went on, I could always go to Wayne. To say what it was. To get the truth. With integrity.