A lot can slip between the Cup and the lip.
That could be the video title for a number of seasons that separate now from 1975, the last time the Philadelphia Flyers won a Stanley Cup.
We have been treated and teased by teams that should have won one or two, teams that had no business coming as close as they did, and a maddening number of muddling ones, like the most recent crew, that suffer an in-season meltdown — or two or three — resulting in end-of-the-season regret and recalculation.
Leadership becomes an endless topic of conversation during these times, a topic that new general manager Chuck Fletcher spoke of when he was hired, and has attempted to address during this offseason with the acquisitions of playoff-tested defensemen Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun.
But it’s a discussion that preceded his arrival, and in Ron Hextall’s defense, there are a pair of 20-year-old ``veterans’’ in this Flyers development camp who have spent the two seasons since they were drafted by the former Flyers GM developing not just their on-ice skills but their dressing-room intangibles as well.
Morgan Frost and Isaac Ratcliffe have grown remarkably close since becoming the 27th and 35th overall picks of the 2017 draft, the draft in which the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick second overall.
Patrick was considered NHL-ready back then, but Ratcliffe needed to work on his speed and needed to fill out what was then a spindly 6-foot-6 body. Frost, whom the Flyers liked so much they traded Brayden Schenn to jump ahead of the Blackhawks, needed to improve his defense and pace of play.
There was no talk about leadership back then, and if Ratcliffe shared anything with his little buddy, it was a goofy sense of humor that reflected their young age rather than belied it.
That’s still there. But the gee-whiz kids from two summers ago are gone.
Ratcliffe’s body has filled out, and Frost has grown to within a half-inch of six feet. Frost has the experience of playing for Team Canada in the World Juniors. Ratcliffe has the experience of captaining an amazing and unlikely run by his Guelph Storm team to the Ontario Hockey League championship, rallying from early-round deficits of 3-0 and 3-1.
Both have developed leadership skills through the process, although in Frost’s words, ``Isaac’s more of a natural leader than I am. He was born that way.’’
Ratcliffe this past season won the OHL’s Mickey Renaud Captain’s Trophy, given to the team captain who best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice. As impressively as he played through Guelph’s run to the OHL tital and the semifinals of the Canadian Hockey League’s Memorial Cup — 15 goals and 14 assists in 24 games — it was what he did behind the scenes to keep a reeling team focused on a one-play-at-a-time approach that was uncanny for someone his age.
In the room, he was the calm surgeon, keeping his and others’ emotions in check. On ice, he ignited those emotions. In three years with the Storm, he had three coaches, all with contrasting personalities.
It forged a captain, a 20-year-old so comfortable in his own skin, so mature beyond his years.
``I’ve had a lot of teammates come up to me and say ‘It’s crazy,’ ’’ he said. `` `Off the ice you are so calm, so relaxed. But once you are on it, you are just an animal. We can’t contain you.’
``I have no idea why. It’s the energy. It’s the moment. It’s the guys you’re talking to. It’s really, `What’s the situation?’ It’s a lot how the guys respond in different ways. …There’s a lot of guys that respond to the quiet. I just talk to them real quick, making sure they’re staying confident. Other guys, if you get in their ear, you need to let them know what they did wrong, and what they need to do.’’
After his team fell behind by 3-0 to London in its first series, Ratcliffe held a closed-door, players-only meeting. ``We let everyone talk,’’ he said.
When they fell behind by 2-0 and 3-1 in a later round, he formed smaller groups and discussed lapses and details.
``No one really accepted it was really over in those situations,’’ he said. ``One game at a time, one period at a time, one shift at a time. … I can’t even put into words how well it went.’’
In all, the Storm staved off seven elimination games before finally succumbing, to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, in the semifinals of the Memorial Cup.
``It’s unbelievable to think about it now,’’ Ratcliffe said. ``We’re just so proud of how we did.’’
A cynic would point out that junior hockey and pro hockey are worlds apart. Ratcliffe and Frost are such cynics. Still, it is likely they will, for the first time, be teammates at Lehigh Valley this fall, and it will be interesting to see if the leadership skills each developed in their final junior season continue there.