Samuel Morin’s stall at the Flyers' practice facility sits next to a Ghost’s. Seems appropriate. Every time Morin has been scheduled to appear in a Flyers uniform, something happens and he disappears.
He was on the team when it broke camp two Septembers ago. Then he wasn’t, sidelined by a cranky hip and groin. Before that, it was a bad hand he played through, but as the AHL playoffs rolled around last spring, Morin had put that all behind him and appeared a cinch to finally use that 6-foot-7 defensive-end body of his to clear some space in front of the Flyers' oft-overcrowded crease when this season rolled around.
Perhaps you heard: There was this five-overtime Phantoms playoff game against the Charlotte Checkers back on May 9, the one in which Alex Lyon made 94 saves. Morin missed the last seven periods of it, though, when his right knee went one way and his body went the other.
ACL tear. Surgery. Eight to 10 months.
Now you see him.
Now you don’t.
``Obviously, last year was really frustrating for me,’’ Morin was saying the other day as he sat alongside Shayne Gostisbehere’s stall. A first-round pick by the Flyers in 2013, Morin played a pair of late-November games last season before going on the shelf again. ``And obviously this year, I’ve missed all year so far.
"I remember when they told me, Day 1, that I had an ACL tear, I was not ready to go through it. You just have to stay positive mentally, and that’s something that’s tough. Every little step. You move forward a little and then nothing, or you feel like you’re going backwards. Little by little by little.
``It’s a process. I mean, you have to be pretty strong mentally. That’s for sure.’’
If that sounds familiar, it should. In early November of what would have been his first full season as a pro, Gostisbehere — ``Ghost’’ — suffered an ACL tear playing with the Phantoms, too.
He, too, had to disappear for a while.
The two injuries are not identical, said Gostisbehere, who was 21 years old when his occurred in 2014. Morin is 23 now, but his troubles began about the same age. What’s identical, or at least similar, is the experience of returning from it. Surgery, a lengthy recovery and rehab, long hours of building and rebuilding muscle — and of isolation from friends, family, the game itself.
``You stay all summer here when everybody else is at home,’’ Morin said. ``It’s tough. But you know what? I did it. And I think the toughest part is done. I did it, I’m proud of me, and I just have to keep going.’’
``The best thing to do is just be around people,’’ Gostisbehere said. ``Don’t isolate yourself. I think that’s the biggest thing. Sammy’s got a good supporting cast around him. And he’s used it.’’
Morin’s affable nature, a contrast to a more ferocious approach on the ice, enables that. He has stayed close, attended most home games, sat through meetings, maintained a presence in the dressing room.
Just recently, he has begun to skate with the team in practice.
``Now that I am finally back on the ice, I am really excited,’’ Morin said. ``But I still have a lot of work to do to get my game back to where it was.’’
The good news about that is the bad news that has been this season. Even with their recent modest win streak (three games), even with the undeniable change in team mettle with the arrival of goalie Carter Hart and interim coach Scott Gordon, the Flyers will likely be in full next-year mode by the time Morin is game-ready.
They can afford to give him the work to get his game back to where it was. Going forward, they can’t afford not to. When and if healthy, Morin gives them a greatly needed physicality on the back end. Like Boston’s 6-9 captain, Zdeno Chara, he can provide great views for Hart in front of that net.
First, though, he’s got to reappear. With confidence intact.
``I think I feel pretty good with moving my feet and stuff," Morin said. "You have a little pain. It’s normal, but for sure it sucks. And when I first felt it, I was scared and stuff. I mean, I played through pain most of my first two years as a pro. I can play through pain — that’s for sure. The scary part is that you don’t want to go backwards ...’’
… And disappear again. It’s the final stage of rehab, said Ghost, that belief that the injury is fully healed and that you are yourself again.
``It probably takes a full year for it to heal and to feel normal again,’’ Gostisbehere said. ``I keep telling him, stick with it. It will feel normal again, so don’t worry about it.’’
``I know I’m going to come back and there’s going to be mistakes,’’ Morin said. ``You’re going to get criticized. And people are going to say for a while, `He never fully came back. He’s not the player he was.' But I really believe in myself. And I think that I can be that player and that I will.’’