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Flyers in running to sign Union College center Mike Vecchione

PITTSBURGH — Mike Vecchione, the speedy Union center regarded as one of the nation's top collegiate players, said Sunday he is close to signing a free-agent contract with an NHL team.

The Flyers are strong contenders.

Vecchione, the highest scorer in Union College history, plans to sign with a team this week after lengthy conversations with his parents and his agent, Mark Toof.

He is free to sign since Union's season ended Saturday with a 10-3 loss to Penn State in the NCAA tournament in Cincinnati. General manager Ron Hextall and assistant GM Chris Pryor, the Flyers' player personnel director, were at the game, but Vecchione did not talk with them.

In a telephone interview Sunday, Vecchione said he has been getting "lots of tweets from Flyers fans, asking me to sign there and saying they could use the help. It's pretty funny to see."

Vecchione, 24, said his "dream" and "goal" is to play in the NHL  this season.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Vecchione came close to signing with the Flyers last year after attending their development camp, but he decided to head back to Union for his senior season.

"I wanted to finish what I started here," said Vecchione, who scored 29 goals this season. "Get my degree and be loyal to my teammates and the coaching staff and the whole community. It was just something I felt was right for myself. I had a lot of goals left to achieve here. I felt it was good for my development."

Union went 25-10-3. "We brought the program back to where we wanted it — back on a national stage," he said.

As a freshman, Vecchione starred on the Union team that won the NCAA championship. Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was one of his Union teammates, and he is trying to persuade Vecchione to sign with Philadelphia.

"We're very close and I would love to play with Shayne again," said Vecchione who recently graduated with a 3.4 grade point average and a history degree. "But like he said, I'm going to make the decision that's best for me. If I have an opportunity to play there, I'm definitely going to consider it. It's just a matter of finding the best fit for me and when I'll be able to play and what teams need a center."

The Flyers have centers Claude Giroux, Valtteri Filppula, Sean Couturier, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare signed for next year. Bellemare could move to wing, and Filppula has just one more season on his contract.

"I'll be talking to Ghost pretty soon," Vecchione said. "I'll get his feel for everything and see what he has to say."

A Massachusetts native, Vecchione has visited four NHL development camps, including the Flyers and hometown Boston Bruins. He said there was no favorite.

"I just want to play hockey on the NHL level," he said.

He said the Flyers have great fans. "If it comes down to it and we work things out, I'd be happy to be a Flyer," he said. "We'll see what happens in the next couple of days."

Vecchione is a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award given to the nation's top collegiate player.

"I can't even say he has had a tremendous career, because it has been beyond tremendous," Union coach Rick Bennett told reporters Saturday after the loss in the Midwest Regional. " … He was always a team-first guy."


Michael Del Zotto returned to the lineup Sunday in Pittsburgh, replacing Nick Schultz. … The Flyers took just an 8-13-2 record against Metropolitan Division opponents into the game. They are a combined 26-19-6 against the other three divisions.