Flyers coach John Stevens is an opportunist.

So when the NHL handed out the schedule in July and Stevens found an 11-day break - in October, not March - with just one game in between, he knew exactly what to do. Stevens scheduled a team bonding trip for Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The Flyers, who visit the Panthers on Friday night in nearby Sunrise, traveled to Florida last night.

"It's an unusual break that we have," Stevens conceded. "We have to take advantage of it. I think we can really push our conditioning, go over our team play and really spend some time together.

"I know the time we did it in Whistler [British Columbia, in 2007], it was remarkable the effect it had on our team."

Whistler, a ski resort in the Canadian Rockies, is a stark contrast to the heat in Florida. Previously, the Flyers have held team-bonding trips at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

For some of the newcomers, like Ian Laperriere and Chris Pronger, this week will be a time to really get to know their teammates.

"I'm a boring guy, that's what they're going to find out about me," Laperriere said with a grin. "They are a great bunch of guys and I am looking forward to doing other stuff than coming to the rink. It's fun to know the guy you are battling for or blocking a shot for."

Laperriere, 35, is looking forward to getting to know some of the younger players. The Flyers have six players over the age of 30 and nine players under 25.

Playing under former Flyers coach Mike Keenan in St. Louis, Laperriere went on a similar trip to Florida in 1995 after a lockout claimed the first half of the season.

"I was 20 then and I was the youngest," Laperriere said. "Now I am on the other end and I am still looking forward to this trip."

James van Riemsdyk, 20, has played on a few close teams before - living with the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., for 2 years - and knows firsthand the advantages of a team getting along.

"It makes it more fun to come to the rink and easier to work hard," van Riemsdyk said.

Van Riemsdyk hasn't experienced any rookie hazing yet but expects some this week in Florida. Even that brings the team closer, he said.

"I'm sure I'll get a lot of that," van Riemsdyk said. "Hopefully it won't be too bad."

Pronger, who just turned 35, hasn't quite had a trip like this but he has done other team-bonding exercises in his 15-year career, having gone go-karting and to the shooting range.

"It worked pretty well," Pronger said. "It seems to get the guys together in a little different atmosphere and get the guys away from everything."

The Flyers will have a regatta-style sailboat race today and a fishing competition tomorrow.

Laperriere said he hopes they have life vests on board because he "swims like a rock." Pronger, on the other hand, is pretty confident about the competition.

"I'll probably win the fishing," Pronger said. "I don't know about the sailing; I've never done it before."

While the trip figures to be fun - hanging out in 90-degree weather - Stevens reminded the crew at the end of practice yesterday with a hard, 10-minute skate that it wouldn't necessarily be easy. The Flyers will practice every day in Florida.

"This will be a tough week. We've got a good opportunity to spend time together," Stevens said. "But there is lots of work to be done as well."

Van Riemsdyk skates

James van Riemsdyk was back on the ice yesterday after not skating for 6 days because of a head injury suffered last Tuesday against Washington.

Van Riemsdyk's "head trauma" was never officially diagnosed as a concussion.

"It was a good test for me to see where my head is at, and it felt good," he said. "It was my first skate there. If I can get through that one, I can probably get through a lot of them - that was a pretty tough practice."

Betts back early?

Blair Betts could be back in the lineup sooner than expected, he revealed after practice. Betts didn't work with the team yesterday but had a conditioning skate and accompanied the team to Florida.

Betts dislocated his right shoulder, which has been dislocated a few times before and operated on twice during his career, a week ago against Washington. He originally was projected to be out at least 4 weeks.

"I think we are ahead of schedule," he said.

He will practice with the team this week in non-contact drills and hopes to be ready for next Thursday's game against Boston.

"It's possible," Betts said. "That's kind of what we're gunning for right now. We'll see how it feels over the next week."

Oh, shootout

John Stevens said he may be "overthinking'' his choice of participants in shootouts. Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and Danny Briere were all stopped in Saturday's shootout by Anaheim's Jonas Hiller. It was their first shootout of the season. They were 10-11 in overtime/shootouts last season.

"I've put a lot of thought into it," Stevens said. "For whatever reason, the success numbers aren't there."

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at http://go.philly.com/frequentflyers.