WHEN FLYERS general manager Paul Holmgren phoned Peter Laviolette on Dec. 4 to inquire about his team's soon-to-be-vacant head coaching position, Laviolette had just one request.

He wanted to come as a package.

Laviolette asked to bring longtime assistant coach and confidant Kevin McCarthy with him.

"He is that guy that you know and trust," Laviolette said. "When you have someone like that, it makes for an easy transition."

While that meant releasing Jack McIlhargey from his post as the Flyers' defensive coach, McCarthy's name was probably all Holmgren needed to hear.

McCarthy, 52, knows Holmgren and the Flyers well. He was the team's first draft choice in 1977, and made his NHL debut during the 1977-78 season, skating on a defensive pair with Joe Watson, and Holmgren was a teammate.

That wouldn't be the only time they would cross paths: Holmgren hired McCarthy to be one of his assistant coaches when he ran the Hartford Whalers from 1992-96.

"We've known each other since my first year of pro hockey," McCarthy said. "It's kind of gone the whole cycle. Now I'm back here 32 years later, it's pretty unbelievable."

The unbelievable thing is that Laviolette didn't know McCarthy before being hired by Carolina in the middle of the 2004 season. McCarthy was already in place as an assistant coach when he joined the team. Long after Holmgren was fired in Hartford, McCarthy moved with the franchise to Raleigh, N.C.

"[Carolina GM] Jim Rutherford asked me to take a look at the two coaches he had," said Laviolette, who will face Carolina for the first time tonight. "At the end of the year, I could've made my own move. [McCarthy] proved very valuable. Even though we didn't make the playoffs that year, we played like we couldn't be beat in the last 20 games. At that point, I told him that I wanted to keep both coaches on. He's a grounded individual that's very smart about life and very smart about hockey."

McCarthy, on top of his 537 games of NHL experience, has been the head coach of three AHL teams and an NHL assistant for 12 years.

The move has been a flashback for Chris Pronger, who was an 18-year-old rookie on that 1993-94 Hartford team under McCarthy and Holmgren. Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese was the Whalers' netminder.

"He was with me at the beginning of my career and now he's with me toward the end of it," Pronger said. "He was great to me when I was young. Part of this game is about being familiar with people. He has the experience of playing in Philly and the city's mentality and sports culture. He can understand and sympathize with young players and the trials and tribulations as your career escalates."

McCarthy remained in Carolina until earlier this month, when Laviolette's phone call brought him back here in the blink of an eye. The two have temporarily been living out of a hotel in Voorhees, N.J., near the Flyers' practice facility.

"It all happened pretty quick," McCarthy said. "I wasn't really ready for it. When Lavvy got let go in Carolina, my role changed. I moved up to the press box [as an associate head coach]. I told Peter that summer that if anything came along, I would love to have the opportunity to work with him again. It wasn't an opportunity I could turn down."

Since arriving, McCarthy said he is "fortunate" to work with such a talented group. Discounting his first game (an 8-2 blowout), the Flyers have allowed 2.9 goals per game under McCarthy, a manageable number in today's NHL.

"It has been a pleasant surprise watching guys like [Ryan] Parent and [Oskars] Bartulis," McCarthy said. "When you come from the outside, you don't get a chance to see guys like that on a regular basis. We've got six quality defenseman, which is hard to find in the NHL these days."

Laviolette said McCarthy has "seamlessly" slid into place with the rest of the coaching staff, Craig Berube, Joe Mullen and Reese. He is confident that McCarthy can help bring the Flyers to the summit they have already climbed together.

"Paul was good enough to let me bring someone in that I had a trust level and a comfort with," Laviolette said. "It's been great with the other coaches. It's been a good fit in here. We haven't had the success out there [on the ice] yet, but I feel good about the coaches in here."

"Winning the cup together in 2006, we also went through some tough times together," McCarthy said. "When you go through tough times and good times together, you build a friendship and a bond that is hard to break."

Slap shots

Goaltender Brian Boucher expects to be ready to play tonight in Carolina. Boucher sliced open his right ring finger when making a save on Monday against Florida. Michael Leighton, who would start if Boucher is unavailable, made 31 saves in Tampa Bay on Wednesday . . . The Flyers have outscored Carolina, 8-1, in their two games this season. They have won four straight overall against the Hurricanes . . . Carolina has lost three in a row.

For more news and analysis, read Frank Seravalli's blog, Frequent Flyers, at