WATCHING THE Phillies channel adversity, reading of their remarkable resilience, Peter Laviolette longs for shorter days and colder nights.
"The summer," he said yesterday after running a session of the Flyers ice hockey camp at Skate Zone, "seems long enough."
Laviolette was leaning on a stick, looking very much the same as he did the last time he took this ice as a coach, before the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup with their sixth-game overtime victory at the now-renamed Wachovia Center. The difference, of course, was that instead of bruised and banged-up adult warriors surrounding him, the ice consisted of preteens, two of which received the whole of the coach's ire.
"I'm trying to run a practice and they come over to me and say, 'Dad,' " the coach said with a grin. "And I'm like, 'Where do you come off coming up to the coach? Get away from me. I'm trying to run a practice. Bug off.' "
Peter Laviolette, 12, and Jack, 11, moved to Voorhees a little over a month ago with their mother, Kristen, and sister, Elizabeth Rose, ending a 7 1/2-month separation that the coach admits, "Was hard on us. Especially on my wife."
Officially, the Flyers begin training camp on Sept. 17. Already, though, players have trickled in and out of their training facility. Already, Laviolette speaks proudly of a work ethic he believes is a carry-over from their near-miss and near-miracle run at a Stanley Cup.
The Flyers were among the league's bottom feeders when Laviolette took over last Dec. 4. Facing eight games in his first 13 days as coach, he took over a dressing room tortured by injuries and alleged internal strife. He worked the players hard, reorganized what they were doing on ice, and instituted a playoff mentality necessitated by their immediate need to win games.
Still, they were just 28-24-5 under his guidance, and when they survived the Rangers in a final-game shootout to claim a playoff spot, it seemed more an unlikely finish than an unlikely start.
Then came the upset of second-seeded New Jersey and the miracle comeback from three games down - and three goals down in Game 7 - against Boston. The unanticipated departures of Pittsburgh and Washington even gave them home ice for the conference championship, allowing them to win three games in their five-game elimination of Montreal on home ice.
Through four rounds of playoffs, the Flyers lost just twice at home - once to Boston, and that final overtime loss in Game 6 of the finals to Chicago that ended their implausible pursuit of the Cup.
Through those exhaustive stretch games, into those tension-filled playoff games, Laviolette got a quick education about our civic rabidity.
"I really thought it was awesome to have the fans behind us like that," he said. "It was really fun to be a part of it."
The Phillies' surge into the wild-card lead brings it all back. Unsolicited, manager Charlie Manuel mentioned the other night how there is ballpark buzz surrounding every pitch these days, keeping his team on its toes, believing it can rally from early holes, delivering two-out, run-scoring hits after struggling to do so for much of the season.
"From the hard times that we went through, we built the team to where we were almost invincible to adversity," Laviolette said. "The amount of times that things were on the line and the fans seemed to get behind that, really get behind that. You could feel it. At least I could. You go through situations and you learn a lot about your team, and I think what we learned is that we're OK with that.
"Not that we wanted to be put in those situations. This year I want a better path.''
Notice, he didn't say easy. Just better. The team added depth on the blue line to help Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, said goodbye to an expensive, oft-injured star in Simon Gagne, and replaced him with a cheaper suspect star in Nikolai Zherdev. Citing no upgrade in goaltending, the Hockey News ranked them fourth in the Eastern Conference behind Washington, Pittsburgh and New Jersey.
No residuals for their run. Not even a little love for what they overcame. The coach likes it like that.
"I've learned, I've learned," Laviolette said. "You can forget about last year. This group, whatever steps out on that ice, whatever steps into that locker room, they've got to figure out how to come together on the ice. It's a huge part of winning.
"Now when you get a guy like Pronger, or Mike Richards, there's a carryover to that next year because they've done it their whole career. But we have three players out, five players in. Really, it starts in training camp, starts in the beginning of the season. You go through your ups and downs. You grow and grow."
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