Driving back to his hometown of Ottawa with his wife on Wednesday, as the Flyers are enjoying an unprecedented, 8-day holiday break, Sean O'Donnell and his wife had at least 7 hours to reflect on how different his life has been since he signed with the team on July 1.
It's not quite as different as the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" moving from West Philadelphia to the swanky Los Angeles suburb, but it's close.
O'Donnell and his wife, Laura, moved the 2,800 miles from Los Angeles to Philadelphia, went from the Western Conference with the Kings to the Eastern Conference with the Flyers, and most importantly from a work-in-progress to a bona fide Cup contender.
"It's been a great fit," O'Donnell said. "My wife and I were just saying, there are a lot of things that we miss, like our friends, the weather and things like that. But for a pure hockey decision, I know that I'm getting towards the end of my career. Whether this is my last year or if I have one after that, or who knows, I wanted one shot at another Stanley Cup."
Through 35 games, which does not make a season, it looks as if O'Donnell made the right choice. By signing a 1-year deal worth $1 million with easy-to-reach performance bonuses worth $300,000, O'Donnell has bolstered the Flyers' blue line to make it one of the deepest in the league.
"I won a Cup with Anaheim in 2007, and I have played on some deep teams," O'Donnell said, "But this is easily the deepest team I've ever been on."
O'Donnell, 39, entered last night's action tied for fourth in the NHL in plus/minus with a plus-16 rating. He has spent most of the season with the league's second-best plus/minus, behind only defense partner Andrej Meszaros.
Now, with Chris Pronger, who first convinced O'Donnell last summer to try Philadelphia, on the shelf for the next 4 to 6 weeks, O'Donnell will continue to be a steadying influence on the Flyers' third defense pairing with Oskars Bartulis.
His statistics and style of play are not mind-blowing. Although O'Donnell is the NHL's active leader in career penalty minutes with 1,731, he is not a game-changing hitter, does not have a cannon from the point and will not score many goals. But with seven assists and 42 blocked shots, O'Donnell has been everything coach Peter Laviolette could ask from his sixth defenseman: a limited liability leader who can move the puck and is rarely noticed on the ice.
Before signing up for his 17th season of service in the NHL, O'Donnell read about the Flyers' well-chronicled bouts with inconsistency and supposed strife in the locker room last season.
Like Jody Shelley, another newcomer, O'Donnell hasn't seen any hint of that this season.
"I think what happened here is this team got an amazing taste of success," O'Donnell said. "I think it makes you realize the consistency that it takes to play all season, and it makes you approach your goal differently all year. The core on this team is there. I think this team is being fueled by what they saw last year; they came within two games of putting down a very good Chicago team."
O'Donnell has helped the Flyers knock off nearly every top team in the East: Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington, Montreal, the Rangers. That's why he thinks next week's road swing, through Vancouver, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Detroit, will be the Flyers' biggest measuring stick of the still-young season.
"I feel like we've had some tough games, but I haven't felt like in any game we've been overwhelmed," O'Donnell said. "That comes with pressure and expectations. But we go into every game feeling like we don't need any breaks to win. That's a nice feeling."
It is the same feeling that will keep him warm in Ottawa this weekend with family.