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Different paths led Flyers' Read, Couturier to same destination

OTTAWA - One is the son of a military man and someone who lived all over North America during his formative years.

Flyers rookie Matt Read finished second in the NHL All-Star accuracy contest on Saturday. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)
Flyers rookie Matt Read finished second in the NHL All-Star accuracy contest on Saturday. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)Read more

OTTAWA - One is the son of a military man and someone who lived all over North America during his formative years.

The other is the son of a former NHL player and someone who was a certified rink rat - always trailing after his dad - as a youngster.

But the different career paths of speedy winger Matt Read - he's the son of the military lifer - and unflappable center Sean Couturier intersected with the Flyers this season and took them to Ottawa this weekend, where they were recognized as two of the NHL's elite rookies.

Both participated in the league's all-star skill competition Saturday night, and both are soaking in their rapid rise.

"Last year, I watched on TV," said Couturier, 19, at the all-star media day on Friday, "so it's pretty cool just to be around all these guys."

"I talked to my college coach the other day for the first time in a long time," said the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Read, 25, a graduate of tiny Bemidji (Minn.) State, who leads NHL rookies with 15 goals, "and he goes, 'Eight months ago, you were still playing hockey for me and now you're going to the All-Star Game!' And I was, like, 'Holy cow, it's true.'

"It's been a whirlwind."

While Couturier and Read aren't playing in Sunday's All-Star Game, they have made a major impact in the Flyers' success. Both are contenders for the Calder Trophy, given to the league's best rookie.

The Flyers have never had a player win the award.

'Canadian kid'

Read lived in Calgary until he was 4, and then moved to Vancouver Island, where he first played hockey. Six years later, he moved to Colorado Springs, where he lived until he was 14, which is when the family headed to Ilderton, just outside London, Ontario. That's where he lived until he started playing juniors, "and I was kind of living on my own."

All the moving may have been unsettling to some. Read, however, said it enabled him to "develop character as a personality trait. I guess I'm a quiet guy because I never had the same friends growing up, but I like being the listener and trying to learn as much as I can about people."

Hockey-wise, the moving helped him learn how to persevere.

"I would have to start from scratch," he said about playing for youth teams in various locations. "It was kind of like that for me this summer - I started from scratch and got the opportunity to try out. You've got to make the best of those opportunities."

His father, Lorne Read, is a chief administrative officer for the Canadian army and is now stationed in London, Ontario. Lorne Read recalled that when he and his family moved to Colorado, Matt, then 10, "right away became known as 'the Canadian Kid' because people recognized his talent."

But when Matt Read moved back to Canada at age 14, "he was on the smaller side and had no chance to make the top bantam teams," Lorne Read said. "He had to start at a lower level. I'd think, 'Oh, what a mistake it was to [move] all over the place because no one knows him.' He had to prove it on his own and had to go to a very low level here and work his way up.

"The biggest factor was his size. When he was playing peewee hockey at 12 and 13, being smaller didn't hurt him. He could skate and he was a top player."

One of his teammates during his early years in Colorado Springs was Ben Holmstrom, who has played some games with the Flyers this season. Holmstrom's dad, Kevin, coached the team.

"They won a state championship together," said Lorne Read, who did administrative work for Canadian military personnel in the United States while he was in Colorado.

Many rinks

Sean Couturier, who is also a quiet sort, was a long shot to make the team in training camp. He has scored 10 goals and has been one of the Flyers' top penalty killers. Couturier is tied for the NHL rookie lead with a plus-13 rating.

The 6-3, 191-pound center has followed his dad, Sylvain, to the NHL. Sylvain Couturier played three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings from 1988-89 to 1991-92 and totaled four goals in 33 games. His career also included stops in the AHL, IHL and Germany. He has also been a coach and general manager in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

"Sean's been around the game his whole life," Sylvain Couturier said before the Flyers' recent fathers-sons trip. "Hopefully, that helped him out, but I didn't make the sacrifice. At 14, he went to Notre Dame [a vaunted Midget AAA program in Saskatchewan], which was quite an experience for a young guy. But that's what he wanted to do, so all the credit goes to him."

The younger Couturier, selected with the first-round pick (eighth overall) the Flyers acquired in last June's trade that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus, has also been at the many rinks where his dad played.

"When he played in Germany or in Milwaukee or wherever, I'd follow him around the rink and go in the locker rooms after games and after practices," Sean Couturier said. "All my life, really, and it's been great."

Perhaps because he has been around the game for so long, Couturier plays with a poise beyond his years.

"At a young age, when you're around pro guys, you try to be like them," he said. "As I got older, I think maybe it helped me mature a little faster."

Sylvain Couturier, who is in Ottawa for the weekend events, said his son is already a better player than he was with the Kings.

"I was probably the worst skater who ever played," he said, smiling. "I think protecting the puck was one of my strengths. I look at Sean and he'll get bigger and strong and play at 210 or 215, and that's probably his biggest quality - puck possession."

Rave reviews

Read, signed as an undrafted free agent (a three-year, one-way deal for $2.7 million) after an outstanding college career, is one of the league's fastest players and the owner of an uncannily accurate shot.

In a phone interview, Lorne Read said he and his wife kind of expected their son to excel in the NHL.

"He's always been a pretty incredible athlete his whole life - and in all sports," he said.

In addition to hockey, Matt Read was dominant in lacrosse, baseball, football, and golf (he's broken par) as a youngster, his father said.

"Being a small guy held him back a bit when he was 16 or 17, because hockey is a big man's sport," the elder Read said. "But in a way, playing against bigger kids didn't hurt him; he learned how to play against them."

Because of a bad back, Lorne Read could not make the trip to be at the all-star festivities in Ottawa, but his wife, Nancy, is here.

Lorne Read sounded more proud of his son for his thoughtfulness than the fact he leads NHL rookies in goals.

"He calls us after every game," he said. "That's pretty good. I think maybe he knows how good that makes us feel."