How the Flyers used a trip to Europe to overcome a bumpy offseason

Czech Republic Flyers Blackhawks Hockey
Philadelphia Flyers, from left, Tyler Pitlick, James van Riemsdyk, Jakub Voracek and Carter Hart, celebrate after they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 in an NHL Global Series ice hockey game in Prague, Czech Republic, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Ondrej Deml/CTK via AP)

It’s been a wild ride for the Flyers this offseason. There have been plenty of new faces both on and off the Ice and what felt like watching a rebuild on the fast-forward setting has now left the team in a very strong position after a win against Chicago.

But it was never always like that.

Whenever there’s a new Head Coach in Town, there’s naturally some hesitation from both players and fans. The Flyers spent years developing their young talent in the hopes that they’d start filtering through, but that didn’t happen. Many of the top prospects selected by the Flyers in recent years were met by a Head Coach in Alain Vigneault who traditionally favors veteran leadership to carry out his style of play. What would the future hold?

The first major building block was bringing in Kevin Hayes. The 6’5 center signed a seven-year deal worth $50M and would become the engine that the Flyers feed off. He wore the ‘A’ in his Flyers debut and it was easy to see why, with the former Ranger setting the tone through aggressive play and hustle on both sides of the Ice.

Whether it was thanks to Hayes and the vets around this team keeping the younger guys going, or thanks to Vigneault’s intent to keep rotations frequent in order for the top-3 lines to remain accountable and raring as the game comes to a close, the Flyers looked great in a small sample size.

But the secret recipe wasn’t any of that. It was simply a trip to Europe.

THAT game

There’s no better way for a team to bond than when you’re on the Road. There’s no distractions and you only have each other for company. When you partner that with adversity, the real character of the team is revealed. You either get back up, or you stay down.

Alain Vigneault’s Flyers slipped into a 4-0 hole against Lausanne HC of the National League at Vaudoise Arena during the team’s preseason finale in Switzerland. They were able to fight back and erase 3 of those goals, but it wasn’t enough for a win. However, as embarrassing as the start was, the team showed the grit that Vigneault has been dying to implement all offseason.

“Obviously, it wasn’t the result we wanted in preseason.” Said Scott Laughton after the win over Chicago. “But we came together at the right time as a team.

We’ve grown a lot. With new faces, and new coaching staff, we’ve come together quite a bit over the last seven days while on the road and we’ll continue to grow.”

Reality Czech

The Flyers didn’t have long to find their identity either. A trip to Prague was just around the corner, but they had a bonding ace up their sleeve.

Jake Voracek, a national hero of the Czech Republic, was coming home. When he took to the Ice during Thursday’s practice, the reception sent chills down my spine. Thousands of fans attended the open practice and stood to applaud their Icon.

Loved on the ice, Voracek wanted to spread that to his teammates off the ice. He took his team to dinners, to a Soccer game, and to play a round of Golf. All of a sudden, a Flyers team that felt like a group of individuals in hostile territory just days before, was beginning to gel. Voracek played host throughout the entire trip and made sure all of his teammates felt at home. Not one of them failed to mention his hospitality and the adventures they got up to. The Flyers now have a ‘soccer-inspired’ logo on their practice gear. Something Ivan Provorov explained to me before saying how excited he was about this team, a little over 24-hours before the game.

It’s been great so far. There’s a lot of new faces both on the team and coaching the team. Everyone’s been great so far. It’s been fun and everyone’s bought into the changes that we made.”

Then, it was game time. The Flyers had faced adversity and were met with a decision. They either go into game one being embarrassed by a Swiss side, or with a motive of redemption.

The win against the Blackhawks symbolized everything that this offseason has meant for the Flyers. A few early bumps were overwritten by smart, strategic passing, disciplined play, aggressive forechecking, and efficient play on special teams.

The Flyers came together at the right time because they had to. If they didn’t trust in one another, the team would fall apart. But every player spoke of how the transition has been positive. How ‘Jakey’ has played host the entire trip, treating his teammates and showing them the rich culture Prague has to offer. How Carter Hart has left them all stunned.

If it wasn’t for an adverse preseason loss or even a trip to Voracek’s home nation, we may have experienced a very different Flyers team on Friday. Instead, we’re seeing the first iteration of Alain Vigneault’s Flyers…and that in itself is exhilarating for the players and the fans.

Mandatory Photo Credit: Ondrej Deml/CTK via AP