Tales from the Press Box: How the Flyers conquered the Blackhawks part 2

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If you missed part one of this mini-series, don’t panic!

The dreaded iPhone alarm pierced through the early morning Sky at around 7AM. I’d only been asleep for a few hours, but I knew I had to wake up early to make the most of today. The Flyers and Blackhawks would both be practicing at The 02 Arena, with locker room availability immediately following. Before I left, I was finally able to soak in the apartment’s view.

I can almost feel the easy breeze just gently brushing past me when taking this. It’s such a peaceful view but like I mentioned in part 1, it represents a part of Prague almost lost in time.

I spent an hour or so just going over my notes while drinking a very strong coffee. There were so many butterflies at this point. I booked an Uber to the Arena and all of a sudden, it began to sink in.

The car journey was long and the Driver understandably didn’t speak much English, so I was left to ponder. I knew that the time difference would work in my favor. I could have a whole day of content planned and written by lunchtime. Shoutout to Clocks and stuff.

My first obstacle was obtaining the press pass. That’s the thing with big arenas – they’re big. I got sent to a small shed-like building where I presented some ID and said ‘Philly Sports Network’ with my chest.

The pass is still hanging on my bedroom door to this day. It was a very surreal moment and one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

I went through security checks and entered an elevator to go down to the Media section. It was filled with journalists and photographers (shocking I know). I eagerly awaited the first practice but was in for a really pleasant surprise.

Little did I know that it was actually open to the public as well. I headed up to the Press Box expecting to soak up the sounds of pucks slamming against the glass that echoed throughout the arena. I was instead greeted by an arena half-filled. I’ve seen Soccer games with smaller crowds. As soon as the Flyers skated onto the Ice, the reasoning for being there became very clear.

Jake Voracek.

The roar when their National hero hit the Ice would send chills down anyone’s spine. And this was a PRACTICE. We’re not even talking about the game.

The biggest takeaway on-ice, however, was just how comfortable a certain young goalie appeared. This may sound obvious, but Carter Hart looked good. Like really, really good. After a breakout campaign in 2018, Hart looks set to build on that foundation and allowed minimal damage in today’s action.

What was most impressive was on a fastbreak drill, he allowed just one goal in what felt like forever. Shorthanded drills were no bother and Hart was keeping just about everything in front of him with the exception of a couple of second-chance efforts.

When practice ended and we headed down to the locker room, I knew the first person I was going to try and talk to. After another elevator trip and a brief wait, the media were allowed free-reign.

The room itself smelt damp. Believe it or not Liam, they’re playing a sport on Ice and getting rather sweaty.

While a large crowd circled Jake Voracek, I decided to use the opportunity to grab a few words with Carter Hart.

‘You’ve got the hair’, Carter Hart told me, smiling while slicking his own back jokingly. A lot of people said we looked similar and I was finally able to get the world the answer they were searching for. It wasn’t quite a Joe Burrow-level doppelganger, but hey.

Hart surged into the record books as the first in Flyers history to win six games before the age of 21. It’s that very rollercoaster that had him raring to go in Prague.

“Going through all those experiences helped me transition last year.” He explained. “Tomorrow night is just a regular-season game, it doesn’t matter if it’s here, Philly, or Chicago. It’s back on NHL Ice. There’s a lot of hype around the global series but we have to prepare the same way.”

“I think this offseason I wanted to add a bit of muscle.” He explained. “But this season, the biggest thing is to take care of my body. One thing I learned is that there’s a quick turnaround. We play almost every second night. I have to take care of my body off the ice just as much as I do on the ice”

The other man I was really intrigued to hear from was Kevin Hayes. After spending five years as a New York Ranger for, he was traded to the Jets in 2018, where he’d rally to 19 goals and 35 assists in 71 games. But then he had to move…again.

Hayes, who has 229 points in 381 career NHL games, chose Philadelphia. He signed a seven-year deal worth $50M, reuniting with former Rangers Head Coach Alain Vigneault in the process. Just a few short months later, he’s been asked to wear the ‘A’.

“With the contract I’ve signed, I’ll be here for a while, so I want to be a leader on this team, both vocally and how I play on the Ice.” Hayes told me after practice on Thursday. “I’ve never had that in my career and now I do. I’m excited for it.”

Hayes took longer than any player I spoke to throughout the week to have a conversation. By the post-game chat, there was a friendly smile, almost accepting that I was going to come and annoy him one last time. I’ll never forget that.

The first day of practice was exhilarating. Being able to step foot in the locker room and be the one asking the questions as opposed to just relying on transcripts changed the game for me. The adrenaline shots were like a Drug. Knowing that this was everything you’d worked so hard to achieve.

The best part was, this was still just the beginning.

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