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A playoff run years in the making

Wednesday, 05.26.2010 / 10:27 AM / Ice Age

By Phil Coffey - NHL.com Sr. Editorial Director

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A playoff run years in the making
Some important parts of both the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks came together during a Philadelphia-Chicago AHL series in 2005.
One learns things in the strangest of places. In this case, it was an elevator at the Wachovia Center in the spring of 2005 after another series between Philadelphia and Chicago in hockey. What did we learn about? Player development.
 
The Philadelphia Phantoms had just defeated the Chicago Wolves to win the Calder Cup and NHL.com colleague John McGourty and I were talking with the Flyers' Bob Clarke, who had put together the Phantoms' roster.
 
Remember, this was during the work stoppage, so seeing how prospects were developing was especially important. I remember asking Clarke how many Phantoms he could envision with the Flyers in the NHL the next season. Clarke's reply?
 
"Seven or eight."
 
In actuality, Clarke was off just a bit. A full dozen players from that Phantoms team went on to play significant chunks of NHL games. In fact, four will be in the 2010 Stanley Cup Final as the Flyers meet the Chicago Blackhawks starting Saturday at the United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
 
Not all remained with the Flyers to be sure, but all gained some valuable experience during that season with the Phantoms and became assets the Flyers used to make other trades.
 
Here is a look at the 12 players who were instrumental in the Phantoms' victory and went on to NHL careers.
 
Jeff Carter -- The Flyers' top pick in 2003, No. 11, Carter led the Flyers with 33 goals this season after scoring 46 in 2008-09. Entering the Final, Carter had 4 goals and 1 assist in just 6 games after missing time with a foot injury.
 
Mike Richards --Somehow, Richards was available with the 24th pick in 2003 and the Flyers' good fortune has been the bane of the opposition who have had to deal with Richards' clutch game. See Game 5 against the Canadiens as a prime example.
 
Patrick Sharp -- A third-round pick in 2001, the 95th selection, Sharp is one that got away from the Flyers. He was traded to the Blackhawks with Eric Meloche for Matt Ellison and a 2006 third-round pick in early December of 2005. The Flyers would like to have a do-over on this one.
 
Ben Eager -- Originally a first-round pick of the Coyotes in 2002, the 23rd selection, Eager came to the Flyers in the deal that sent Mike Comrie to Phoenix. He played portions of three seasons in Philadelphia until being traded to Chicago for Jim Vandermeer.
 
Todd Fedoruk -- The Flyers took the physical winger in the seventh round of the 1997 draft and he played parts of four seasons in Philadelphia before being traded to Anaheim.
 
Randy Jones -- Signed as a free agent out of Clarkson, the capable Jones spent three full seasons and parts of another with the Flyers before being claimed on waivers by the Los Angeles Kings on Oct. 29, 2009.
 
Freddy Meyer -- Another college free agent, Meyer was out of Boston University and used his time with the Phantoms as a springboard to the NHL, playing parts of two seasons with the Flyers before moving on to the Islanders.
 
Joni Pitkanen -- The No. 4 selection of the 2002 Entry Draft, Pitkanen had one NHL season under his belt before joining the Phantoms for their championship run. He returned to the NHL for the next season in Philly and then was traded to Edmonton with Geoff Sanderson for defenseman Jason Smith and winger Joffrey Lupul on July 1, 2007.
 
Dennis Seidenberg -- This valuable defenseman was a Flyers' sixth-round pick in 2001 and scored 13 goals and 28 assists for the Phantoms in 2004-05. He spent portions of three seasons in Philly before being traded to the Coyotes for Petr Nedved.
 
Jon Sim -- He had bounced around between Dallas, Nashville, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh before scoring 35 goals for the Phantoms in the regular season and 10 more in the playoffs. After the work stoppage, he played 39 games with the Flyers in 2005-06, scoring 7 goals and 7 assists. He was subsequently traded to Florida and now plays for the Islanders.
 
R.J. Umberger -- Taken in the first round by Vancouver, the 16th pick in 2001, Umberger couldn't come to terms with the Canucks and found himself with the Phantoms in 2004-05 where he scored 21 goals and 44 assists in the regular season and 3 goals and 7 assists in 21 playoff games. He signed as a free agent with the Flyers and played well for three seasons before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
 
Antero Niittymaki -- The Finnish goalie was a sixth-round selection in 1998 and proved to be a solid netminder in portions of five seasons in Philadelphia. This past season he was 21-18-5 for the Lightning.
 
Well Said I -- "I'm not Peter Laviolette, but I wouldn't even know where to begin when you look at some of the things that are going on with our team. If you spend too much (time on) Buff, you've got Johnny and Kaner. And then Bolly is playing well, Sharpie ... we've got guys who can step in if you pay too much attention to one guy." -- Hawks center John Madden
 
Glass half full -- The Flyers' season has been cited as a case of overcoming adversity almost from the git-go this season. And the facts seem to support that idea, what with a slow start that saw John Stevens replaced as coach by Peter Laviolette and a slew of injuries decimate the goalie corps.
 
But Laviolette disagrees with the adversity storyline.
 
"I'm going to give you my best and quickest description of the season," Laviolette said. "I don't think it's as up-and-down as you might lay it out there to be. When I first got here, there was definitely a learning curve and I think we went 2-7-1 in the first 10 games. Just before Christmastime and up to when we lost Jeff Carter and Michael Leighton, which were almost simultaneous, I believe we were the second-best team in the National Hockey League in that span of two months.

"Then we had those two injuries and we lost our footing for a bit. (Brian Boucher) came in and he hadn't played for a while and we lost our leading goal-scorer (Carter). Eventually, 'Boosh' found his rhythm in the last three weeks and was outstanding. He carried us. Jeff Carter came back in our lineup and we found our
footing again at the end. There were probably 10 or 11 games where we lost the grip. We were only four points behind Pittsburgh when those guys went down."

So, those weren't problems, Peter?
 
"I don't look at it like that. I look at it like we played an awful lot of good hockey. We did a lot of good things down the stretch. We just had to come so far to get it done that when you had one of those bad games or you suffered a couple of major injuries and you had a little bit of a setback, it became devastating."
 
Well Said II -- "We're a team that's built for the big games." -- Flyers forward Danny Briere

Scary time for Stevie Y -- If you're a Tampa Bay Lightning fan today you must be heaving a sigh of relief knowing that your team is now in the very capable hands of Steve Yzerman.
 
It's easy to say a new era has begun in Tampa, but yes, it's begun. But that's not to say Yzerman wasn't a tad fearful about leaving a very successful and comfortable place in Detroit.
 
"I knew I wanted to do this, take this opportunity. But it was really safe for me in Detroit, really comfortable for me. I haven't gone outside of Detroit my entire life. It wasn't an easy thing for me to do, because once I leave, I can't go back to being only a Detroit Red Wing forever. I can't turn back, and I had to be certain this was what I wanted to do.

"It was difficult for me, very emotional, obviously," Yzerman said of telling Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch. "It was a difficult decision for me, a difficult thing to do. I was fortunate that I could drive to the Ilitches' home and let them know that I had decided to do this. They were aware that I had had discussions with Tampa; I was able to go to their house and they were great.

"They understood what I wanted to accomplish and were very happy for me. It made it a lot easier that they encouraged me and understood why I was doing what I was doing and why I wanted to do it, and they were extremely supportive."
 
Check out this statement from the owners.
 
"Today is a difficult day for us, just as we know it is for Red Wings fans everywhere. It's hard to imagine Steve Yzerman in anything other than the red and white Winged Wheel as he has been synonymous with the Red Wings and Hockeytown for as long as most of us can remember! We want to congratulate Steve on his new position with the Tampa Bay Lightning. This is an exciting and well-deserved opportunity for him and his family, and we know he will do a terrific job in this next chapter of his life. Yet, this is not easy -- we're having a difficult time, frankly, because Stevie's been with us from the start and we consider him part of our family. We drafted him as a young and shy 18 year old -- just a year after we bought the team -- and he has been part of it all: the ups and downs, highs and lows, the Cups, the celebrations, really everything Red Wings over the last 27 years. We watched him grow and develop over the years into a Hall of Fame player, a wonderful husband and father and now, a very capable executive. We appreciate all Stevie has done for us, our organization and this community, and we wish him all the best. Stevie Y will always be a Red Wing and he'll always be in our hearts."

 
More Laviolette -- Peter Laviolette is a different coach than John Stevens. Not better, just different. That's a point he made when asked about the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup Final under his watch.
 
"I don't think it's about right and wrong," Laviolette said. "They were very well coached before I got here. It's your beliefs on how things should be. Everybody's are different. There's probably not a right way and a wrong way and it's probably been done a hundred different ways. The most important thing is that the players buy into it and work hard at it. Ultimately, your organization experiences success.

"I said this before when I first got here, the biggest thing is trying to put an identity on the team that the coach believes in and that the players buy into and they go out and play and they accept that. Our Flyers guys did that. They worked hard at the system and they worked hard at practice. They worked hard at the game and they never quit. They were resilient."
 
Well Said III -- "The group we have here is an exciting group to be a part of. If a guy wants to win and wants to have fun doing it, this is the team you want to be on." -- Montreal's Mike Cammalleri
 
Can you say Owwwwwwwww -- The Blackhawks' Duncan Keith joins the ever-growing list of players who pay a painful price to win the Stanley Cup. Keith lost a handful of teeth in the clinching game against the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals and now has to live with a lot of pain between now and the end of the season. At least Keith hopes to have the companionship of the Stanley Cup to aid in his recovery.
 
"It's just to be like this until the end of the season, and then after that just to go in and hopefully get some nice teeth," Keith said. "They can only do so much, just to tide it over until I can get some teeth in there.
 
"I look like a homeless guy sometimes ... but what can you do?" Keith said. "I'm not the only guy missing some teeth. I feel like I'm getting better now at talking, but when it first happened I had some trouble trying to learn how to talk with no teeth. So, I guess they had a little bit of trouble understanding what I was saying and trying to get across to them on the power play."
 
Still, Keith admits to wondering what all the fuss is about.
 
"I don't know. I guess if you lose a lot of teeth it makes the news," he shrugged. "It's not out of the ordinary, I guess, when a hockey player loses some teeth -- but I certainly lost my fair share.
 
"I lost some teeth, but at the end of the day we're going to battle against a real tough team," Keith said. "We know what they've been able to do against some real good teams in New Jersey, then what they did against the Bruins and then I thought they handled the Canadiens pretty good. We're going to be in a tough battle for sure.
 
"It's not every day you're playing for the Stanley Cup. We know what an opportunity we have here, and I think we all realize what's at stake and that this kind of opportunity doesn't come around too often. We need to seize the moment."

And the mouthpiece.


Quote of the Day

When somebody goes out and is there to score goals, but is also there to make some big hits, fight, do all of those things, and he has a great mustache, it was great to see him get that hit and get everybody going.

— Colin Wilson on teammate Eric Nystrom, who scored a goal in Predators' win vs. Kings
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