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A Small World

by Brian Smith | / Philadelphia Flyers

You couldn’t blame Alex Lyon if he thought it was a prank – to show up at his first Flyers camp after signing with the club out of Yale University and find out that his roommate is a goalie from Harvard. But that ended up being the case when Lyon arrived to meet Merrick Madsen, a sixth-round pick of the Flyers in 2013 who just finished his sophomore year with the Crimson.

That’s the kind of thing that happens as elite players from around the world try to make it to the NHL. Foes become teammates. Because although the hockey world is geographically wide – from British Columbia all the way around to Russia and back again – in reality, it’s pretty small.

“I actually had never met him,” said Lyon, who’s three years older than Madsen. “It’s been good so far. The whole Harvard-Yale thing gets blown up a little bit, but it’s been fun.”

Nor did Radel Fazleev know Carter Hart, but they knew of each other since they both come out of the Western Hockey League.

“[Sunday] we had a conversation about our game in Calgary last year,” Fazleev said. “I scored the game-winner in the shootout. He told me his thoughts from a goalie and I told him mine. It’ll help us to grow ourselves.”

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Connections such as these are all over the Flyers development camp this year. For one thing, Calgary Hitmen teammates Fazleev and Travis Sanheim added another teammate to the organization in third-round pick Carsen Twarynski, who was actually Fazleev’s linemate last season. They’re all well aware of Hart, the CHL Goaltender of the Year this past season. They’ve all played against Ivan Provorov, who toils for Brandon, and they’re also knowledgable of a couple players attending the camp on invitations – Ondrej Vala, a defenseman from the Kamloops Blazers, and Brennan Menell, a blueliner from the Vancouver Giants.

“There’s little cliques inside,” Hart said. “The Western league guys sort of hang out with each other, the [OHL] guys sort of hang out with each other. I was automatically one of the Western league guys, so I got to know them pretty fast. They’re all really good guys. I know Ivan a little bit already from meeting him at the CHL Awards. He’s a really nice guy. I met Travis Sanheim just the other day, and he’s a really good guy too.”

Sanheim and Fazleev were more than happy to welcome Twarynski into the fold.

“He got drafted in the third round, which is really good for him,” Fazleev said. “He deserved it. He had a really good year last year. I’m even more glad that me and Travis can help him to learn about the Flyers organization. When I came here it was easier to have Travis here, because I didn’t know anybody else.”

On the other side of North America, a similar niche is carving itself out in the Flyers organization and the NHL overall. It’s coming from the ECAC, the conference whose hockey competition includes the schools that in other sports comprise the Ivy League. The Flyers have a total of four Ivy League players in the camp – Lyon, Madsen and Cornell products Reece Willcox and Cole Bardreau. Also in the camp on an invitation is forward Mike Vecchione, who won a national championship at Union College along with the ECAC product best known to Flyers fans, Shayne Gostisbehere.

“We kind of know each other and we run in the same circles,” Lyon said. “It’s kind of cool to have that kind of representation from such a small pocket, especially with all the major junior guys here.”

Said Willcox: “For whatever reason, a lot more players are valuing their education as they should and viewing the Ivy League as an opportunity to move on to the next level after they’re done, but you still have that education in your back pocket when you’re done hockey.”

Anthony Salinitri, a sixth-round pick of the Flyers this year, became teammates with Travis Konecny halfway through last season when Konecny was traded to the Sarnia Sting.

“We played together near the end of the year,” Salintri said. “At the beginning of the season I was playing wing, and then when Travis got the trade over I played center with him.”

The connections at camp aren’t just limited to North American teams. There is a very Swedish tint to the camp roster, most recently with the Flyers taking a pair of defensemen from Sweden – Linus Hogberg and David Bernhardt – in the latter part of this year’s draft. They join goaltender Felix Sandstrom and forward Oskar Lindblom, who were teammates with Brynas of the Swedish Hockey League this past season, as well as Robert Hagg, who played for the Phantoms last year.

Now that camp is over, the players will all go their separate ways and many won’t see each other for a year or so. But for those who end up in the same leagues or the same parts of the game, there will be encounters where they may not be friends on the ice, but they’ll catch up off of it. And perhaps someday down the road, they’ll all be in the same Flyers orange.

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