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Coburn Developing at a Rapid Pace

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
Braydon Coburn’s play this season has been one of the bright spots in the Flyers' resurgence. General manager Paul Holmgren isn’t a gloater, and as far as we know he doesn’t talk to himself. But he wouldn’t be faulted if, in a private moment, he said to himself, “Homer, you did a good job with that deal.”

In February 2007 Holmgren traded short-time Flyers defenseman Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for Coburn. The Flyers liked Coburn’s size, offensive skills and potential.
The first time a young player is traded is usually a jolt, but Coburn, now 23, quickly adapted to wearing the orange and black.

“I felt I was really part of the team right away,” he said after a recent practice at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone, in Voorhees, New Jersey

That the Flyers had the worst record in the NHL last season didn’t discourage Coburn.

“There wasn’t any pressure on us,” he said. “We were building toward this season. The optimism carried into this year.”
Braydon Coburn, seen here hitting New Jersey's Mike Rupp, has quickly established himself as a force on the Flyers' blue line, (Getty Images)
Braydon Coburn

Coburn was paired much of this season with veteran Derian Hatcher. When Hatcher sustained a broken leg blocking a shot in Boston in mid-March, Coburn and Kimmo Timonen, another experienced NHL rear guard, became partners.

“Hatcher deserves a lot of credit for bringing the kid along as fast as he has,” said Flyers assistant coach Terry Murray, a former NHL defenseman. “There’s so much potential inside that (6-5, 220-pound) body. We’ll get it out. He’s started to show us what he has. He has great size and speed to play the game at a high tempo.

“He defends very well with his long reach (and) he closes on the puck quickly. Joining the attack is becoming a part of his game.”

* * *

Defensemen often take longer to develop at the NHL level. But Coburn isn’t surprised that he is a valuable defenseman on an NHL playoff team.

“I always felt I could play at this level,” he said. “When I was traded, it was a fresh start in Philadelphia. It gave my confidence a boost because they played me a lot. I’m trying to get better, figuring out my strengths and the areas that I need to work on.”

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Coburn’s nine goals were the most among Flyers defensemen at the conclusion of the regular season. All-Star Kimmo Timonen had eight. His +17 rating was the best on the team this season. Coburn stays after practices to work on his shot.

Growing up, Coburn’s favorite NHL players were defensemen: Paul Coffey, Ray Bourque and Chris Pronger. Coburn has always been a blueliner.

Braydon Coburn…sounds like someone from a Main Line family. Alas, Coburn grew up in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, a farming community of about 1,500 in the southwest area of the Western Canada province.

“It’s near Swift Current,” Coburn said, smiling. Hockey fans have heard of Swift Current, but most of us south of the Canadian-United States border still need to check a map for Swift Current’s location.

Coburn attended Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, a prep school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. “That’s even smaller than Shaunavon,” Coburn said. The school, named after an influential priest there, is well known for its hockey team, the Notre Dame Hounds. Other alumni that went on to success in the NHL include Rod Brind’Amour, Vincent Lecavalier, Curtis Joseph, Brad Richards and Wendel Clark.

The school’s motto, “luctor et emergo,” (struggle and emerge) could be the Flyers’ theme for this comeback season.

* * *

When Coburn moved to Portland, Oregon to play junior hockey it was his first experience in a city. He enjoyed Portland, where he played four seasons in the Western Hockey League. During the 2004-05 season, he scored four goals (three power play) vs. Seattle, becoming the seventh WHL defenseman to collect four goals in a game. Coburn was the Winter Hawks’ captain from 2003 to 2005.
Coburn answers questions from the media in the Flyers' locker room after a recent solid performance. (Getty Images)

Moving to Portland was an adjustment for Coburn.

“Portland’s a great city,” he said. “The people are friendly. I felt right at home. In Saskatchewan, it’s either dry or windy and cold. It rains a lot in Portland, but after it rains the air smells real fresh.”

From the time he began playing hockey, Coburn has benefited from good coaching. His stepfather, Todd, coached him. Then Laurie Ryan and Terry O’Malley were his coaches at the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. Mike Williamson was his coach in Portland.

Coburn’s family includes his mother, Gwen; brother Tyson, a mechanic; brother Greg, who plays for the Yorkton Terrriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League; and 16-year-old twins, Stefan and Chelsey.

Away from hockey, Coburn enjoys reading. Tony Dungy’s Quiet Strength is a recent favorite.

“I go through different stages,” he said. “For a while I was reading crime novels, like James Patterson’s. Then I was into biographies. My mom is a great source (for reading). But sometimes her ideas are sort of weird, like books on psychics. I’ll pass on those.”

Heading into the playoffs, the Flyers appeared to have cured their late-season stretch of third-period meltdowns.

“Sometimes it’s a combination of bad luck,” Coburn said. “Other times, it’s not getting back on your heels. Don’t let up. It’s a cliché to say it, but it’s a 60-minute hockey game. If you have the lead, it’s that much more important to play the system.”

While the Flyers journey to qualify for the playoffs was stressful, Coburn enjoyed it because all the games were meaningful.

“Every game is important, every game is like a playoff game,” he said.

Now that the Flyers have qualified for the playoffs, Coburn and his teammates will find the intensity is even greater.

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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