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Coburn embraces status as longest-tenured role

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers
It seems hard to believe that 27-year-old defenseman Braydon Coburn is the longest-tenured member of the current Philadelphia Flyers hockey team. But it’s true.

Acquired via trade with the Atlanta Thrashers on Feb. 27, 2007, the Calgary native is the only player remaining who has been involved through the entire rebuilding process that propelled the team from its worst season in franchise history to a pair of Eastern Conference Final runs, a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2010, an Atlantic Division title last year and a strong first half of the 2011-12 season.

Over the course of  his stay with the Flyers, Coburn has matured from a young player who was just trying to earn a full-time job in the National Hockey League to one of the top four members of the Philadelphia defense corps. Eligible to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the current season, Coburn opted instead to accept a four-year contract extension with the team.

“This is where I want to be, and I wanted to know that I could stay here,” Coburn said. “The Flyers are like a family, and this area is a great place to be for my own family and here is where I feel like I can also play my best hockey.”

When Coburn first arrived on the Flyers, the team was in midst of a disastrous season, and began its rebuilding process even before the end of the 2007-08. One of the teams biggest coups was sending aging veteran defenseman Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for Coburn. The next season, the Flyers reached the Eastern Conference Final before bowing out to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

“I was just one of a lot of moves the team was making at the time. The quick turnaround really didn’t surprise me, to be totally honest. There was a lot of excitement before the season even started. We had a lot of young guys, a lot of enthusiasm and energy. The team had a lot of cap space that off-season, too, so we were able to bring in guys like Kimmo [Timonen] and Scotty [Hartnell] and Danny [Briere]. I felt all along we were going to be a good team.”

Philly’s chances against the power-packed Pens were damaged considerably by separate injuries to Timonen and Coburn. In the first game of the series, Coburn needed 50 stitches to close a grisly wound when a deflected puck hit him just above the eye. He missed the rest of the series.

Over the course of his years in Philadelphia, Coburn has been privileged to play with a pair of high-profile veterans as his primary defense partner. Early on, “Coby” was paired with Derian Hatcher. Later, former Flyers coach John Stevens placed Coburn with Timonen to form a partnership that has endured for several years.

Although Hatcher and Timonen could not be more dissimilar in their playing styles, Coburn says that there are some commonalities and that he has learned a lot from both defensemen.

“The biggest similarities between the two were with their attention to their positioning and being good communicators.  Starting out with Hatch and then playing with Kimmo was a good transition for me. I got comfortable playing with Kimmo real fast, and he’s easy to work with anyway. We been kept together a lot since then, so there’s definitely a lot of familiarity,” Coburn says.

The addition of Chris Pronger in 2009-10 helped spur Philadelphia to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance since 1997. After an Atlantic Division title in the regular season last year, the Flyers advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to eventual Cup champion Boston.

This season, Coburn’s pairing with Timonen has often been relied upon to play against other teams’ top scoring lines. The loss of Pronger for the season to post-concussion syndrome has forced Timonen, Coburn, Matt Carle and Andrej Meszaros to absorb even heavier responsibilities on an every-game basis, while the blueline has been rounded out by rookies such as Marc-Andre Bourdon and Eric Gustafsson as well as veteran Andreas Lilja.

The Flyers have had undeniable defensive consistency issues this season, especially since the All-Star break. However, there is more to a team’s defense than merely its blueline personnel. Everyone needs to be on the same page.

“I think we’ve hung in OK,” Coburn says. “Even without Chris, we have a lot of depth. There are guys sitting who could be starting for a lot of other clubs. I still think it’s a good mix of players, and young guys like Marc-Andre [Bourdon] have stepped up. At the same time, obviously, there’s room for all of us to play better, both as a team and individually.”

Since coming to the Flyers, Coburn’s personal life has changed almost as much as his professional one. In the summer of 2010, he married his wife, Nadine, at Emerald Lake Lodge in the Canadian Rockies. On Oct. 17, 2011, Nadine gave birth to the couple’s first child, a healthy baby girl named Rory.

“Fatherhood has been amazing,” Coburn says. “It’s a totally life-changing experience in every way possible. We were on the road a lot in November and December, and I’m glad we’ve got a lot of home games the rest of the season, so I can get to spend more time with my family.”

In the days leading up to the Winter Classic, Coburn got the opportunity to take Rory for her first “skate,” gently holding his infant daughter as he glided around the outdoor rink at Citizens Bank Park during the Flyers’ Family Day gathering at the facility.

“She liked it; liked the wind in her face a little bit. She was looking around at everything. That was really cool,” he says, adding with a laugh, “People said to my wife, ‘Weren’t you scared with Braydon out there on skates holding the baby,’ and she said, ‘Not all at. I’d be more nervous with him in shoes.”

Apart from his family life, Coburn is also committed to participating actively in the Paws & Claws Fund, which he and Nadine launched together last spring. The fund enables low-income pet owners to obtain free spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, and treatments for basic illnesses for their cats and dogs.

“I think it’s important to give back to the community any way you can. Having pets is a great thing for people and their families, and I’m just glad my wife and I were in a position to help people who want to care for their pets, but can’t afford the vet bills,” said Coburn, whose family launched the fund with a sizeable donation of its own.

Although born in Calgary, Coburn spent most of his childhood in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan. He enjoys the opportunity to return to Western Canada, but now considers the Philadelphia area his home. With his new contract in hand, Coburn looks forward to remaining a Flyer – and a member of the greater Philadelphia community – for a long time to come. In the meantime, Coburn has a singular goal in mind.

“Every player wants to win the Stanley Cup, but it would be really special if I can do it here,” Coburn says. “We came close [in 2010] and that makes you want it even more. The fans here are incredible in the way they support our team, and to win a Cup in Philadelphia would be as awesome at it gets.”
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