(Voorhees, NJ, August 8) – Ben Eager began last season as a member of the American Hockey League’s Philadelphia Phantoms, and ended the year as the National Hockey League’s penalty minute leader.
With his physical, aggressive and energetic style of play, the former Phantoms-fan favorite quickly became the same on a professional level at the Wachovia Center.
His game plan is fairly simple.
“I like to play a physical game and try to be consistent every game, and do the little things right and not be a liability when I’m out there,” said Eager, who returned to the area in late July to train at the team’s practice facility, the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone.
Eager’s role on the team is fairly simple, but important nonetheless. He is on the ice to agitate the other team, and hopefully goad the opposition’s players into either taking bad penalties or getting them off of their games. He finished last season with 233 penalty minutes in 63 games.
“I like to try to get under the skin of other teams, and chirp a little bit,” he said.
|Ben Eager battles New Jersey's Mike Rupp during a game at the Wachovia Center last season. (Getty Images) |
Is there anyone in particular that he knows he can bother?
“I think I picked out a few last year,” he said with a smile. “You can get some guys pretty revved up, and sometimes they take a bad penalty. You just have to make sure you don’t cross the line when you’re trying to make those players upset.”
Eager was acquired by the Flyers, along with goaltender Sean Burke, from Phoenix in exchange for Mike Comrie late in the 2003-04 season. A former first round pick of the Coyotes, Eager joined the Phantoms for five games that year, before becoming an important contributor during the team’s Calder Cup Championship season of 2004-05. That season, Eager scored seven goals and added 10 assists for 17 points in 66 games, to go along with a healthy total of 232 penalty minutes.
In just 49 games for the Phantoms in 2005-06, Eager accumulated 251 penalty minutes and also made his NHL debut that season, playing in 25 games for an injury-riddled Flyers club.
Although he did not make the Flyers from the start last season, Eager was recalled on October 19, never to return to the AHL.
Despite his apparent lock on a roster spot this season, Eager is not taking anything for granted after the Flyers made so many moves in the summer to add quality players.
“After last year, we obviously want to improve on things and after all the moves that have been made, I’m pretty excited to be a young guy coming in and hopefully having a spot on this team,” he said.
“There’s going to be spots that are up for grabs, and [I’m] going to have to earn a spot. I plan on doing that.”
After spending the first part of the offseason at home in Ottawa with family and friends, Eager returned to the area to work with Flyers Strength and Conditioning Coach, Jim McCrossin. He feels as good as he ever has in his career.
“I put on a little bit of weight, and I feel good. I feel stronger and faster, and I’m getting back to skating here and I’m looking forward to the start of training camp.
“I think we’re going to have a huge improvement. I think there’s a lot of character in the room, and there’s a good group of younger guys and older guys that should get along and be a real team.”