They came out en masse, clogging the Flyers locker room like a ball of hair stuck in the shower drain.
With the spotlights atop the cameras blinding his eyes, Luke Schenn stood there for several minutes, dutifully answering every question.
It was his homecoming part one. Part two would be after the game.
This is what happens when a kid joins a team as a wide-eyed 18-year-old fresh out of junior hockey, bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders as the fifth overall pick in the draft and donned with the title as the next great defenseman in the NHL, playing in the most hockey-centric market in the world.
“There’s no market like Toronto,” he said.
And he’s right, for better or for worse.
“There’s a lot that comes into it, when you’re involved in a big market like Toronto or Philadelphia,” said his brother Brayden Schenn, who stood off to the side of the side of the pack of microphones, cameras and inquisitors surrounding his brother.
Then, with a half-cocked smile, Brayden proclaimed his brother would come through this scrutiny all right.
“He knows,” Brayden said. “He’s been around this media circus, or scrum, for the last 4 years.”
It looks like little brother was right, as Luke deflected more needling questions with aplomb, like a veteran tennis player calmly returning a big, booming serve.
For instance, when asked to categorize his time in Toronto based on success, Luke took the high road.
“I’m not going to get into it too much, whether it was a success or not a success,” Luke said. “I had a great experience in Toronto, I’m very thankful for the opportunity. It’s a great experience, it’s an awesome place. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. It was a great place to play hockey, to experience this market. It’s cool just being back in Toronto. Obviously, they moved on. I’m pretty happy in my new place.”
Four ‘experiences’ in one quote. It was a deft dodge on his part, but subtly – and perhaps subconsciously – it was an apt description.
For his time in Toronto was in fact an experience.
For two seasons he was considered a top defenseman. For two seasons, he had his minutes dashed. He was also a healthy scratch, and was often the target of the ire of the fans on local talk radio and even in the print media.
So a new location was a welcome change. And now he’s flourishing in Philadelphia.
“Luke has been rock solid since he’s arrived,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “He’s been a real force for us defensively with his defensive presence and his physical play and his shot blocking. These are things he is doing real well in our end. He’s been a real good fit.”
And he’s been good for Brayden too.
The brothers are very close – always have been. But, when they were playing in different cities, they would only get a chance to see each other for a couple months in the summer every season.
Now, they live in the same condo complex in Philadelphia and see each other morning, noon, and night – just like the good old days in Saskatchewan.
“We’re pretty much together 24/7,” Brayden said. “From breakfast right through supper - we do it all. We’re not sick of each other yet.”
Another part of the circus of coming to Toronto is the opportunity for players to play in front of friends and family.
This is no different for the Flyers, who had to buy a ton of tickets to get their loved ones into the ACC for the game.
Four players specifically grew up within an easy drive from the downtown arena.
Wayne Simmonds is from Scarborough, which is like being from Bristol. Matt Read has 10 people coming to see him tonight. He’s from Ilderton, which is a suburb of London, but is a quick two-hour drive from Toronto.
Zac Rinaldo is from Mississauga, which is as close to Toronto as Ridley is from Philly. He has 10 people coming as well.
But the big winner on the ticket front tonight is Tye McGinn, who is from Fergus, a little more than an hour northwest of Toronto. He had to buy 20 tickets for the game.
“This is the first chance a lot of my friends and family have had a chance to see me play,” McGinn said. “I’m really excited to play here and I’m excited for them too.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37