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Hair on Fire

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers

Watch Scott Hartnell for just a few shifts and you can tell how much he enjoys hockey. The Flyers winger is an active player, battling for the puck, stationing himself in the crease and often keeping close company with the opposing goaltender.

Hartnell, 26, also is someone who enjoys life in general.
“I was taught to enjoy what you do, whether you’re a school teacher, a janitor, a professional hockey player, or an entertainer,” Hartnell said. “I love coming to the rink every day. I love seeing the guys and being part of a team sport, relying on each other to win. I’m very fortunate to be able to live the life I do.”
The expression “plays with his hair on fire” fits Hartnell. In his case, since his hair hasn’t been cut since Barack Obama started running for president, he could start a small blaze if his locks caught on fire.
Scott Hartnell has already set new career highs in goals and points this season. (Getty Images)

“You hear comments like `You’re a bugger to play against, you finish your checks and take the puck to the net,’ ” Hartnell said. “I’m a little yappy out there sometimes. It’s a compliment if other players in the league say that about you. You try to be the hardest working team every night.”

Flyers assistant coach Joe Mullen knows a lot about scoring goals and winning. Mullen, a Hockey Hall of Famer, collected 502 NHL goals and played on three Stanley Cup championship teams.
“When Scotty is being annoying to the other team, he plays some of his best hockey,” Mullen said. “He seems to play better when he gets involved early in the game. You can tell he’s having fun on the ice.”

Smiling, Mullen added, “Sometimes, at practice, we’d like to see him take it a little more seriously.”

Hartnell’s popularity is reflected in the “Scott Hartnell Wig Night” promotion scheduled for March 26 when the Flyers host Florida. The first 5,000 fans and all children entering the Wachovia Center that night will receive wigs ( Tickets). “The wigs are a little bit darker than my hair,” Hartnell said. “I thought they’d be a little more red than brown.”
Earlier this season, after a desperate Hartnell threw his gloves at an opposing player on a breakaway, the Phantoms held a “Scott Hartnell Glove and Mitten-Throwing” Night. An athlete needs an elevated sense of humor to go along with such promotions.

“If you didn’t have fun with what you’re doing, you wouldn’t work as hard and get out there and battle,” Hartnell said. “These are fun things, but we can’t be distracted from our ultimate aim, to win hockey games.”

Nearing the end of his second season with the Flyers, Hartnell is a highly reliable scorer. His 53 most points at this writing are the most in his NHL career and he has also set a new career high with 26 goals. The dangerous line of Hartnell, Jeff Carter and Joffrey Lupul is one of the most effective in the NHL.

During Hartnell’s final season with Nashville (2006-07), he was a teammate of former Flyers center Peter Forsberg. It was Forsberg who advised Hartnell and his wife, Lisa, to live in Philadelphia. Until recently, almost all the Flyers lived in South Jersey, within short driving distance of the Skate Zone in Voorhees where the team practices.

“Peter lived downtown,” Hartnell said. “When he got traded to Nashville, he said a lot of good things about Philly. He said it’s a big hockey city and a classy organization. When (the Predators) played here, the fans were electric.”
Living in Old City offers the Hartnells and other Flyers many social opportunities.

“There’s great Italian food (and) great atmosphere. You can start at Second and Market and make your way up and down Chestnut and Walnut Streets. We’ve found a lot of good restaurants. And now, Northern Liberties is coming up with some good places.”
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Hartnell is glad he played six seasons with Nashville before joining the Flyers prior to last season. While the Predators have a loyal following, the sports spotlight is on the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and University of Tennessee football and basketball.

“Looking back, it probably was a good thing being drafted by a kind of low-key team,” the 6-2, 210-pound winger said. “They were able to bring me along and not force me into the spotlight, like if you were playing in Toronto or any Canadian city. I was able to learn how to live life away from family. I was 18 years old. I learned how to be a pro on the ice.”
The Flyers will hold Scott Hartnell wig night for the first 5,000 fans and all children in attendance for the game against Florida on March 26. (Flyers Photos)

Hartnell was Nashville’s first choice, and sixth overall, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft.

If he weren’t playing hockey, he says he’d likely be a teacher. It runs in the family: both parents are retired teachers.

“It’s a pretty satisfying job, watching kids grow up in front of you,” Hartnell said. “And you get summers off to enjoy doing things with your family.”

Hartnell grew up in Lloydminster, in northern Alberta. His older brothers played college hockey: Chad at Colorado College, Devin at Michigan Tech.

During the NHL lockout, Hartnell played in Norway. Taking advantage of the location, the Hartnells toured all the Scandanavian countries.

“In the summertime, it’s light almost 24/7,” he said. “There was a lot going on. In Norway, I’d say soccer and those European sports are more popular than hockey. But hockey had its followers. The fans were always chanting and cheering.”

Flyers fans will be cheering for a deep run by the orange and black into the Stanley Cup playoffs. With many teams contending for playoff berths, March is a maddening time in the NHL. On one hand, it’s nearing the end of a grueling season that began with training camp in September. On the other hand, players have to find extra energy for the push into the playoffs.

“There’s a lot of back-to-back games,” Hartnell said. “Every game means so much. You’re looking ahead to April and who you’re going to play, but the main thing is getting in (to the playoffs). There are so many good teams. We have to keep winning games.”
I love coming to the rink every day. I love seeing the guys and being part of a team sport, relying on each other to win. I’m very fortunate to be able to live the life I do.” - Scott Hartnell

The Flyers will pursue a strong regular-season finish without Scottie Upshall, Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen. At the NHL trading deadline, Upshall was traded to Phoenix for Dan Carcillo, and Metropolit and Vaananen were lost on waivers: Montreal claimed Metropolit and Vancouver took Vaananen.

When quality teammates are traded, it disturbs the chemistry of a winning team. But pros learn they must quickly move on.

“It was definitely a jolt,” Hartnell said. “They were big-minutes players and depth guys for us. But it’s the nature of the business. Guys have to come up from the minors and play well.”

One more thought about the hair: Hartnell said his wife likes it. “It gets a little crazy sometimes; sometimes I wish it was chopped off. But, it fits my personality.”

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 sportswriter. 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.
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