He woke up in his Saratoga, N.Y. home, made the 30-minute drive to Albany and caught a flight to Minneapolis. From there he switched planes and went a few hours north to meet the Flyers in Winnipeg.
He landed at 1 p.m. A few hours later, he was talking about being in the starting lineup for the Flyers against the Jets, his first action of the season.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” said Zolnierczyk, who would make the Proclaimers proud and trek 5,000 miles to get a chance to play again in the NHL. “You have to take advantage of those opportunities. I have one here now and, well, I plan to take advantage of it.”
Zolnierczyk, 25, played 37 games for the Flyers last season and had three goals and three assists.
He was hoping that experience would get him a shot with the Flyers this season, but with the season starting late after the work stoppage and training camp basically reduced to just five days, Zolnierczyk was not invited to join the team from Adirondack, falling just below the imaginary cut line.
However, he didn’t let that bother him, and continued to play his game to the best of his ability with Adirondack.
“It is what it is, that’s part of this business,” Zolnierczyk said. “That’s the way it is right now. I can only control what I can do and make sure I was playing my best down there while waiting for my chance.”
And Zolnierczyk has been one of the most consistent players on an inconsistent Phantoms team.
While the Phantoms have spent much of the season trying to claw out of last place in their division, Zolnierczyk has done anything and everything coach Terry Murray has asked.
He started the year on the first line with Sean Couturier, the man he is replacing in the Flyers lineup who was sent home with the flu.
More recently he has played on a gritty checking line with Rob Bordson and Shane Harper.
In between he’s been on the power play and the penalty kill and getting bigger minutes on a regular basis.
In 46 games he has scored nine goals and added eight assists for 17 points.
“I’ve taken on a bigger role and have played more minutes and in all situations and I think that has definitely paid off,” he said.
The Flyers had other options to recall from the Phantoms – specifically Eric Wellwood, who started the year with the big club and would have relished a chance to play against his brother Kyle, a third liner for the Jets. But the Flyers management felt Zolnierczyk’s more consistent play was more deserving of an opportunity.
“He has lots of speed and lots of energy and everyone is comfortable with him,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
To make room for Zolnierczyk on the roster, the Flyers placed Jody Shelley on injured reserve with a hip injury.
Flyers assistant coach John Paddock grew up in Manitoba – a good three hours west of Winnipeg in a town called Brandon, home of the WHL Wheat Kings.
After his playing career ended in 1984, finishing out his time with the Maine Mariners, then the AHL affiliate of the Flyers, Paddock decided to get into coaching.
He stayed with the Flyers organization through 1989, first with the Mariners and then with the Hershey Bears, when the Flyers switched affiliations.
While with the Bears, Paddock won the first of his two Calder Cups as a head coach in 1988.
Three years later, he landed his first NHL head-coaching job – with the Winnipeg Jets.
He guided the Jets from 1991-95 and got them to the playoffs twice, before becoming their general manager from 1995-98.
But, when the Jets moved to Phoenix, Paddock didn’t go with him, and after a circuitous route of jobs in both the NHL and AHL, Paddock returned to Winnipeg as a coach for the first time tonight – albeit as an assistant – and had nothing but good things to say about hockey in Winnipeg.
“I’m glad as a Manitoba-born person that there is a team here,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I be. They accepted this team with open arms and it’s thriving as an NHL market for a lot of reasons.
“The Canadian dollar [being strong] and the new collective bargaining agreement and a new building [have boosted the market]. They deserve it and they’ve taken it and run with it.”
Paddock said the only reason the Jets failed in Winnipeg the first time was because of a combination of events outside of the control of the fanbase, but in a technology age, with support for the team growing outside of just the Winnipeg area, but across Canada, the Jets again became viable.
That didn’t stop Paddock from remembering his near-decade with the original franchise.
“There were nights the old arena wasn’t full,” he said. “Was it the arena? Was it the team wasn’t good for a couple years? Was it the opposition? I don’t know. It was probably a little bit of all those things. Then they gained some notoriety for the white outs in the playoffs, and the year we thought we were leaving and we didn’t, the support was mind-boggling. It’s neat here.”
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