For the Philadelphia Flyers, veteran defenseman Derian Hatcher is an example of just how much a player can block out. Hatcher is tied for fourth on the team with a plus-4 rating, and is playing more than 20 minutes per game, including 2:48 a night on the penalty kill.
And despite missing the first two games of the postseason, he’s fourth on the team with 21 hits and tied for fifth with 13 blocked shots.
He also has a goal and an assist through nine games, despite constant pain in his knee and a not-quite-yet healed fracture in his ankle.
“We know what Hatch battles through every day, let alone games,” said defense partner Randy Jones. “To look at him and see him in the lineup for every game, it’s remarkable. We really look up at him for that. We understand what he’s going through, with the string and tape they use to hold him together. It’s amazing he’s able to go out there and battle like he does.”
Hatcher first injured his right knee in 2003, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and missed most of the 2003-04 season. The knee has given him issues during the last few seasons, and he missed a number of games this season to rest and strengthen the knee and the muscles around it.
On March 15, he broke his right ankle blocking a shot, which kept him out until Game 3 of the Flyers’ first-round series with the Washington Capitals.
Hatcher avoided surgery, and with rest and rehabilitation he was able to start skating just before the regular season ended, but to think the injury is healed is laughable. And if his skating already wasn’t limited – it’s certainly not getting any better.
“My ankle is as healed as its going to get now,” Hatcher told NHL.com. “It’s just the knee. I think in coming back the way I did, I don’t think I gave my body a chance to catch up. My ankle was working separately from my knee and my knee was working separately from my hip flexors. I think that was the issue, but now everything seems to be going in the right direction.”
That direction also is in the lead for a Flyers team that is one win from advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals one season after finishing with the worst record in the League.
“He’s got a lot of respect on our team and around the League,” said Flyers coach John Stevens. “There’s no question he’s one of the leaders on our team. He’s an emotional leader in there by what he goes through. His presence rubs off on the rest of us. He’s got composure; he’s got grit, determination. I think that rubs off on everybody.”
One of those players is Jones, who is tied for League lead with a plus-7 playoff rating.
“He’s helped me a tremendous amount,” said Jones. “The experience he has and the leadership part of it. The mistakes, certain situations, he’ll sit down and talk to you about it and straighten them out. Just try to make the game easier. Hatch is a vocal guy out there and he’s helped me tremendously throughout the playoffs. I’m just fortunate to play with him.”
Hatcher understands he’s fortunate to be playing at all.
“I think I’m playing well,” Hatcher said. “I think I had one not-so-great game, in Game 6 (against Washington). I think I’m doing what I need to do out there. If I wasn’t, I think the coaches would come up and talk to me and they haven’t yet.”
And he shouldn’t be looking over his shoulder. Stevens said the only direction Hatcher’s minutes will be going is up.
“If he plays less, it’s worst for Hatch,” said Stevens. “The more he plays, the better he is. If he’s going to play, he’s going to play. If he can’t play 20-plus minutes, then he probably can’t play.
“He’s one of those guys, the longer the game goes, he’s a guy that gets stronger.”
And at this point in the season, not playing just is not an option.
“Everyone puts a lot in (to get ready),” he said. “Right now, with my knee, I’m going through probably a little bit more.”
And that little bit more certainly has been noticed by his teammates.
“Hatch is a big part of this team,” said Jones. “He’s won a Cup, he’s been through playoffs; he’s battled through series like this. He keeps going out there and battling through every game and we really look up to him for that.”
Said Hatcher, “I know when I used to look at players … I used to sit there and watch and go, ‘Holy cow, how are these guys doing it?’ I don’t know if our guys do that … but I hope they are, because I think they can learn from that, it’s a good learning experience.”
This also has been a learning experience for Hatcher. He’ll turn 36 in about a month, and knows there are more games behind him than in front of him. And after going through the debacle that was the Flyers’ season in 2006-07, he’s not taking this run for granted.
“I think what you learn as the longer you play in the League, you don’t get a shot every year,” he said. “You don’t. Say what you want, I was on some really good teams, teams that I was shocked when we didn’t win. It makes you realize that to go a long way in the playoffs, not only do you need a good team, you have to have a few things go your way. You never know when you have another shot. The longer you play, the more you appreciate it.”