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Hitch Hiking

by Staff Writer / Philadelphia Flyers

Philadelphia – Ever the ambassador for the team, Flyers Head Coach Ken Hitchcock has only been back in the area for a couple of days but was on hand at the Wachovia Center on Thursday to talk to a group of sponsors about the upcoming season. He is also set to take part in youth and adult hockey mini camps at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, beginning on Monday. In addition to the several TV appearances and radio call-ins he has been consistently making since the end of the work stoppage, has he had any time to think about training camp beginning in less than a month?

Of course he has.

"We're going to start on Sunday here again and just review everything. [The coaching staff has] had two series of meetings already, so starting Sunday we're going to review our technical plans, our game plans, and then we're going to get together and start finalizing all of the roles in conjunction with the Phantoms' coaches in regards to training camp," said Hitchcock.

"Then, we're also going to get together and discuss and formulate our team: who is playing with whom, and what our personnel is going to look like when we play together, and what we can expect. We'll have some discussions on what some other people think some good line combinations will be, and stuff like that."

There is certainly lots of work to be done, as the Flyers' roster has changed dramatically since the team came just one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. The key additions are no secret, as Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje all signed as unrestricted free agents in early August. Mike Knuble and Turner Stevenson were added in the summer of 2004, while an influx of young talent from the Calder Cup-winning Phantoms includes Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Antero Niittymaki.

Hitchcock is quick to point out that of all of those additions, every one of them has won a championship at either the NHL or AHL level except for Rathje. Forsberg won two Cups in Colorado; Hatcher won with Hitchcock in Dallas in 1999; Knuble was a member of the Detroit Red Wings' Cup team in 1998; Stevenson won two championships with New Jersey; and Carter, Richards and Niittymaki all won with the Phantoms this past season.

"We've added, in my opinion, a lot of very competitive players," said Hitchcock. "Knuble and Stevenson, Hatcher and Rathje, Forsberg...these are really competitive players. Skill level is one thing, but I've seen a lot of skilled players who don't compete very hard. I know the players here, if you look across the board, almost all of them have won championships, especially in the NHL. That knowledge is invaluable, because we're going to need it."

Although the Flyers have improved in Hitchcock's opinion, there are other teams in the Eastern Conference that have also become much better since the last season. By no means does the head coach think that it will be an easy ride.

"I see a lot of teams that have really improved. I see teams like Ottawa, Boston, Florida and Atlanta. These teams have improved dramatically," he said. "That doesn't include a team like Tampa Bay or New Jersey, teams that are always right there.

"I see a lot of teams who are probably giving the same speech we are, that we have a fighting chance, and that is what we're looking for. We've got it, but we also know some of those other teams do as well. If you're asking for a competitive balance, you're going to see it because there are a lot of have-nots that now have good teams. It's going to make for great competition."

One announcement of note from Hitchcock is that the team will be returning to West Point, NY for four days to practice, take part in team building exercises and try and build that chemistry that is so important to a team's success in his mind.

"It is conjunction with a lot of the things we're going to do in September and October to try and bring our group together and create as much chemistry as we can as quickly as we can," said Hitchcock. "We can't wait to get out of the box here. We can't assume that we will have the chemistry like we did before, because, quite frankly, we've changed half of our lineup. I think what we have to do is create situations that chemistry can occur in, create some adversity and challenges that it can occur in, and West Point is one of those."

For more information on the mini camp that Hitchcock is taking part in, click here. ... Several Flyers veterans have been skating at the Flyers training facility in the morning from 8:00 to approximately 9:30 daily.

For Flyers ticket information and an updated seating chart, please click here or call (215) 218-PUCK (7825).
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