Voorhees, NJ – When listing the pleasant surprises among the Philadelphia Flyers last season, arguably the one name at the top of that list would be defenseman Freddy Meyer.
Meyer, who got married this summer while also spending plenty of time at the team's training facility in Voorhees, New Jersey, was a relative unknown among Flyers fans this time last year. Sure, he was coming off of a Calder Cup championship with the Phantoms in 2005, but his smaller stature and the fact that he was never drafted resulted in him being overshadowed by other players on that Phantoms team such as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Antero Niittymaki and R.J. Umberger.
That anonymity did not last long, however. A brief stint for the Phantoms preceded his first recall of the season to the Flyers on December 6, which is where he stayed, for the most part (he bounced back and forth between the Flyers and Phantoms in the official transactions due mainly to salary cap reasons).
From that point on, Meyer's role gradually increased as he became acclimated to the NHL game and the injuries mounted up on the Flyers' blue line. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Meyer was playing upwards of 20 minutes a game including time on the power play and penalty killing units.
"I think all in all it was a personal success for myself," said Meyer of his rookie campaign. "I didn't really know what to think totally going into last year. Obviously, my goals were to make the Flyers and be successful and help them win. Getting hurt in training camp set me back a little bit, but I tried to just keep working hard and stay in shape and due to some lucky bounces I was able to get into the Flyers' lineup."
The training camp injury Meyer is referencing was a broken fibula suffered in the Flyers' first preseason game of the 2005-06 season in London, Ontario, which sidelined him for six weeks. Although it was just a footnote at the time for many Flyers fans that were just learning about Meyer, Ken Hitchcock knew that Meyer could become an quality player at the professional level.
"It's not only a big blow to the Flyers, but it's a big blow to the organization because he is a depth defenseman for the Flyers and a huge impact defenseman for the Phantoms. Losing a player like him for that period of time is significant, and that's going to be a big blow for everybody," said Hitchcock after learning of the injury.
Whether or not Hitchcock knew then that Meyer would become such an important cog on his team in the second half of the season is something that only Hitchcock could answer. Perhaps Hitchcock, who saw plenty of Meyer during the NHL lockout, knew that the new rules implemented in time for the 2005-06 season would be a benefit to the 5-10, 188-pound defenseman.
"Some of the new rules in terms of the clutching and grabbing, now that that's not a part of the game anymore, for a smaller player some of the speed and agility is more important and that plays into my game," said Meyer, who signed a two-year contract extension on February 3.
This summer, however, there is no doubt that Meyer will be among the team's starters on opening night in Pittsburgh on October 5 provided he is healthy.
"I think I've been working ever harder this summer to prepare myself for the NHL level. I'm going in with an open mind but at the same time I have some goals and I hope that everything works out and I can have another good year," he said.
In order for the Flyers defense to thrive this season, he will have to do just that.