“You’re always nervous, whether you’re a rookie or you’ve been in the league 20 years, because of all the unknowns,” O’Donnell said. “But being an older guy, and knowing Chris and Ian made it easier. (Also) coming to a team that was so close (to winning a Cup), and their top four defense did such a great job and they were trying to improve their No. 5 and 6 (defensemen) and they felt I could help made the transition easier, too. I was welcomed with open arms.”
O’Donnell, 39, says these Flyers remind him of ’07 Ducks. “There are a lot of similarities,” he said. “I think (the Ducks) were surprised the season before when we made it to the Western Conference finals and lost to Edmonton. We realized then we could play with these (top) teams.
“We made the trade for Chris Pronger
, and that led us all to believe we could win the Cup. I see a lot of the same things here. This team got to the finals and Game 6. They addressed some things that hurt them last year. In training camp, I had the same feeling: it’s Stanley Cup or bust. It’s fun to be in a situation where you are on a team where it’s considered a failure if you don’t win the Stanley Cup.”
|O'Donnell helped the Anaheim Ducks win the Stanley Cup in 2007 |
The Flyers are littering their preparation for the playoffs with some questionable performances. Examples: in home games against Washington and Pittsburgh, they couldn’t beat the Caps, who were without Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Jason Arnott, and they couldn’t beat the Penguins minus Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. True, the Flyers were playing without Pronger, but they shouldn’t be as erratic as they sometimes are. To their credit, the Flyers responded to the challenge of maintaining their Eastern Conference lead by decisively beating the Penguins, 5-2, in Pitttsburgh.
With four deep forward lines and a solid six defense corps the Flyers are expected to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, provided their goaltending is first rate. During the regular-season homestretch, coach Peter Laviolette appears to be giving rookie Sergei Bobrovsky
every opportunity to be the Flyers No. 1 goalie in the playoffs.
As Flyers fans now know, “Bob the Goalie” came out of nowhere (actually from Novokuznetsk, which is near nowhere…) and emerged as a quality NHL goaltender. However, until he is tested in the playoffs, no one is really sure about him.
Since O’Donnell and the other regular Flyers defensemen don’t speak fluent Russian, communicating with Bob has been, uh, challenging. While Bobrovsky is learning English, he’s still not ready to be a gabby guest on “Daily News Live” on Comcast SportsNet.
O’Donnell says Bob understands basic hockey terms.
“For the most part, hockey talk is hockey talk,” O’Donnell said. “The only time there’s any kind of a language barrier is when he is playing the puck and trying to communicate with the defenseman. It’s a language issue, but it’s also an issue that he’s never done that. In that Russian league, I guess the goalies don’t come out at all (and play the puck).
“You’re asking a guy that’s played pro hockey for a couple years to play the puck for the first time and (also) interpret what we’re trying to say to him at a very fast rate with guys breathing down his neck and 20,000 people in the stands. He’s getting very good at English. Imagine being 22-23 years old, your first times in the States, you don’t speak the language that well; you’re coming to a new team, a new city: it’s a little daunting, but he’s handled it all very well.”
|Meszaros & O'Donnell spent most of the early part of the regular season on the same pairing. |
O’Donnell has handled the transition to wearing orange and black well. “Odie” is a favorite of the Flyers beat writers because he offers crisp insights and has a sense of humor. After the Flyers completed a game vs. the New York Rangers without taking a penalty, O’Donnell was asked if the Flyers were becoming pacifists. “No, winning-fists” he replied with a smile.
The Flyers are O’Donnell’s seventh NHL team. He was chosen by Buffalo in the sixth round of the 1991 Entry Draft. Following three minor league seasons where he polished his hockey skills, he was traded to Los Angeles where he spent six seasons. During three years with the Boston Bruins, it’s likely with a name like Sean O’Donnell he never bought a beer.
Here’s how long O’Donnell has been around the NHL: In his 1994-95 rookie season with the Kings, the Flyers “Legion of Doom” line, with Eric Lindros, John LeClair and Michael Renberg, was one of the NHL’s most potent lines. O’Donnell has been reminded several times about his resemblance to LeClair.
O’Donnell is comfortable with his role as a steady rearguard on the Flyers third defense pairing. He’s also at ease being an experienced player on a team with several talented young players.
“Being in the league a long time, sometimes guys come to you for advice,” he said. “You just start talking. Some guys are more open to it and want to hear your story. Other guys want to do their own thing. One of the reasons I was brought here was to bring a little experience.”
Kevin McCarthy, the Flyers assistant coach in charge of defensemen, says O’Donnell has been a valuable addition.
“He doesn’t let things get to him,” McCarthy said. “He doesn’t get too high or too low. He’s got over 1,100 games in the NHL. He understands there’s going to be peaks and valleys throughout the season. He’s a consummate pro: he comes to the rink every day with a good attitude.
“The guys are comfortable around him. With his experience, he helps people out. Whatever situation they’re in, good or bad, he’s been in. He offers advice in the right way. When guys are struggling, he’ll say something positive to them.”
|Sean O'Donnell fights Sabres' forward Cody McCormick. |
A player doesn’t have to fight to be a good teammate. But several times this season O’Donnell has dropped the gloves at the right time. The latest occasion was when the Flyers were playing the Islanders. Dan Carcillo and the Islanders Micheal Haley fought off the opening faceoff. Nineteen seconds later, O’Donnell took on Zenon Konopka. Often in hockey older players leave the fighting to younger guys trying to make a name for themselves.
“(O’Donnell) saw the situation: Jody (Shelley) is out of the lineup. That (Islanders) line was running around a little bit, so (O’Donnell) took the bull by the horns. It was great to see. That’s the type of guy he is, sticking up for his teammates.”
McCarthy believes O’Donnell will be fresh for the playoff grind.
“He had a little struggle for a while, but everybody goes through that at some point, whether you’re (younger) or been in the league 20 years,” McCarthy said. “But he never let any of those things get him down: he battled through them.”
O’Donnell isn’t sure how much long his NHL career will last. He stresses he isn’t ready to unlace his skates for the last time.
“I don’t have any disappointments or what-ifs,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win a Cup. I’ve played in some great cities, had some great teammates and coaches. If this is it, whether we win it all or not, I feel I’ve gotten the most out of my talent and have my peers respect.”
When O’Donnell’s playing career ends, he’s not sure he’ll stay in the sport. “A lot of times you have to wait and see what opportunities are there,” he said. “When you’re playing, you’re so focused on the next game and staying sharp that you don’t have a lot of time to plan what you’re going to do when you’re done.”
O’Donnell appears energized over being on a Stanley Cup contender.
“There’s a big difference between getting to the finals and losing in six games and winning two more games,” he said. “To bring in guys that have won before helps. We’re trying to win two more games than the team did last year and bring the Cup back to Philly.”
* * *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 1982, he was an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.
He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.