Voorhees, NJ – Despite the tag line that has been preached for months by the organization, today was really the first day that the Flyers are in fact back where they belong. That is – on the ice.
While Simon Gagne and Eric Desjardins learned to make cheesesteaks, Robert Esche got a little ride on a zamboni around City Hall and Jeff Carter and Mike Richards twisted a couple soft pretzels, today was the day that Flyers fans have been waiting for – the opening of training camp for one of the most anticipated seasons in team history.
Although many players have been in the area for weeks and even months, scrimmaging among themselves and hitting the weight room since the end of the work stoppage, today was the first day that the Flyers' coaching staff could run a full, organized practice with all 53 players in camp.
"I had a hard time sleeping last night I was so excited, said Keith Primeau. I was actually looking forward to one of Hitch's practices, so you know it's been a long time when you forget how difficult the practices are. It was a great feeling to be back out there, and I am just really excited about the year.
It felt good; there is no doubt about it, added Desjardins. I was looking forward to that moment for a long time now, but now we've started and we're happy to be back.
The turnover in the Flyers' locker room was a significant one, as was commonplace among most teams in the league. Because of that, this training camp will be extra important to build chemistry on and off the ice.
Among the new players is Mike Knuble, who signed with the club in the summer of 2004 after five productive seasons in Boston, is just now getting to know his new teammates.
The guys who have been around, we may not know each other personally, but we all know of each other, said Knuble. You kind of get together quick, and the onus will be on the team, the players and the coaches to try and bring us together as quickly as possible.
There are a lot of older faces, and there are a lot of younger faces, too, and that's the way the cap works, he said. It's a whole new dynamic in the league in how you create a team, so it's going to be the teams that figure that out and gel the quickest that will get off to the best start.
Primeau also realizes the new landscape of how to build an NHL team, and is amazed at the talent level in the Flyers locker room despite the fact that the payroll has decreased by almost half from the 2003-04 season. Tuesday was of course the first day that he could see everyone in person together in one room.
I don't envy the general managers at this point in time, he said. With the group that we've assembled here, it's really exciting. To still be able to have this number of quality players, and to be able to play at a level which we should be able to attain is exciting. Cutting your payroll almost literally in half, to be able to bring the quality of people that we have in this locker room here, for the franchise and the fans in the city is great.
As usual, Flyers practices at the Sovereign Bank Flyers Skate Zone are open to the public. There was a good crowd on hand to see the players in action, as the teams were split up among Flyers and Phantoms regulars for a hard practice and then a scrimmage. After the scrimmage portion, the fans gave the players a standing ovation as they headed to the locker room after the first of many days to come in what promises to be an exciting 2005-06 season.
The ovation was not lost on the players.
The people just love their Flyers. They always have, and they always will, said Primeau. That's not saying they are pleased with what transpired. There's still some disappointment, but ultimately they are just glad we're back and we are glad to be back where we belong.