The first time I heard the saying “Hard work beats skill when skill doesn’t work hard” I was sitting in the press box at the Spectrum.
The guy who said it was sitting next to me, watching his team practice with the assistant coaches below.
It was John Stevens, then head coach of the Philadelphia Phantoms, now an assistant on the Los Angeles Kings.
He wasn’t happy with the way his team had played in the previous few games and wanted to watch them practice from somewhere other than on the ice.
He pointed out a few players. Showing those who practiced hard and those that didn’t.
“We need to get everyone playing like that,” he said, pointing at Ben Stafford, a gritty, third liner who would eventually score the Calder Cup-winning goal for the Phantoms later that season. “We have a good number of guys that do, but we won’t win anything until we have everyone doing the same thing day-in and day out. Games or practices.”
I asked if that was a bit demanding, Stevens immediately said no.
“The sport of hockey is demanding and those that understand that will succeed in it,” he said. “You can have two teams, one with a lot of skill and one with not nearly as much. If the team with less skill decides to play a team game and out works the team that has a lot of skill, more often than not they’ll win.
“Because hard work beats skill when skill doesn’t work hard.”
I never forgot that conversation because so many times afterward, it was proved true. I learned in short order that it was an old hockey adage that Stevens was regurgitating, but that didn’t matter because it was something I had never really thought of before.
But the more it happens the more it becomes evident just how much of an ultimate team sport hockey is.
The most recent display of this reliable cliché coming to fruition was Sunday afternoon in the Flyers dramatic 5-4 overtime victory in Washington.
Granted the Flyers didn’t work hard for all 60 minutes – as the first period was a bit dreadful – but from that point on, they were tremendous. Even when falling behind by two goals in the second period, they were playing much better than the Caps and never gave up.
They just needed the door to open a crack before they could blow it open – and they got it when Dmitri Orlov took a major penalty for boarding Brayden Schenn midway through the third period.
Jake Voracek scored there and then took the shot that Claude Giroux redirected to tie it with 1:05 to play in regulation.
Vinny Lecavalier, who has been Mr. Clutch for the Flyers this season, scored the game-winner in overtime and the Flyers pulled off their 11th come-from-behind victory when trailing after two periods, a ever-growing franchise record and only four shy of an NHL record of 15 held by the 2005-06 Dallas Stars.
It was also their seventh win this season when trailing after two periods, which is tied for most in the NHL this season.
Call it resilient. Call it a never-say-die attitude. Call it whatever you want. The fact is this Flyers team has character and it stems from the coach and the captain.
Craig Berube’s team tends to play like he coaches – hard, fast, intense and with a tenacity that doesn’t subside until well after the clock expires.
Claude Giroux’s team plays like he plays – with his hair on fire and loathing of losing. He had yet another great game in a collection of them this season. He had two goals and an assist, including the game-tying marker. He is now climbed to seventh in the NHL in scoring (although a couple guys could pass him tonight after this writing) and has led the NHL in scoring with 41 points since Dec. 8.
His style of game is infectious. It was evident in the way so many around him played Sunday. Whether it was Jake Voracek, who was excellent, or Sean Couturier, who, in my mind, was as good as Giroux even if it wasn’t reflected in points.
The Flyers team mentality was awesome killing penalties, holding the high-powered Caps power play without a goal on six tries. The Flyers power play also netted a pair of goals.
That’s a special teams advantage if there ever was one.
As the Flyers continue to pursue the playoffs (and I’m thinking 24 points in the final 20 games ought to do it) there will be highs and lows. But the one thing that will endure the most for these Flyers, who have won six of seven, is this team-oriented approach to a game that is relentless, especially during #ClutchTime.
NOTES: The Flyers are now 32-24-6 for 70 points, which puts them two points ahead of the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division standings. They will vault into second place if the Rangers lose to Boston in regulation Sunday night…The Flyers are now 7-17-3 when trailing after two periods; the seven wins are tied with the New York Islanders for the most in the NHL in that situation.. Giroux had his fourth game this season of three or more points. He recorded five shots on goal, took another four that were blocked, and recorded four hits as well as going 14-for-21 on faceoffs… The Flyers outshot the Capitals 30-12 after the end of the first period, including 16-3 in the third period and overtime… Adam Hall scored his fourth goal of this season, which is the most he’s had in a season since he posted seven in 2010-11… Brayden Schenn was 6-for-7 on faceoffs and went 18-for-21 (85.7 pct) over the two-game weekend set. He also led the Flyers with five hits.
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