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Training Camp Off to a Flying Start

by Bill Meltzer / Philadelphia Flyers
FlyersTV: Pronger | Snider | Stevens

(Voorhees, NJ) - Some are veterans just gearing up for the start of the preseason. Others are youngsters or tryout players hoping to make an impression on the coaches. One thing they all have in common: September 13 has been circled on their calendars for months. Practicing in front of an estimated 2,000 fans at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone, Philadelphia Flyers veterans and rookies reported for the first formal day of training camp in preparation for the 2009-2010 season.

The first few days of camp are always challenging for the Flyers’ coaches and players alike. There’s little time to waste on conditioning drills – in the modern game, players are expected to report in prime condition rather than “playing their way into shape.” Instead, the team jumped right into the business of getting ready for a tightly packed preseason that will see the club play three games in four days between Wednesday at Saturday.
Claude Giroux won't have to worry about securing a roster spot in training camp, as he was looking to do this time last year. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

“It was a really good first day. The first day is always a tough one, because we try to cover a lot of things,” said head coach John Stevens. “We already know our players but it’s good to be able to start evaluating some of the players I haven’t seen much of, and start getting some repetitions in.”

Newly acquired defenseman Chris Pronger elaborated.

“We went right into systems. We started right away with things like how we’re going to attack the net and moving up the ice. We want to play big, fast and strong, with an emphasis on all three.

“From my own standpoint, I wanted to start learning tendencies – where guys like the puck, where the goalies kick out rebounds. There’s a lot of little things like that which you have to re-learn when you go to a new team after a few years with one club.”

Pronger was paired with Matt Carle for most of the practice session. Stevens indicated that he’d like to take a look at that pairing initially, with Braydon Coburn playing alongside Kimmo Timonen. However, he intends to try out a variety of different combinations on all three of his defensive pairings.

For rookies such as highly touted James van Riemsdyk, camp represents the start of a golden opportunity to earn an opening night roster spot with the NHL team. Coming off a sensational four goal, one assist performance in the annual Prospects Game against the Washington Capitals, van Riemsdyk practiced on a line with Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux. However, Stevens cautioned not to read too much into the line combinations at this point.
A year ago, Giroux was in the same position in which van Riemsdyk now finds himself. Considered the best prospect in the Flyers system, Giroux entered camp with hopes of starting the season with the big club. Giroux got off to a slow start and wound up starting the season in the American Hockey League before earning a callup and playing very impressively in the second half of the season for the Flyers.

“I’m still a young guy but I think I learned a lot last year. Hopefully, I can hit the ground running and kind of go from there,” said Giroux, whose playmaking ability will be utilized at center rather than wing, where he started last season. “I’m comfortable playing center, so it doesn’t really matter where I play.”

Training camp also provides an opportunity for tryout players such Mark Bell and Blair Betts to find a role on the Flyers. Established players in the NHL, both found themselves without a contract during the offseason and accepted tryout invitations from the Flyers. A year ago, veteran NHL defenseman Bryan Berard came up short in a bid to make the Flyers, but the previous season ageless checking center Jim Dowd earned a place on the squad and remained with the team all season.

“There were four or five other teams who had some interest but I thought Philadelphia was the best situation,” said checking specialist Betts. “I knew the team from being in New York [with the Rangers] and playing against them so many times. I also looked at the areas where I might be able to help the team, and hopefully it’s a good fit.”

In addition to Bell and Betts, Stevens said that 28-year-old Finnish forward Mika Pyorala is in the mix to compete for a roster spot. A veteran of the top leagues in Finland and Sweden, Pyorala turned down offers from numerous teams in Europe to take his shot at the NHL this year by signing a two-way contract with the Flyers.

“I really got to look at Pyorala for the first time today and I thought he was another guy who had a good first day,” said Stevens.

“We want to get a look at a lot of people, and I think we’ve got a lot of depth to choose from. As a coach, it creates some good problems to have.”
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