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Unfinished Business

by Brian Smith | / Philadelphia Flyers

The vast majority of North America is looking forward to a few days off from the workplace this Christmas week, and the Flyers are no exception. Whereas lots of players in other sports sometimes have to work on Christmas, the NHL has long had a three-day Christmas break agreed upon between the league and the players’ association where there are no games or practices. This year’s break is December 23-26, and it affords the players one of just two opportunities, along with the All-Star break, to enjoy time with their families – whether that means here in the Philadelphia area or flying home for a couple days.

The schedule actually gives the Flyers a little extra time. They’ll play their final game before the break tomorrow when they host St. Louis, and then will be on their way after one last practice on Tuesday morning. However, perhaps unlike many workplaces, the Flyers have no intention of hitting that break on cruise control.

“Just the way things have been going lately, we’ve been playing well and we want to keep things moving the right way,” said Ryan White on Sunday. “I think it’s not so much for the break – the break’s good for the body and you get a couple mental days away from the rink, but I think at the same time, the way things are going, we almost want to keep playing.”

Head coach Dave Hakstol agreed the players aren’t going to want to spend the week coming off any type of loss, but noted that regardless of that notion, the Flyers are after two points that are vital in their hopes to continue climbing the Eastern Conference ladder. Saturday’s shootout point in Columbus left them just three points out of a wild card spot heading into Sunday’s NHL schedule.

“You kind of put everything else aside and make sure you’re ready to go and play an important hockey game,” Hakstol said. “That’s the bottom line. How you want to build it or approach it, it’s two important points that are on the line. Whatever the result is, we’ve got to sit on that for a few days. But most importantly, you don’t get another chance at those two points after tomorrow night.”

It’s no secret that in some seasons, teams and players have one foot on their flight home while they slog through the last game before the holiday break and the All-Star break. But Pierre-Edouard Bellemare doesn’t see that being an issue with this group, which has a keen focus on their objective.

“We talked about making sure we keep the system going, give ourselves a chance to actually get the points that we need,” Bellemare said. “We’re right on it, and we need those two points… I’m 100 percent sure that everybody’s going to be pumped up about just winning that game and not thinking about anything else.”

Claude Giroux
arrived in the NHL to stay seven years ago this Saturday, recalled rather unceremoniously the day after Christmas 2008 to go on the Flyers’ holiday road trip. Other than a two-game visit to the Phantoms later that season that was only necessary for salary cap reasons, Giroux was a Flyer for good.

Mike Richards was the captain of the Flyers at that point, relatively newly-minted himself at that time after having taken on the role at the start of that season. Giroux’s professional career was only about four months old, and Richards and several other veterans like Chris Pronger, Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen helped him with the transition, beginning him on the road to becoming an NHL All-Star.

So there was a little bit of reflection last week when a milestone sort of snuck up on Giroux – he played his 243rd game as Flyers captain, passing Richards on one of those many Flyers All-Time Lists. He’s now in fifth place all time – the only players to have worn the C for the Flyers for longer are legends Bobby Clarke, Dave Poulin, Eric Lindros, and Ed Van Impe, in that order.

“I thought Richie had a lot more games,” Giroux said. “It kind of felt like it for me anyway. It’s not something I think about too much, but it’s a good honor knowing that and being part of a great organization like the Flyers. Hopefully I’m going to play a lot more as a captain.

Giroux said his current leadership style started developing even before he reached the professional ranks, with influence from his junior coach with the Gatineau Olympiques, Benoit Groulx.

“I think [Groulx] taught us how to be a leader,” Giroux said. “He gave it to me a couple times because I didn’t do the right things as a leader, and I learned from it. Coming here, you’ve got Richie, Prongs, Danny Briere – when you’ve got guys like that, just the way they are on and off the ice, you learn a lot… and guys like Kimmo too.”

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