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WHC: Flyers taking center stage

Couturier on defense, Voracek welcomes a son, Myers rushes to Europe and more from Worlds

by Bill Meltzer @billmeltzer

The number of Flyers players participating in the 2019 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia has grown from eight to nine. With Team Canada's blueline depleted by injury, Hockey Canada added Flyers rookie defenseman Philippe Myers to the roster on Wednesday. 

Myers was initially considered questionable to doubtful to be available for Team Canada when they played France the following day. Two reasons: 1) On very short notice, he had to make it from North America to Slovakia in time for the game; 2) Myers had neither played nor practiced with a team in a full month because of the time that has elapsed since the Flyers' and Phantoms' seasons respectively ended. 

With Team Canada potentially caught short on the blueline, alternate captain Sean Couturier approached head coach Alain Vigneault. The Flyers center volunteered to skate shifts on defense if need be. Couturier explained that he had played some defense back in minor hockey in New Brunswick. Although far from ideal, at least it gave the Canadian team an emergency option.

Fortunately, the drastic step was not necessary, and Team Canada was able to dress six defensemen against France. Myers made it to the arena with a bit of time to spare before he had to dress for warmups. He subsequently made his senior national team debut, skating 11 shifts (9:08 TOI). Understandably, Myers kept things simple in his first game. He showed off his excellent mobility and range on a few occasions, most notably winning an open ice footrace for a puck retrieval with ease. 

On many days, the circumstances of Myers' national team debut would be the most dramatic story of the day. On Thursday, however, there was no one one who had a busier or more extraordinary day than Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek. Here's a round-up of other Flyers-related developments at the Worlds, led by Voracek.


Voracek's Unforgettable Day

Thursday morning started for Jakub Voracek at a maternity hospital in Uherske Hradiste, Czech Republic. He was by the side of girlfriend Marketa Buresova delivered their newborn son, Matej. 

In the afternoon hours, Voracek rejoined the Czech national team in Bratislava, Slovakia, before their early evening preliminary round game against Latvia. The favored Czechs got off to a rough start against the spirited Latvian team, falling into a 2-0 deficit that they took to the first intermission. 

Thereafter, Voracek took over the game and dominated the final 40 minutes. He created several scoring chances for his team before the floodgates finally opened. On a power play, Voracek set up Filip Hronek to cut the gap to 2-1 at 5:41 of the second period. After Jan Kovar tied the game, Voracek put the Czechs ahead with 2:22 remaining in the period on his first goal of the tournament. Jakub Vrana extended the lead to 4-2 before the end of the middle stanza. 

In the third period, Voracek had a nifty assist on a Dominik Simon goal to open a commanding 5-2 lead. Voracek later scored his second goal and fourth point of the game as the Czechs prevailed, 6-3. He now has eight points (2g-6a) through four games to rank fourth in scoring in the tourney to date.

Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas earned his first point of the tournament, a secondary assist on Vrana's goal late in the second period. He told both the Czech and English-speaking media after the game that his team's effort in the first period, especially in the first 15 minutes, was unacceptable as they got outworked significantly. Therein, the Czech team settled in and turned the game in their own favor.

The Czech-Latvia game was a rather chippy match at times. A big turning point that truly woke up the Czech team was a checking to the head major and game misconduct assessed to Latvia's Maris Bicevskis at 1:29 of the second period. That set the stage for Voracek to take over the game. 

Late in the third period, after Voracek scored his second goal to seal the 6-3 win, Latvia's Ralfs Freibergs was tossed from the game for leaving his feet on a check aimed at Gudas' head as the defender went to play the puck. The Flyers defenseman was OK afterwards. He said after the game that it was an emotional game on both sides and that his opponent likely acted out of frustration. 

Gudas told the Czech media that he and Voracek would not have a chance to celebrate the birth of his longtime teammate's new son, except perhaps with a beer back at the team hotel. The Czech team (3-1-0) plays Italy on Friday.


Couturier Takes P.O.G. Honors, Hart Earns the Win

With Phil Myers on the ice for Canada against France, Sean Couturier was firmly entrenched in his much-more-familiar center position. Couturier played an outstanding game on both sides of the puck, dominant on the walls and the faceoff circle and created some havoc around the French net. His efforts were recognized with Player of the Game honors for his team. 

Offensively, Couturier was an integral part of two goals for Team Canada. He was not credited with an assist on the first of two goals by Anthony Mantha because it was ruled that Couturier's offensive left circle faceoff win first went off a teammate's stick out to the left point before the puck was rotated over to an open Mantha in the right circle for a scorcher of a goal. Later, Couturier earned a primary assist on a nice centering feed from behind the net that set up a point-blank tap-in for Anthony Cirelli. 

Apart from Mantha's two goals and Cirelli's one, Team Canada also got tallies from Darnell Nurse and Mark Stone. The Canadians held a 3-0 lead before France scored the next two goals. Closely spaced mid-third period goals by Mantha and Stone restored the three-goal margin.

Tweet from @billmeltzer: Couturier selected as Canada's Player of the Game today against France. Although he was only credited with one assist and Mantha had two goals. Couturier was absolutely Canada's best player. Outstanding in the trenches, several good setups, dominant on faceoffs.

Still officially in his rookie pro season, goaltender Hart was strong in goal for Canada. Coming off a 12-save shutout of Great Britain in which he was not tested, Hart only saw two first period shots from France. Over the final 40 minutes, however, he was tested quite a few times including by two tricky deflections off skates near the net, a couple of open looks from the mid-slot and several shots where he had to battle partial screens. He finished with 21 saves on 23 shots and has stopped 33 of 35 shots overall in two starts. Neither France goal could be blamed on Hart. 

Team Canada (3-1-0) plays Germany (4-0-0) on Saturday. The Germans have the three toughest games of their preliminary round schedule left to play. After taking on Canada, they play Team USA on Sunday and then Team Finland on Tuesday. Canada plays Denmark on Sunday and USA on Monday. Hart figures to get at least one more start.


Lindblom Extends Point Streak, Raffl Breaks Up Shutout

Flyers left winger Oskar Lindblom notched an assist to continue his streak of registering a point for the Swedes in every game of the tourney to date (3g-1a). Philadelphia defenseman Robert Hägg played sparingly (six shifts, 4:57 TOI) on Thursday. Flyers winger Michael Raffl scored a top-shelf goal for Austria to end Henrik Lundqvist's shutout bid. The Austrians have only scored a combined three goals over their four games. Raffl has notched two of them. 

Sweden plays Switzerland (4-0-0) on Saturday, Latvia on Monday and Russia (currently 4-0-0) on Tuesday. Austria's main battle at this point is to win at least one game and to avoid relegation. Thus, their games against fellow winless teams Norway on Friday and Italy on Monday take on greater importance to the team than their game on Sunday against the Czechs. The Italy game in particular is vital. 


Respite for JVR and Team USA

Team USA (3-1-0) was idle on Thursday after a less-than-inspiring 6-3 win over Great Britain the previous day. On Friday, the team will hold a practice. The Americans play Denmark on Saturday, Germany on Sunday and then a marquee preliminary round closer against Team Canada on Tuesday. Flyers left winger James van Riemsdyk has one goal and one assist in four games played to date.

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