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Pronger takes leadership role in Philadelphia

by John McGourty /
Philadelphia Flyers Chairman Ed Snider was in a jovial mood at the opening day of training camp, thanks to the overwhelming crowd at the Flyers SkateZone in Voorhees, N.J. Several thousand fans showed up, despite the Eagles opening their NFL season on the same day, as the Flyers got down to business in preparation for the 2009-10 season.

Many were there to see defenseman Chris Pronger for the first time in a Flyers' uniform.

A reporter asked Snider if his team will be as tough as in past seasons and Snider sarcastically replied, "No, I've always liked softies." As a guy who always has enjoyed throwing verbal knuckleballs at the media, Snider is going to love his new "softie," Pronger, another knuckleballer who later teased the Philadelphia media as "very astute."

Pronger is thrilled by the trade that brought him in from Anaheim and believes he has another chance to win a Stanley Cup. He was looking forward to playing for the Philadelphia fans and they didn't disappoint him.

"It's good. We step on the ice in front of a capacity crowd, for this building anyway," Pronger said. "It's nice to see the support and obviously the fans are excited about the team and our prospects and a chance to see us on our first day."

Pronger was asked what he thought about Philadelphia hockey when he heard about the trade.

"The tradition of the style of play, the rough-and-tumble style of play, the Broad Street Bullies of the 70's," Pronger said. "Over the last 15-20 years, they've slowly gone away from that and now I'm here to rekindle that fire and that tradition that the organization has had and how they played and I'm excited to be a part of that.

"We want to play physical, but I think the way this team is set up, I don't think we want to give up the speed part of the game either," Pronger continued. "We want to play big, fast and strong. We want emphasis on all three. You don't want to give up the speed or tempo of the game in order to hit a couple of guys or take penalties or fight or do whatever.

"That's all going to be a by-product of how we play. We're going to get in on the forecheck fast and quick and finish our checks and create turnovers and get the puck back as quick as we can, and create some offense. As a by-product of that, there's going to be some big hits. There's going to be turnovers and fights. You know it's an emotional game and things happen. Certainly with the makeup of the team, I think we've got the makings for a very good hockey team and have a chance to go a long way."

Pronger, 35, was acquired June 26 from the Anaheim Ducks with forward Ryan Dingle for forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa, first-round picks in 2009 and 2010, and a conditional third-round pick in 2010 or 2011.

Pronger has 142 goals, including 74 power-play goals, and 464 assists in 1,022 NHL games, and is plus-153. He also has 1,457 penalty minutes, some of the turn-your-head-away variety. At 6-foot-6 and 214 pounds, Pronger is one of the NHL's biggest, strongest men and definitely one of the hardest to play against.

He's won the Hart and Norris Trophies, made the NHL All-Rookie Team and four NHL All-Star Teams and played in five NHL All-Star Games. He won the 2007 Stanley Cup with Anaheim, a year after he led the Edmonton Oilers to a seven-game Stanley Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Pronger finished second in the NHL last season with 26:56 minutes of average ice time. He averaged 3:55 in shorthanded ice time and 4:27 on the power play, so he's vital in all situations. He had 88 minutes in penalties last season and despite his fearsome reputation, has had only one season in excess of 100 penalty minutes in the last seven.

Pronger is in a unique situation. He broke in with the Hartford Whalers in 1993, when Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren coached the team and Flyers Coach John Stevens was in his final NHL season.

"It's funny, as you go along in your career, I'm going into my 17th year, you run into more and more people you've played with," Pronger said. "I played with John my first year in Hartford.  It's pretty funny getting a chance to go back in there. When I played in Edmonton, I had played with Charlie Huddy, who was coaching there. I played with (Flyers assistant coach) Craig Berube a number of years. So, it's always funny that way.

"John is a very intense coach. He wants to play an up-tempo style which I like. Really, he just needs some veteran leadership on the team because he's got a pretty young team. Hopefully, (fellow Flyers newcomer) Ian Laperriere and I can do that."

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