Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Final notes from the 2013-14 regular season: Philadelphia Flyers

Over the final days, hockey fans have relished in the additional minutes of free hockey as the regular season concludes. In several games that I have watched over the last few days, teams like: the Flyers, Avalanche and others have gone into exhilarating overtimes during this regular season that ‘just won’t quit’, as a hockey analyst proclaimed this weekend. Several of these passionate final games were deemed of less importance and would not affect the playoff standings, but the players proved that no one likes to lose, as they vehemently took the ice and gave everyone a preview of the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Flyers have astonishingly made the playoffs and are now prepping for their postseason. But, this is not a surprise to everyone.  Their fearless leader, Captain Claude Giroux never lost sight of their end goal, as he made this audacious claim in late October: ‘We will make the playoffs’. At the time the Flyers sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, at the bottom of the league with their top scorers not performing, they had tallied a low 11 points and their record was 1-7-0. An epidemic early in the season were coaching changes and the Flyers were not immune, as they dropped three games they also said good-bye to Coach Peter Laviolette and Assistant Coach Craig Breube got a promotion. Just 6 days into a 195 day season, the immediate outcome was not overwhelming success, it took some time to turn the season around and it took 15 games for Giroux to net his first goal of the season.  The critics were brash but Giroux proved why he wears the C on his chest and he took his team to the top, after all the only direction the Flyers had to go was up.

Now the Flyers start fresh in the postseason, facing the New York Rangers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. After overcoming a season of adversity the comeback kids have had the final say and they will be taking that energy into the post-season. On Thursday we are looking at a familiar lineup from a Flyers team that has remained fairly healthy all season long.  Zac Rinaldo will be back from his 4-game suspension and Steve Mason who left after a 2nd period mishap in the Flyers game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday will be playoff ready.  [Edit: Mason will be side-lined for Game 1 and Emery will start in Goal] The Mason-Emery tandem goalie team is a recipe for success and with a healthy team everyone is focused going into Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

Reflections on the regular season from my point of view: While I saw signs of Peter Laviolette’s early departure from the team, I do not think that it was completely necessary. Craig Berube stepped up and was able to make effective line changes all season long that padded the success of the team. But, I think the foundation for success was always in the locker room and once the Flyers figured it out and wanted it enough the momentum turned around. I could have never endorsed Giroux’s early season claims that they were headed to the playoffs as they sat at the bottom of the league. First because it was too early to tell and second because I thought that he was just doing his job, it would have never been right for him to be less than encouraging, motivated and optimist of his team. All in all, the Flyers have laid out some lessons for us to learn from this season: Lesson 1 Never get in a fight with a Boxer, Lesson 2 Keep your eye on the prize, Lesson 3 When you work together you can win. At the end of the day hockey brings communities and families together, even despite rivalries. Young athletes are looking up to these NHL players and I think that through a few bumps the Flyers set a great example this season.

I will be at my favorite bar with my Dad on Thursday, proudly wearing my Flyers shirt, downing some beer and eating wings as I celebrate the post season.  Win or lose I couldn’t be more proud of the athleticism, sportsmanship and motivation of this Flyers team this season.

For the 2013-14 regular season this is The Amateur Fan signing off. Welcome to the postseason.

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