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Flyers prospect Mike Vecchione gives thanks with Union hockey

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Flyers prospect Mike Vecchione gives thanks with Union hockey

As much as the stories pierced his heart, Mike Vecchione wanted to listen.

There he sat in the Schenectady YMCA, next to a war veteran a few days before Thanksgiving. After tours in Iraq, the gentleman had lost so much. His home gone due to foreclosure, his livelihood ripped out from underneath him, with the terror of war still fresh.

There wasn't much to be thankful for, but he had someone in Vecchione that night.

Not an NHL prospect or an NCAA national champion.

But just someone who cared.

"He went over there, back and forth, and next thing you know, he's out of his home and can't afford to pay for the necessities — and it's really sad," Vecchione said. "I feel like I've heard a couple of those stories where guys go over there and come back and kind of lost a lot of their lives. It's difficult to listen to and you can see he was kind of shaken up about the whole thing. He was talking about when he was over there, what he saw and it still kind of haunts him at night.

"I thought that was one of the tougher stories. He was only like in his mid-40s and seemed to be doing really well, and now he's just living day to day, trying to figure out a way to make a living. That was one story that stuck with me and I definitely hope he's doing OK."

This was one of four years, from 2013-17, in which Vecchione helped continue a growing tradition of the men's hockey program at Union College, a private liberal arts school in Schenectady, New York, located in the state's Capital District.

"It's one of the highlights of the year," Union head coach Rick Bennett said. "And you say that, you think highlights of the year, it revolves around hockey, but it's just the opposite."

This Tuesday marked the 13th consecutive year Union hockey has helped serve Thanksgiving meals to the less fortunate at the Schenectady branch of the Capital District YMCA, which houses war veterans, men with disabilities, mental illness and chemical addiction.

Vecchione, 24, now a Flyers prospect in his first season with the Phantoms after signing as a college free agent at the end of March, will always remember the people he met.

"Some guys can't handle those stories, other guys can, and I was one of the guys who were listening to them, talking to them," Vecchione said earlier this month in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Afterward, they just kind of say, 'We're very thankful for what you guys do here, to come here and talk to us, serve us and listen to us.' All the little things you don't really think about are biggest things for them, that they're most appreciated."


Rick Bennett and Mike Vecchione (Union College)

What has become a staple of the Union hockey season started before Vecchione's time and prior to Bennett becoming head coach.

It began with the teams of Nate Leaman, who is now in his seventh season at Providence. Bennett, who was an assistant under Leaman and has been Union's head man ever since his predecessor's departure, has pushed the annual event forward.

"First and foremost, we're just trying to help others. We're trying to help our community, and the lessons that we all learn — not just the players, our staff learns from it every time that we do it every year — of how fortunate that we are and how we can help others," Bennett said. "When you do things in your community, to really help others, it's a good feeling. We're fortunate enough to be on the coaching staff here at Union College and our players are lucky to be student athletes at Union College. Some of these people that we're serving actually have come to our hockey games. They actually know some about the program, which is really impressive."

But, as Bennett and Vecchione will tell you, the credit goes to the Schenectady YMCA.

Union hockey is happy to lend a hand and add to the night.

"There's really not much that goes into it," Vecchione said. "The YMCA does a great job setting everything up with the food services and that sort of thing."

Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere took part during his three years at Union (2011-14) and is proud of what the community outreach has become.

"It's Schenectady, it's not the biggest place, so it's definitely cool," he said. "A lot of people, even though they don't have the best in the world, they find a way to put a smile on every day.

"It's the holiday season, some people aren't fortunate enough to be with their friends and family and whatnot. For us to be together, spend it with some people that are less fortunate, I think it's awesome. Puts everything in perspective for your life, to realize how lucky you are."

Over time, Union and the Schenectady YMCA formed a special bond with one common goal around Thanksgiving. Lou Magliocca, the executive director of housing for the Capital District YMCA, is a leader in coordinating the event and deeply appreciates the realness of Union hockey. The men's and women's programs are the school's only Division I sports, while the rest compete at the Division III level.

The institution of 2,200 undergraduate students hit the national map in 2014 — Vecchione's freshman year — when the men's hockey team captured its first-ever NCAA championship.

Magliocca, however, was blown away the following season.

"I thought it would be over with when they won the title, I thought I wouldn't see them again, you know? Now they're real big," he said. "Matter of fact, Coach called us and he said, 'Do you know the date of your Thanksgiving?'

"It's amazing. It's absolutely amazing."


Union hockey at Schenectady YMCA (Union Athletics)

To make each year possible, Magliocca said the YMCA receives donations from various businesses within the community to help provide the food.

The dinner is then prepared in the YMCA's kitchen and served from 4-7 p.m., typically on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving Day. Magliocca has been with the YMCA for nearly 17 years and fondly looks back on how it started with Union.

"Their athletic programs do some great volunteer work in the community," he said. "They've made it a mainstay that they all give back to something in the community.

"So what the Union hockey team did, we started to put together a Thanksgiving dinner. And what we did during the Thanksgiving dinner is we gave thanks to the guys that live here, they can invite a family member over, they can invite a friend over, that type of thing.

"Of the 188 that live here, we usually serve around 220, 225. Some don't have families, some do."

Magliocca said Union hockey works all three hours in numerous roles. Some are stationed in the back preparing the plates and drinks, while others hustle out the food and provide the dinner conversation.

"All the guys, great attendance, all the guys come, they mingle with homeless veterans here in Schenectady County," Magliocca said. "It's turned out to be a great event, a great partnership between the YMCA and Union College, where it's kind of grown with steam every year.

"It's just been a really good relationship, real good time and a real purposeful event serving the individuals here at our program."

And a person like Vecchione brightened the days of those individuals.

"What Union hockey adds to it, it adds a smile to their face," Magliocca said. "The conversation that they don't normally have."


Union hockey this year at Schenectady YMCA (Ross LaDue, Union Athletics)

It's no surprise such an effort and setting is right up Vecchione's alley.

The Saugus, Massachusetts, native comes from a family of work ethic and respect, values that have shaped him on and off the ice. His father, Joe, is a correctional officer and his mother, Diane, works as a billing assistant for a fence company.

Growing up, Vecchione learned the importance of hard work — nothing being given to you.

During his college summers, instead of focusing only on hockey — a sport that has earned him all sorts of accolades and now a professional career — Vecchione worked manual-labor type of jobs, from construction to building fences, to landscaping and roofing.

His daily routine consisted of waking up at 7:30 a.m., working out for two hours, skating for another two, before heading off to the day's job from 2-6 p.m.

Then doing it all over again.

"I did all those blue-collar jobs while I was home for the summer," Vecchione said. "It was something that's been instilled in my family — you've got to work to make a living. So I had to find a way to make some money and have a job. It definitely taught me some good lessons."

The drive and grind turned the 5-foot-10 Vecchione into a four-year college standout at Union, where he put up a program record 176 points, won the national championship in 2014 and was named a 2017 Hobey Baker Award (top college player) finalist.

The accomplishments weren't a product of pure talent.

"Family sacrifices growing up are a huge part of it," Bennett said. "It always starts at home; as we say, it starts at the kitchen table.

"[His parents] did it the right way."

The right way is a major reason why Vecchione took Thanksgiving at the YMCA to heart.

"Talking to some of the people, and there were some of them that sounded like they didn't really celebrate Thanksgiving because they couldn't afford it or they were alone on Thanksgiving," Vecchione said. "It's kind of a time to be around friends and family, whoever, but in this case, we were their family. Stand and kneel with them, hanging out, having some laughs, telling stories.

"You wouldn't think they would care too much about those little things that we take for granted, but at the same time, it can be a lonely world, a tough world, and these people have to go through with it every day. And we don't even think about those things. For us just to be there, have fun, listen to them and just kind of share this holiday, it was something they really appreciated and we didn't even think it was a big deal. It was very rewarding and I definitely always love to do that for those people."


Mike Vecchione (Union Athletics)

It was more than about simply showing up.

As a team captain his junior and senior years, Vecchione, humble and unassuming, wanted things done right when representing Union at the YMCA.

Just like it was for the war veterans, this meant something to Vecchione.

"They absolutely love it," Vecchione said. "The people that we serve are very generous and just very thankful that we go out there and support them and help them."

Bennett knew his team was in good hands with Vecchione. In this instance, the coach was not there to bark orders. He was there to listen to his leader.

"He was a two-year captain here, so let's just say we never had an issue at the YMCA with our team when Mike was running the show," Bennett said. 

"I'm usually with our staff in the back with a couple players getting the plates ready. I think that's where Mike said that I belong, so I was just following his orders.

"He said, 'You know what Rick, you just get the back, keep it quiet and just make sure the food is out here so I can serve it.'"

Vecchione deflected the attention away from the importance of his role.

"My job really was to make sure everybody's there, dressed appropriately and we're on time. And just delegate jobs to guys, need people to refill the water and the juice, guys in the kitchen, putting things together, servers, that sort of thing. We have the easy part," Vecchione said. "For me, I just delegated jobs, figure out what guys like to do. Some guys are more comfortable in the kitchen, where other guys are more social and can listen to those stories. So you kind of get a feel for what guys are willing to do and give them the job that best suits them."

Vecchione knew he wanted to listen.

"Just give them an ear to lean on," he said. "I definitely don't forget about those people when Thanksgiving comes around."

They were thankful for Vecchione.

But a guy like him was thankful for the opportunity.

Doing what he does best, Oskar Lindblom catching fire

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Doing what he does best, Oskar Lindblom catching fire

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers' prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 21, 6-1/192, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Flyers fans can't wait to see this at the NHL level.

Last weekend, Lindblom potted a goal in three straight games for the Phantoms, giving him 16 on the season through 54 contests. All three tallies came within close range as the Swedish winger's scoring IQ continues to grow during his first AHL season.

Since going scoreless in his first six games, the 2014 fifth-round pick hasn't gone more than four straight games without a point.

Lindblom surprised many with his vast development leading up to the 2017-18 season. While some were disappointed he didn't make the Flyers' roster out of training camp, a 20-goal campaign at Lehigh Valley will be a nice accomplishment along his path to Philly.

Travis Sanheim, D, 21, 6-4/199, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Just how much of a difference-maker is Sanheim? The Phantoms are 9-1-2 since the 2014 first-round pick joined them after he was sent down by the Flyers.

Over Lehigh Valley's 3-0-1 week, Sanheim extended his point streak to seven games with five more assists, putting him at 12 helpers in as many games.

Seeing plenty of minutes and responsibility, Sanheim has collected 13 points to go with a plus-11 rating.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW, 21, 5-11/187, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Aube-Kubel is another Phantom worth noting here.

The 2014 second-round pick put up five points (one goal, four assists) in four games last week, continuing his surge in Year 2 of his AHL development. He now has 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in his last 12 games.

After a feeling-out process last season, Aube-Kubel is coming on strong in 2017-18, as he's a plus-20 and third on Lehigh Valley with 37 points (15 goals, 22 assists).

Quick hits
• Ho-hum for Morgan Frost, who had a six-point week through three games. At 94 points, Frost is six away from 100, while his plus-54 rating remains best in the OHL.

Here's a glimpse into his vision and skill:

• Goalie Carter Hart picked up a win and a shootout loss over the weekend. In total, he made 60 saves on 65 shots.

Maksim Sushko tallied two goals (including this one below) and two assists through three games last week. A 2017 fourth-round pick, the 19-year-old has 48 points in 47 games for Owen Sound.

• Wingers Isaac Ratcliffe and Matthew Strome, also 2017 draft picks, recorded three points each in a pair of games.

• Playing for the first time since Jan. 31, German Rubtsov returned from an undisclosed injury to notch an assist over three games last week. The Flyers' 2016 first-round pick has 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 27 games for Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

• In Michigan's two-game sweep of top-ranked Notre Dame, Cooper Marody tacked on three more assists, giving 26 overall, which is tied for most in the Big Ten.

Here's his primary helper from Sunday's 1-0 win:

Anthony Salinitri pushed his point streak to seven games with an assist Friday and a goal Saturday. The 2016 sixth-round pick has 25 goals and 25 assists in 56 games.

• During the four-game week for the Phantoms, Mike Vecchione scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season, while adding an assist.

Philippe Myers had an assist Tuesday for his first point since Jan. 26, while Samuel Morin (undisclosed injury), who hasn't played since Jan. 20, remains out.

Hall's late OT goal helps Devils keep pace with Flyers

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Hall's late OT goal helps Devils keep pace with Flyers

RALEIGH, N.C. — Taylor Hall scored on a rebound with 22 seconds left in overtime, giving the New Jersey Devils a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday.

The goal extended Hall's league-best streak of games with a point to 18.

New Jersey had won the first of the teams' four meetings this season on Thursday night to start the Hurricanes' three-game losing streak.

Keith Kinkaid stopped 40 shots for the Devils.

The Devils led 1-0 after a first period in which the Hurricanes outshot them 13-9.

Nico Hischier scored New Jersey's first goal on a power play midway through the first, assisted by Sami Vatanen and Kinkaid (see full recap).

Matthews scores in final minute to give Maple Leafs win over Red Wings
DETROIT — To Jeff Blashill, the outcome came down to one simple fact.

"They made one more play than us," the Detroit coach Blashill said.

To Toronto center Auston Matthews, it came down to persistence.

"We've got a lot of chances the last couple of games," Matthews said. "We had some pretty good chances tonight, the puck just wouldn't go in.

"It was nice to finally finish it off there with a half a minute left."

Matthews scored with 30.2 seconds left to give the Maple Leafs a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings on Sunday night.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitch Marner also scored for Toronto, and Curtis McElhinney made 27 saves (see full recap).

McDavid notches 3rd hat trick of season in Oilers' victory vs. Avalanche
DENVER — Late in the second period, with his team outplaying Colorado, Edmonton coach Todd McLellan couldn't believe his Oilers were trailing 2-1.

"Jay Woodcroft and I looked at each other and said, `How are we losing this game?'" McLellan said.

They didn't, thanks to another big game by Connor McDavid.

McDavid had his third hat trick of the season and fourth of his career, and the Oilers beat the Avalanche 4-2 on Sunday to snap a six-game losing streak.

McDavid now has 11 goals in the last nine games and two hat tricks. His first two goals tied the game, and his last one was into an empty net with 1:26 remaining (see full recap).

Sheahan scores twice in Penguins' win over Blue Jackets 
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Riley Sheahan scored two goals in the first period, rookie Tristan Jarry had 35 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Sunday night.

Jake Guentzel had a goal and two assists, and Brian Dumoulin and Zach Aston-Reese also scored for the Penguins. They have won five straight and 10 of their last 12. The win in front of a sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena moved them past Washington into first place in the Metropolitan Division.

The 22-year-old Jarry played well standing in for starter Matt Murray, who got a rest as Pittsburgh played the second leg of a back-to-back and its third game in four days. It was Jarry's first NHL action in a month after going 3-0 in three starts for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the AHL.

Artemi Panarin and Alexander Wennberg scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 18 shots for the Blue Jackets. They have lost two straight and seven of the last nine. In what is becoming the norm lately, Columbus outshot its opponent (37-23) but couldn't score enough to win. The Blue Jackets lead the NHL in shots per game but are lingering near the bottom of the division (see full recap)