Jordan Hall

End to End: Which Flyer has been most disappointing during skid?

End to End: Which Flyer has been most disappointing during skid?

Throughout the season, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty and Jordan Hall.

The topic: Which Flyer has been most disappointing during skid?

Dougherty
There is plenty of blame to go around. It's the holiday season. We should spread the love. So let's. There isn't one player responsible for where the Flyers stand today. It would be unfair to single out one player as the root of the team's problems. It would also be unfair to blame the head coach for the players not performing up to their abilities. It also would be unfair to not place some blame on the head coach. It's Dave Hakstol's responsibility to get the most out of his players, and he's not doing that.

Ultimately, the fault lies with the players. This Flyers team has more talent than it has in the past few seasons. I still believe that. I don't think it's a talent issue, and general manager Ron Hextall said as much last week when the downfall was at four games.

"We have enough talent," Hextall said. "It's not a talent issue, it's an execution issue."

After the losing streak hit nine Tuesday night, Hextall spewed GM-speak. He said all the things he had to say, and that certainly didn't sit well with the fanbase. It didn't sound like he was at his breaking point, which means, it doesn't appear any major changes are coming. The "Fire Hakstol" chants that filled the Wells Fargo Center will get only louder as the rightfully disgruntled fanbase grows more irritated. Hextall, though, doesn't sound like a GM ready to fire his coach. Instead, he believes in his players.

So which one player am I most disappointed in over the Flyers' current nine-game losing streak that has no end in sight? For me, it's Wayne Simmonds, who has one goal in his last 17 games. Simmonds jumped out to a scorching start this season. He scored a hat trick in the season opener and had three game-winning goals in the Flyers' first five games.

Simmonds has been one of the best Flyers forwards since he's been in Philadelphia, and he's doing so on an extremely team-friendly contract. He's a 30-goal scorer. He makes his living on the power play. He's a physical player, plays with passion and heart. But over the last month, he hasn't been the same. He suffered a lower-body injury in the third period Oct. 17 against the Florida Panthers, and while he hasn't missed a game since, he certainly hasn't looked like the same player.

Perhaps Simmonds is more hurt than he's letting on. Perhaps, it's the warrior mentality hockey players have — that if you can walk, you will play. It's one thing to play through injury if it doesn't affect your play. It's another thing to play through injury and have a negative impact on your team. If Simmonds isn't injured, then it's a bigger problem.

We've talked about the Flyers' lack of secondary scoring and Simmonds has been a culprit in that department. The Flyers need him to play better, and they need it soon. There isn't one player responsible for the hole this team has dug itself. It's truly a collaborative effort, but Simmonds has been the most disappointing.

Hall
The players are taking the blame for the Flyers' current state of affairs.

So now is a decent time to look at which of those players have underperformed most, resulting in this early-season drama.

And, really, no one guy jumps out as the clear-cut culprit for the Flyers' mess. This is on a lot of the players, not just a few.

For me, however, I've got to go with Jordan Weal, especially because I had such high expectations for him entering his first full NHL season. I loved what I saw last season when he finally got his chance, he works his tail off and at times during training camp and preseason, he looked like the Flyers' quickest and most dangerous player.

In a prominent role with some talent around him, I foresaw a big jump from Weal to provide the secondary scoring the Flyers always seem to need.

It just hasn't happened … yet.

Weal has two points (one goal, one assist) in his last 15 games. Overall, he has six points (two goals, four assists) in 20 games and was a healthy scratch the Flyers' past two defeats. For some context, defenseman Brandon Manning, in the same number of games, has scored more goals with three and has matched the point total of six.

There's no reason why Weal can't rediscover his scoring touch.

But he's now in a fight to regain his role and trust from the coaches.

Young cancer patients pump up Flyers by announcing lineup before game

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Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers

Young cancer patients pump up Flyers by announcing lineup before game

In sports, sometimes we need a reminder that there are bigger things than wins and losses.

Providing smiles for two youngsters battling cancer is a beautiful example.

Dave Hakstol and the Flyers helped make those special memories possible on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Maddie Swenson, 10, and DJ Allen, 12, both fighting cancer, were welcomed into the Flyers' locker room to offer some pregame motivation before the team hit the ice against the Sharks.

Swenson and Allen pumped up the guys by announcing the Flyers' starting lineup.

It was an awesome moment.

(Pictures courtesy of Flyers PR guru Zack Hill.)

Just four days ago, Swenson finished her final chemotherapy treatment. On Tuesday, she celebrated her 10th birthday. And last week, she met the Flyers after practice.

This is in conjunction with the NHL's #HockeyFightsCancer initiative.

Bravo to the Flyers and all those who push the cause forward — and, most notably, to those who continue to fight.

Flyers prospect Mike Vecchione gives thanks with Union hockey

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JustSports Photography

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.