As the Flyers play their first game of the 2021-22 season, Max Willman will play the first game of his NHL dream.
We'll get into that and more with the essentials on the Flyers' regular-season opener Friday night against the Canucks.
- When: 7 p.m. ET with Flyers Pregame Live at 6 p.m. ET
- Where: Wells Fargo Center
- Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
- Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app
• For a month or so leading up to training camp, the 26-year-old Willman would drive from Allentown, Pennsylvania, to Flyers Training Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. He would do so to work out with some of the Flyers' players like Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee and Samuel Morin, to name a few.
The trip is an hour-plus drive that can climb to 90 minutes with bad traffic.
Willman, who was playing for the Flyers' ECHL affiliate in Reading fewer than two years ago, is glad he made the daily trek.
He'll make his NHL debut tonight on the Flyers' 2021-22 opening night.
"It kind of sucked in the moment," Willman said with a smile Friday, "but looking back on it, I'd do it all over again."
Willman's chance with the Flyers came suddenly. Ten days ago, his preseason with the big club ended as the Flyers loaned him to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley. With the Flyers' depth being thinned by various issues, Willman was back at Flyers Training Center on Thursday. The winger will be on the Flyers' fourth line tonight.
Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr kiddingly buried the lead when he informed Willman.
"We were actually in Lehigh, we had a game," Willman said. "After the game, Brent Flahr called me into the office down there. He was just like, 'You're going to go up and practice tomorrow.' I was kind of on my way back to the gym stretching, and he was like, 'Oh, one more thing. You can tell your parents to come down, you'll be in Friday.' Kind of took me off guard for a sec, but definitely exciting to hear that."
Millman played parts of four years at Brown and one season for Boston University before latching on with the Reading Royals in 2019-20. He has kept chipping away ever since. InsideAHLHockey.com's Tony Androckitis detailed Willman's journey here.
"I always just tried to play at that next level wherever I was," Willman said. "Maybe when I was in high school and some NHL scouts were coming, I kind of had a, 'Oh, that would be cool' idea. Almost not really even thinking anything of it.
"It's always something I've dreamed of."
Willman, a native of Barnstable, Massachusetts, said eight family members and friends were coming from Cape Cod to see his debut Friday night.
"A couple of years ago, he was in the East Coast," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday after morning skate. "Now he's getting an opportunity. Ran the stretch at the end of practice today. First game in the NHL. A couple of days ago, he was in the minors. Things happen. And opportunities happen. And there's an opportunity for a young man to step in and be a difference in tonight's game.
"Opportunity knocks, you grab it."
• The Flyers open the regular season with a four-game homestand.
Friday night marks their first season opener at the Wells Fargo Center with fans since the 2013-14 season.
Keith Yandle, one of the Flyers' seven offseason acquisitions, has played in Philadelphia a lot as a visitor.
"You always remember them having that extra gear where you know you're coming into Philly, you're not only playing the team, you're playing the fan base," Yandle said Friday. "They're into it, they're there in warmups down the other end, banging on the glass, giving you a hard time. A fan base that you'd rather be on this side of it than the other side. Definitely excited to be a part of it."
The Flyers are aiming to rebound from their disastrous 2020-21 season in which they had no fans in attendance followed by limited capacity. In 2019-20, before the season was put on pause because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Flyers had the best home record in the NHL. It was Vigneault's first season behind the Flyers' bench. He's 1 for 2 at the helm so far in Philadelphia.
"I think everybody is looking forward to normalcy," Vigneault said Thursday. "Coming to a game and having a packed arena that's there to support you, that bring that energy and that support that home teams need. My only half first year where we had fans, we had a great record at home, we were hard to play against, we worked hard, we played smart — just the type of game that I believe this team will be able to play again this year. And a big part of that is the support you get from your fans."
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Joel Farabee-Derick Brassard-Cam Atkinson
Oskar Lindblom-Scott Laughton-James van Riemsdyk
Max Willman-Nate Thompson-Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Ivan Provorov-Ryan Ellis
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Keith Yandle-Nick Seeler
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