Football could've been Alt-ernate ending for Flyers' D-man

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Football could've been Alt-ernate ending for Flyers' D-man

If the Eagles raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy Sunday night, Flyers defenseman Mark Alt will be reminded of that other promising career he once had. 

As of now, Alt may be Philadelphia’s only professional athlete to win a football championship in the state of Minnesota, where he was a prolific quarterback at St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham high school, guiding the Raiders to the Class 5A state championship in 2009. He was considered the best football player in the state, claiming the coveted Minnesota Player of the Year award.

Then again, all of that should come as little surprise. Mark’s father, John, was one of the NFL’s best offensive lineman from 1984-96, a two-time All-Pro tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, and a member of their Ring of Honor, where his name can be spotted easily inside Arrowhead Stadium.

“He pushed me hard,” Mark said. “He just wanted the best for me. There is a great sense of pride I feel for him, not only because he played in the NFL, but because he is my dad.” 

As much as Mark enjoyed football, there was that other sport that also piqued his interest.

"He was always outside on the rollerblades, always shooting around," John told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "We had pucks all over the yard. The lawnmower chewed up a thousand pucks over the course of his upbringing. Other kids, they played video games or whatever. He had no interest in that. He was always outside."

At one point, Mark was leaning towards a collegiate football career, and why not? He was offered a scholarship to play at his father’s alma mater, the University of Iowa, under head coach Kirk Ferentz, and there were offers from UCLA and Stanford as well. Ultimately, he saw a more promising future playing hockey in his hometown at the University of Minnesota.

“I think the opportunity at the time hockey just presented itself,” Mark said. “I just got drafted. I knew I could go play at Minnesota right away, whereas football, you don’t know. You don’t know who’s at that school, who the quarterbacks are, who’s coming in. I think for me the opportunity (in hockey) was there.”

Right away, Mark was a key contributor in his freshman season. As a sophomore, Alt and the Golden Gophers lost to Johnny Gaudreau and the Boston College Eagles at the 2012 Frozen Four in Tampa Bay. A year later the Carolina Hurricanes, who selected Alt in the 2010 NHL Draft, traded him to the Flyers for Brian Boucher, and he signed his first professional contract later that summer.

However, father and son still talk football. 

In fact, mention the Super Bowl to Alt’s father, John, and the topic sets in like a hornet sting. Protecting legendary Joe Montana, Alt and the Chiefs were one game away from reaching Super Bowl XXVIII before losing to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. It's as close as he ever got to playing on professional football’s biggest stage, and it was even a conversation piece recently.

“I asked him about it a few years ago," Mark said about his father. "He definitely brought it up and he was definitely a little sour about it.

“He played 13 years and played on some good teams. Joe Montana was his quarterback and that sort of thing. They had teams that could have made a run and he definitely wishes he could have gone.”

The Flyers' season will prevent Alt from attending Super Bowl LII in his home state and just down the road in Minneapolis, where he won his state title at the now demolished Metrodome. However, Alt can truly appreciate a quarterback’s journey and can probably relate to Nick Foles who, like Alt, had played most of the season as an obscure backup until he was pressed into duty following the injury to Carson Wentz.

“The way he played in the NFC Championship and before that was outstanding,” Mark said. “He’s had successful years in the past and to take this team as far as they have and look as good as they did. They looked like a well-oiled machine in that championship game. They’ve been fun to watch.”

After Alt witnessed the Eagles demolish his hometown Vikings, he now feels no different than the rest of the championship-starved fans who are hoping the 2017 Eagles bring back the city’s first professional football title since 1960.

“It’s going to come down to a big turnover," Alt said. "Against the Vikings, that first interception was a big momentum swing. If they can play solid on defense and get a turnover like that, I think they’ll have a good shot.”  

Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

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Samuel Morin's future with Flyers grows murkier with torn ACL

Samuel Morin is taking the long and winding road to the NHL, one that’s now more rugged and elongated than ever.

The Flyers confirmed Thursday that Morin tore the ACL in his right knee when his skate caught a rut on the ice in Charlotte while he was attempting to check an opponent. The injury took place in the first period of the Phantoms' epic five-overtime game against the Checkers two weeks ago.

General manager Ron Hextall told the Courier-Post's Dave Isaac that Morin is facing a nine-month recovery process and that the 6-7 defenseman is “probably out until February” as he recovers from surgery — which Morin will undergo sometime in the near future.

Morin’s 2018-19 season will now be spent rehabbing from injury and utilizing what’s left of the regular season working his way back with the Phantoms.   

The Flyers' 2013 first-round pick is also a restricted free agent after playing out the final year of his three-year entry-level contract. In the five years since he was drafted, Morin has suited up for just three NHL games. 

Expect the two sides to reach an agreement on a one- or- two-year extension rather easily since Morin doesn’t have much leverage in negotiations at this point. Since Morin signed his rookie deal at the age of 18, he also had a five-year (or 160-game) waiver exemption that has now expired.

In other words, the Flyers will no longer have the luxury of shuttling Morin back and forth from Lehigh Valley without exposing him to the rest of the league if they attempt to send him back to the minors.

The Flyers have no choice but to give Morin the necessary time to ensure he’s not only ready physically, but also that his game can be trusted at the NHL level.  

Hextall has preached patience in the deliberate development of the organization’s prospects.

Right now, Samuel Morin is the poster child for that process.

Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

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Phantoms' Travis Sanheim-Philippe Myers pairing can't be trusted with Flyers ... yet

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Flyers' general manager who was able to construct an entire blue line through trades and free-agent signings was once asked, "What's the number one trait you look for out of a defenseman?"

Paul Holmgren’s response was decisive and to the point. Paraphrasing, Holmgren said, "The one who can get the puck out of his zone as quickly as possible."

As much as the game of hockey has been broken down into advanced metrics and analytics, it’s rather simple at its core. The more time a team spends in its end of the ice, the greater likelihood it'll be on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

The AHL playoffs have served as an ideal test site for Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers, who have been stalwarts throughout the Phantoms' postseason run. 

However, Game 3 at the PPL Center Wednesday night further exemplified the necessary strides the Flyers' defensive prospects must take in order to develop into reliable, everyday NHL blueliners.  

Oftentimes, less is more when you have the puck in the defensive end of the ice, and it took roughly 62 seconds into the game on Sanheim’s opening shift for the 22-year-old to make a major gaffe that gave the Toronto Marlies a 1-0 lead. 

Instead of making the simple play of a quick pass up the boards, Sanheim elected to keep it, reversing his field and was suddenly stripped with the attacking forward trailing. Roughly two seconds elapsed from the moment Sanheim lost the puck to when it was behind goalie Alex Lyon in the net. 

“On that particular play, we have full possession of the puck and the opportunity to advance it," Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon said. "Instead, we go back behind the net to where their guy is. That’s just playing into their hands. In that situation, and in a few of our breakouts, there were opportunities to move forward with the puck and we didn’t.”   

However, the gaffes involving the Sanheim-Myers pairing didn’t stop there. Sanheim was stripped of the puck at his own blue line during the first Phantoms' power play. Myers inexcusably lost his edge skating with the puck through the neutral zone. Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson muscled his way around Sanheim to generate a quality scoring chance, and then another terrible pass and turnover inside the Phantoms' zone.

And that all came in the first seven minutes of the game. 

If Dave Hakstol had been behind the bench (he was actually watching from the PPL Center press box), Sanheim is likely sitting in front of him for the remainder of the game. That’s essentially what transpired in mid-January at the Prudential Center in New Jersey when Sanheim’s play landed him back in the minors for a month and a half. 

Chalk this up as one bad game. Game 3 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals was simply another teaching moment as the Phantoms were blown out, 5-0, falling behind 3-0 in the series. Both players will be back there together logging close to 25 minutes as the Phantoms try to avoid elimination Friday night.    

As exciting as it is to watch Sanheim and Myers generate offense within the Phantoms' system with their size and skating ability, there’s no way Hakstol and the Flyers can depend on that pairing defensively next season. Together, they’re still young, inexperienced and unreliable. 

If anything, expect the competition between Myers and Sanheim as something worth watching when Flyers camp opens in September. Myers has closed the gap in his first full season in the AHL. 

And the guy who can clean up their play defensively will likely be the one that starts next season with the Flyers.