Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

philadephia_flyers_noah_cates_development_camp.jpg
Philadelphia Flyers

It's back to school for Flyers prospect Noah Cates

Noah Cates became a hit in high school.

His first year after graduation, though, he didn't exactly mind being away from the classroom. From Stillwater, Minnesota, Cates traveled south to Omaha, Nebraska, for a full season of USHL hockey with the Lancers.

A nice, little perk to the decision?

"No school that year for me, so that was fun just to play hockey," Cates said with a smile three weeks ago at Flyers development camp. "Develop, work on everything."

Despite not hitting the books, Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Flyers, learned a lot, gaining a knowledge base he'll use moving forward.

Because it's back to school.

In mid-to-late August, the 19-year-old is headed to the University of Minnesota Duluth to continue his education and hockey career with the 2018 national champions, where he'll be joined by his older brother Jackson Cates.

"Very excited," the younger Cates said.

A year away from home to prepare for the college hockey life did Cates well. He grew on and off the ice, which built confidence — especially important ahead of development camp, a world junior summer showcase and his freshman season.

"Just how to be a pro, show up every day," Cates said. "It's a long season but you have to be consistent — that was a big part for me. Consistently, doing the right thing, day in and day out.

"It's all about confidence. If you're confident you can play with those guys and that your body can hold up, you can do it. That's just a big part of it and what I developed this year."

Cates, a left winger with a true offensive skill set, came on strong after a feeling-out start to the season in which he totaled 14 points (six goals, eight assists) over his first 22 games. From then on, he broke out for 41 points (15 goals, 26 assists) in his final 38 contests, finishing second on the Lancers with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) in 60 games, while posting a plus-21 rating. 

"Second-half league for me, just got more comfortable with the team, the coaches, the league," Cates said. "The team did well, so I kind of fit in, did my part."

The offense has always been a part of Cates' game. Beyond the statistics, what truly stood out from the 2017-18 season was the added strength to his 6-foot-1 frame. Cates weighed 165 pounds at 2017 development camp. He said he started the year with Omaha at 170. Impressively, by season's end, he was a solid 180 to 185.

"That was a big part, how I progressed throughout the season," Cates said. "That was my main goal going there to step into college hockey and get ready to play against those older guys, so it was a really good season in that case."

Cates will now take his next test — back in class and on the ice.

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How Alain Vigneault has gotten the Flyers to look in the mirror and buy in

How Alain Vigneault has gotten the Flyers to look in the mirror and buy in

Chuck Fletcher was brutally honest.

He had no reason not to be.

The general manager had gotten to know the Flyers over the final 57 games of a 2018-19 season that fell glaringly short of expectations.

At his end-of-the-season press conference on April 8, Fletcher lamented the team’s “bad habits” on the ice, pinpointing the Flyers’ overall failure to play the right way.

The message was piercing and telling when glancing at the Flyers’ roster. This was a group built around a veteran core, together since 2011. It was not lacking experience, yet it did not have a postseason series victory since 2012.

The Flyers needed to look in the mirror and have an openness to change.

They needed a coach to spearhead the process, rip off the bandages and begin anew.

They needed Alain Vigneault.

"When you have a guy like Alain walk in, there's instant presence,” Fletcher said on April 18, the day of Vigneault’s introduction. “There's a proven track record of success, which leads to instant credibility.

"It's also how you coach — it's tactics, it's philosophy, it's communication, it's having that presence and being able to get players to play the way you want them to play and feel good about it.

"He's not a yeller and a screamer. But he gets guys to buy in. If you can do that and they still have a smile on their face, you're a pretty good coach. That's what the top coaches do."

(Zack Hill/Philadelphia Flyers)

In 50 games of 2019-20, Vigneault and the players have smiled a lot together, forming a productive partnership. Both sides have bought into each other, have adjusted and compromised with one another.

And that’s what it takes to build a winning product.

After a 3-0 win Tuesday night over the Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations), the Flyers improved to 27-17-6 entering their NHL-mandated bye week. The 60 points are the club’s most through 50 games of a season since 2011-12, when it started 30-14-6 and last won a playoff series. The 2019-20 Flyers are allowing 2.90 goals per game, have a plus-8 goal differential and are three points out of third place in the NHL's deepest division.

“We’re about on track to what I expected as far as bringing the team together,” Vigneault said Tuesday. “I wasn’t quite sure exactly what we had as far as a group, where the young players were — I like their progression, the veteran players buying in on what it takes to play winning hockey.”

Vigneault has turned the Flyers into a hard-on-the-attack, forecheck-oriented, possession-based team — a system that requires immense effort and smarts.

However, he has not stripped the Flyers’ playmakers of their offensive strengths. In 2018-19, the Flyers didn’t have a ton of issues scoring, but they finished with a minus-37 goal differential and yielded the NHL's third-most goals per game at 3.41.

"We adapt our system to the players that we have,” Vigneault said back in April.

James van Riemsdyk has seen it.

“For me, the most important thing — obviously that stuff is nice and he has a good system, but he lets us have some leash,” van Riemsdyk said Tuesday. “Obviously you’ve got to be responsible in certain situations of the game, but I don’t think he tries to take away any creativity offensively. You kind of have that leash to make some plays and do things that you see out there.

“Certainly you don’t want to do anything crazy or anything like that, but he’s not married to one particular play in every situation. You can make some reads and you have some freedom to use your hockey sense to try to create. That’s been good.”

(Eric Hartline/USA Today Images)

The marriage between Vigneault and the roster could have endured serious growing pains. It’s not like the two haven’t. Vigneault had to show he wasn’t messing around in the preseason, he challenged his big-money players in November and he made it clear, just last week in a crossword puzzle way, that he’s not one for excuses.

Jakub Voracek was one of the players Vigneault pushed for more production. Since Nov. 23, Voracek has recorded 25 points and a plus-14 rating in 28 games. He has played some of his best all-around hockey without losing his offensive prowess.

“One of the things that I like about Jake is we’ve come in here with some nonnegotiables as far as what you need to do when you don’t have the puck, the shooting lane to get into and Jake has been really easy to manage,” Vigneault said. “Sometimes those elite players, they need a little extra room with the puck and I agree with that, but there are some nonnegotiables without the puck, things that you have to do and he’s doing it for our team.”

The city has embraced Vigneault’s tough love and his players have responded to it.

He’s a good fit for this city,” Kevin Hayes, who played for Vigneault from 2014-18 in New York, said last Saturday. “He’s a great coach, he’s on top-10 lists I believe and it’s just going to keep getting higher and higher. He tells you how it is, he’s not going to sugarcoat anything, he lets you know when you’re playing well, he lets you know when you’re playing bad. 

He demands the best from his players. As a player, that’s what you need — it’s not college or junior anymore, you don’t want to be pampered. It’s a job, it’s the NHL, you want to know where you stand. Sometimes you’re not happy with what he says to you, but that’s how it is. If you want to be happy with him, play better.

Vigneault has found ways to pace Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, he has let his defensemen make plays, he has managed the goalies well, he has trusted the younger players and he has communicated.

Thus far, players have liked how Vigneault delivers his message to them first before he says anything publicly to the media.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Hayes said. “He knows what buttons to push and who he can push and what could be said and how to get the best from his guys.

“He treats everyone the same, if you’re a 10-year guy or a rookie year guy. He might give the veteran a little bit more leeway, but he holds everyone to the same standard.”

Vigneault has more buttons to push and the veteran core has more work to do.

They’ve looked in the mirror together. The Flyers should like what they see.

 

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Watch here as Gritty goes full savage mode on the Houston Astros

Watch here as Gritty goes full savage mode on the Houston Astros

Wait, wait ... Gritty did what?

The past few weeks in MLB may go down as some of the craziest the league and fans have ever witnessed.  

And just about everyone has voiced their opinions on the matter ... and now it looks like Gritty has, too.

That's right, everyone's favorite mascot decided to go full savage mode and trade in his infamous drum for a trash can during the Flyers' win over the Penguins on Tuesday.

What was on the trash can, you ask?

Why, it's the Astros' logo on all four sides.

Way to go Gritty, you just broke the sports world once more (don't worry, we love it).

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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