Flyers

With similar roots, former Flyer Tony Amonte and Jay O'Brien have a new connection

With similar roots, former Flyer Tony Amonte and Jay O'Brien have a new connection

Tony Amonte knew of Jay O'Brien.

The two hail from Hingham, Massachusetts, a town roughly 15 miles south of Boston right off the harbor. Amonte's sons Ty and Tristan both play hockey and are close to the same age as the 18-year-old O'Brien; Ty is 20, while Tristan is 18 and about three months younger. All three are now good friends.

"So I saw Jay around quite a bit," Amonte said.

What did he first see?

"Knew he was going to be a pretty special player," he said.

No small compliment coming from a five-time NHL All-Star with 900 career points (416 goals, 484 assists) to his name. 

Amonte has witnessed his impression bear fruit. The former Flyer coached O'Brien at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts, where Amonte also went to school. O'Brien played for Amonte before enrolling at Thayer. It was a split-season league prior to high school and O'Brien's potential was evident.

"During that split season, he had an opportunity to play with a couple of older guys and you could tell right there, how hungry he was and how talented he was," Amonte said in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia last week. "The rest was just up to him if he could continue to work and do what he needed to do on and off the ice, that he was going to be a successful kid and a big-time player at some point."

That point took a step this summer when O'Brien's story drew another connection to Amonte. The speedy center was drafted 19th overall by the Flyers, the team his head coach played for from 2002-04 and helped reach the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals, where it lost to the Lightning in seven games.

When the Flyers called O'Brien's name, Amonte didn't have much to say about the organization.

"He texted me and said, 'That was incredible,'" O'Brien recalled.

Amonte believes the franchise will speak for itself.

"I loved playing there. It was one of the best organizations I played for," Amonte said. "Mr. (Ed) Snider spared no expense for the team. Whatever you asked them for, they gave you, they were there. It's a fun place to play. Of all the places I've played, that was fun. 

"It was a great time because we were winning, as well, had some good teams. It is a fun city to play in. One of the better organization's in the league, in my opinion."

O'Brien got to feel it at development camp in late June, early July, when he showed why the Flyers drafted him earlier than many anticipated. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder becomes a force when he accelerates and is scary with the puck on his stick. There's a reason why he went off for 43 goals and 80 points in 30 games with the Tigers last season, which has Providence College excited for his game this fall.

"When he gets an opportunity to score, he puts it in the back of the net — there's no question," Amonte said. "That's exactly how it was when he played for me. It was quite amazing, the kid was in all alone, he scores. He makes it happen. To have a clutch goal scorer like that is just huge. 

"That was the first thing I really noticed about him — other than his grit and just how hard he played and how much he wanted it. That innate ability to get in on the goalie all alone and be able to make it happen."

Don't think just flashy goal scorer, either.

"I love his grit to go along with goal scoring," Amonte said. "He's really got a lot of grit and a lot of sandpaper to his game. And I think that's the Philly way. Obviously being a Flyer and having played there, it's all about heart and passion and how hard you go and I think he fits that mold.

"Being drafted as high as he was, it's a testament to staying the course and just doing what he needed to do and going out there and proving he was the best player in New England."

The Flyers were questioned a bit for possibly reaching with their pick of O'Brien. Quite frankly, though, general manager Ron Hextall and his scouting staff didn't give a damn about pre-draft rankings when taking O'Brien at No. 19 over other centers such as Joseph Veleno, Rasmus Kupari and Isac Lundestrom.

It's fitting that those ratings didn't mean much to the player the Flyers were so-called gambling on with their second selection of the first round.

"I don't even know where I was," O'Brien said. "But I didn't really pay attention to it. … It's not really where you get drafted, it's what you do after you get drafted."

Amonte said the Flyers didn't touch base much during the season but were at many of Thayer's games in the winter, while O'Brien was aware of the team's interest.

"I talked to them at kind of the midpoint of the year and then at the combine," O'Brien said. "I knew it was a possibility, I knew they liked me and I liked them a lot. When their pick was up, I was kind of crossing my fingers. You can't tell because anything can happen at the draft, but we built a good relationship with the staff and I couldn't be happier to be here."

And if he needs some help, O'Brien knows a guy.

"I just always loved him, he's so passionate, he's very competitive, real competitive guy," O'Brien said of Amonte. "Doesn't say much off the ice, just keeps it short and sweet and then on the ice, little pointers here and there. It's pretty easy to listen to a guy like that who has been through it, has had so much success in the NHL. 

"It was a blast, he was a big part of my success and we're going to keep in touch the rest of my life."

Down the line, O'Brien will have Amonte coming back to Philadelphia. After a game, a handshake and hug will be in store for the boys from Hingham.

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Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

Flyers roster cuts: Notable hopefuls remain in busy competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers made a hefty round of cuts a little earlier than anticipated.

They changed their preseason plan Friday morning as head coach Alain Vigneault and the front office decided this was the best course of action in preparation for the Oct. 4 season opener (see story).

The Flyers trimmed the roster by 18 players.

Tyler Wotherspoon, Nate Prosser, T.J. Brennan, Kyle Criscuolo and Reece Willcox will be placed on waivers Saturday. If they clear, they'll report to AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley.

Felix Sandstrom, Cal O'Reilly, Greg Carey, Maksim Sushko, Kirill Ustimenko, Gerry Fitzgerald, David Drake, David Kase, Pascal Laberge, Isaac Ratcliffe, Matthew Strome, Rob Michel and Josh Couturier were assigned to Lehigh Valley.

None of the cuts are surprising. Sushko performed well in camp and is entering his first season with the Phantoms. Ratcliffe had an outside shot at winning a roster spot with the Flyers but it became clear throughout camp and the preseason that the 6-foot-6 winger needed development in the AHL. Felix Sandstrom is a promising goalie prospect. David Kase and Pascal Laberge will be forwards to watch, as well.

O'Reilly, 32, was a point-per-game player last season in the AHL and will be one of Lehigh Valley's best players, along with Greg Carey.

The competition for the Flyers' bottom six and defensive pairings heats up Saturday with the team's fourth preseason game out of seven. Nobody has knocked the door down (see story).

The Flyers' roster is at 36 players.

Forwards

Andy Andreoff
Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Connor Bunnaman
Sean Couturier
Joel Farabee
Morgan Frost
Kurtis Gabriel (injured)
Claude Giroux
Kevin Hayes
Travis Konecny
Scott Laughton
Oskar Lindblom
Nolan Patrick (injured)
Tyler Pitlick (injured)
Michael Raffl
German Rubtsov
Chris Stewart
Carsen Twarynski
James van Riemsdyk
Jakub Voracek
Mikhail Vorobyev

Defense

Chris Bigras
Justin Braun
Mark Friedman
Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg
Samuel Morin
Philippe Myers
Matt Niskanen
Ivan Provorov
Travis Sanheim
Andy Welinski (injured)

Goalies

Jean-Francois Berube
Brian Elliott
Carter Hart
Alex Lyon

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Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

Change in plan shows Alain Vigneault isn't messing around with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. — Alain Vigneault knows how to massage a message. He coached in Montreal, Vancouver and New York; this is not his first rodeo.

When he spoke Friday about suddenly changing the Flyers' preseason plan to ramp up the preparation and concepts for the veteran players, he chose his words wisely.

But make no mistake: Vigneault can't be thrilled with the progress.

"It has nothing to do with the outcomes, it has everything to do with the process," the Flyers' head coach said. "For me, the process needs to accelerate at this time — and that's what I intend to do."

The Flyers were ready to play a mixed group of NHLers — about nine players that would likely make the team — and prospects to compete in Saturday's exhibition game against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, following a lackluster 3-1 preseason loss to the Bruins' B-squad Thursday, Vigneault met with general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr Friday morning about adjusting the approach. With four exhibition games remaining, the Flyers will expedite cuts to focus on whittling down the roster and increasing the reps for the main players ahead of the season opener.

"Between the 25 and the 30 players that I feel right now have the best chance of maybe making this team," Vigneault said. "Instead of waiting until Monday, Tuesday's practice, we're going to be at that number [Saturday]."

Is it a startling change? If anything, it's proactive. The Flyers have missed the playoffs in four of the last seven seasons and haven't won a series since 2012. They've notoriously started slow in recent history. Last season, the team was in last place of the Metropolitan Division at Thanksgiving for the second straight year.

It cost people jobs and, ultimately, it's why Vigneault is in place.

After looking at the last couple of days, I feel that this is a different situation than I've been used to in the past. I've been used to coming to camp in the past and my teams have been in the playoffs. Usually I give the veteran players three of the six or seven games that we play. I feel at this time, our veteran players need more games that I originally planned. I'm going from the three that I planned to four and some might even get five out of the seven. 

I'm going on the amount of teaching that we're doing, there's a lot there, there's a lot to be assimilated by the players. I'm going by what I'm seeing about the players' performance, how they're executing, and I just feel at this time we need to make a change and that's what we're doing.

- Vigneault

In 16 NHL seasons as a head coach, Vigneault has 11 playoff berths. Eight of those teams advanced past the first round, three won the Presidents' Trophy and two went to the Stanley Cup Final. He has impressive results in Year 1 on the job (see story).

"When you're in the playoffs and you go for a round, two rounds, three rounds, four rounds, that's intense hockey, that's a longer season," Vigneault said. "This group has been off for a while and, in my mind, it just needs a little bit more preparation. There's nothing better than game situation, where games are on the line.

"With a new staff coming in and everything that we need to touch on, I need to get these guys into more games. So what we've decided to do is just accelerate the process."

Does Vigneault's track record allow him to make this change and have it stick with the players?

"They don't have a choice," Vigneault said. "That's just the way it is."

Oct. 4 is nearing and a new system from a new staff is expected to spearhead a jump back into contention for the Flyers.

"Once you get down to one group, the internal competition gets a little bit better also," Vigneault said. "That's what we need to do here, we need to get down to one group to have everybody in the same room, at the same time, and make sure that they're grasping the concepts that we're trying to apply. 

"I'm very confident that this will be better for the group."

How the Flyers start the season will provide the true answer.

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