EDMONTON, Alberta — South Jersey’s TJ Brennan is as close as he’s ever been to realizing his childhood dream.
The Moorestown, New Jersey, native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, and refined his game as a teenager with the Little Flyers, joined the 23-man roster Wednesday for the first time since signing a two-year contract in the summer of 2016 (see story).
Brennan was awoken out of bed by Phantoms coach Scott Gordon early Wednesday morning. Gordon informed Brennan that he was called up to join the Flyers. Brennan gathered his gear and rushed to the airport, finally arriving in Edmonton around 2:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. EST).
With little time for sleep, Brennan was still jacked when he hit the ice for the morning skate that he snapped his stick on the first slap shot he took.
"If I'm being honest," Brennan said, "personally, I just try and keep faith. There’s a young kid inside me that has a dream and I still follow that and stay true to that. Maybe as you get older, that window shuts a little more, and sometimes that sounds negative or harsh, but it is a reality.
"With something like this happening, you just try and enjoy it as much as you can and take advantage of any opportunity and see what happens.”
Getting on a roll
It's imperative for the Flyers to string together some victories as they attempt to work their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, currently eight points back of the Penguins for the second wild-card spot.
After finally erasing a 10-game losing streak Monday in Calgary, the Flyers now must attempt to carry that momentum over and turn in a similar performance Wednesday in Edmonton.
So far, they’ve been unable to get on an extended roll.
"I think we've felt that way over a good stretch here," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said, "and obviously we've got some ground to make up to scratch and claw our way back into it. I don't think things really change.
"We had a good result [Monday] night. The group in the locker room has had a real good mindset. They're on the same page and they're together, so none of that has to change. Our reality is we’ve given up a lot of ground so we’ve got to scratch and claw in the present here to do as well as we can to gain points.”
The Flyers, in games following a win, are currently 1-5-2 and have strung together back-to-back victories just once this season — beating the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season in mid-October.
Jakub Voracek rolled into Rogers Place Wednesday afternoon and was nearly unrecognizable, having completely removed his trademark red beard he’s been sporting for the past few years.
"No, didn't know who the hell it was," Hakstol said jokingly. "You don't see it too often. It's a different look for him and he's coming off a heck of a game in Calgary."
It had nothing to do with the 10-game losing streak, Voracek said.
"I just woke up around 8 o'clock and had some time because of the time change a little bit," Voracek said, "and just said, 'F--- it' and shaved."
The biggest adjustment for Voracek isn't the five years younger he looks with the beard gone, but when he straps on his helmet.
“Usually my beard is touching my chin strap, and now there’s this much room,” Voracek said, holding out two fingers roughly several inches apart. “It’s crazy.”
A different shade of Maroon
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall once said the organization needs to hit a home run with one of its late-round draft picks. Perhaps 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom will round into that type of player, but watching Edmonton power forward Patrick Maroon is a reminder of what could have been.
The Flyers, then with Paul Holmgren as GM, drafted Maroon in the sixth round (161st overall) in the 2007 draft. While Maroon brought a unique package of skill for his size (6-foot-3, 227 pounds), his lack of conditioning was a concern for teams who passed up on him during the early rounds and his lack of maturity forced the Flyers to move him to another organization.
Less than a month after Maroon had an incident that was considered "conduct detrimental to the team," Holmgren traded the winger as part of a four-player swap to the Anaheim Ducks in November 2010.
“I know me and Paul had a little falling out,” Maroon said. “We see each other and I thank him all the time. Paul’s a really good guy and he treated me well. I wish I could turn back the time in my third year when they sent me home.
“As a player that’s growing and maturing as a person, you learn how to do the right things, you learn how to take care of yourself. Without the Flyers' organization, I don’t think I’d be here in this locker room right now. They drafted me and gave me a chance to live my dream and play in the National Hockey League and the AHL.”
Maroon scored the Oilers' only goal Oct. 21 in Edmonton's 2-1 loss to the Flyers, and he's coming off his best season in the NHL, scoring 27 goals in 2016-17. However, it was two years ago, at the age of 27, Maroon finally had that light-switch moment.
“The summer I got traded to Edmonton, they gave me an ultimatum: ‘Do you want to stay in the league or do you want to commit yourself to this team and this organization?'" Maroon said. "'You can be a really good player. We’ll give you an opportunity to play with Connor McDavid. We believe you can be a really good guy, a really good depth guy for this organization.’
“A light switch hit where my time’s come to an end basically, so I’ve had to dedicate myself to nutrition and cardio. It was more getting in shape and my anaerobics. I’m 30 in April, so I’m not young anymore. The light switch hit that I want to play a couple more years in this league.”