Flyers

Credit Ed Snider for Bobby Clarke and hockey in Philly

snider-bobby-clarke.jpg

Credit Ed Snider for Bobby Clarke and hockey in Philly

Of the hundreds of players who have suited up for the Flyers over the years, likely none is as grateful for team founder Ed Snider as Bobby Clarke.

Without Snider, who died early Monday morning at the age of 83, Clarke would never have pulled a Flyers sweater over his head. And without Clarke, the Flyers might not ever have paraded down Broad Street.

“From the stories I hear, I might not have had a career [without him],” Clarke said recently. “He was the only one of the 12 teams who called a doctor and found out that I would be able to play, even though I had diabetes. At that time, he took the big gamble of drafting me.”

As the story goes, there was a scout named Gerry Melnyk who had desperately wanted the Flyers to draft him. But the general manager at the time, Bud Poile, didn't want to — and wouldn't have — if not for Snider.

Snider, still rather new to hockey at the time, generally never got involved in personnel decisions to that degree. He did that day, though, and the Flyers selected Clarke in the second round, 17th overall. In 1969, Clarke was too much of a risk for anyone else to draft. And back then, if a player wasn't drafted, he would never play professional hockey.

But that tale is one of the better-known of Flyers lore. What's less acknowledged, Clarke said, is the almost paternal role Snider filled for the hockey community in Philadelphia, especially early on. Clarke has said a number of times in the past that Flyers hockey has long been reflective of the kind of man Snider was. Players wanted to be here, he said, and they wanted to win and they wanted to be tough, but also be a part of the community. That's not a coincidence.

“He was a tough man, but also soft and caring,” Clarke said. “You don't get as successful as him without being tough. But at no time was he ever, for lack of a better word, an ass----. He was always a really good man, and really good for the city.”

In the 1960s and 70s, Clarke said, Snider stood up for his players in a way that was unprecedented. He visited the Flyers' locker room after every game, win or lose. He spoke individually with every player. He fought with referees when he believed the team wasn't treated fairly. Once, when he found out about a particularly sketchy plane ride the team had endured that ended with an emergency landing in Baltimore, he was furious. Snider made sure everyone understood that his players would never go through an experience like that again; if a plane wasn't good enough for Snider himself, there was no way his players would be getting on it, either.

“Lots of owners wouldn't have even noticed,” Clarke said. “But he knew, and he cared about his players.”

It wasn't until Clarke joined the Flyers' front office as general manager, though, that the relationship between the two men solidified. It became something “that was somewhere between close friends and father and son,” he said. “Somewhere halfway in between.”

And it was during that era that Clarke realized just how smart Snider was. He could make a suggestion without anyone realizing that he was until much later. His memory was dangerously sharp — like an elephant's, Clarke joked. But he would never tell his employees what to do. He was easy to work for and fun to work for, but also tough to work for.

It's easy to forget that Snider had no hockey experience prior to bringing the Flyers to Philadelphia in 1966. Somehow, though, he had an aptitude for it. And that's despite an old story that's been passed around and around – that once, in Boston, Snider saw a Bruins lineup card and wondered what it was.

In creating the Flyers from scratch, Snider grew to love and understand the game in a way few do. Clarke believes that without Snider, there's a good chance hockey never would have caught on in Philadelphia; there were plenty of other cities where, despite good intentions, the game never clicked with its fans.

“He totally understood 'team,' ” Clarke said, “what it took to have a team, build a team.”

And that idea, Clarke said, is key to understanding who Snider was, and why there is a love and a respect for him that few pro sports executives ever evoke – and it's a big part of why so many former Flyers stick around the area long after their hockey careers have ended.

“In a position like his, you got to see the emotion that winning and losing brings to an individual,” Clarke said. “Being strong and tough comes out pretty quickly. But [those who didn't know him] never saw — because he never brought it out — the kindness behind it, him paying for players' kids to go to school, all those kinds of things that he did quietly, that nobody ever knew. And that went on for years.

“With his charity (the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation), it's out there and you can see it now, but that went on for years – he did lots of things for ex-Flyers and their families that were important to people like me and other players who were still working. He was still taking care of our ex-teammates and helping them, quietly.”

Snider's influence on the game of hockey and the city of Philadelphia is immense, almost too much to put into words: The team he created. The stadiums he built. The charity work he's done. The players he's lured here. Bobby Clarke himself.

But it would be even more difficult to explain, Clarke said, what Snider meant to those who knew him.

“I can't,” Clarke said. “I don't have the vocabulary. I don't know what words, or how you'd put them together to describe him. He was not only a friend, but he was a great man. And I know that's been said about lots of people, but those of us who played hockey in Philadelphia know that 'great' does describe him.”

Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz activated off injured reserve, loaned to Phantoms

Flyers goalie Anthony Stolarz activated off injured reserve, loaned to Phantoms

Updated: 9:54 p.m.

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers activated goaltender Anthony Stolarz off injured reserve Thursday and loaned him to Lehigh Valley for conditioning purposes. Stolarz suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of a 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Dec. 15 in Vancouver when he allowed two goals on four shots.

With injuries to Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth and Alex Lyon, Stolarz was pressed into duty in the early part of December, making six starts over a 10-day stretch. With a 3.90 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage, Stolarz actually played better than the numbers he posted.

“In the games that I did watch, I don’t think he was given a lot of help for stretches and he kept the team close, and whether they won or lost the game, I don’t think you could point the finger at him,” Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers recall Stolarz, who can stay for 14 days without clearing waivers. Considering how well he played in wins at Pittsburgh and in Buffalo, there may be a team willing to take a chance on Stolarz as an inexpensive backup looking ahead to next season. 

With such limited playing time over the past two seasons in his recovery from meniscus surgery in September 2017, Stolarz is better served as the No. 1 in Lehigh Valley, where he can improve his game and regain his confidence. If Stolarz can build upon his small body of work this season, it will be interesting to see if the Flyers view him as a viable backup option for next season.      

No hearing for Lehtera

Flyers forward Jori Lehtera will not receive supplemental discipline from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety following his reckless hit into the back of Bruins forward Ryan Donato. Lehtera received a five-minute board major and a game misconduct. 

Lehtera likely avoided a suspension because Donato wasn’t injured on that play. The Bruins' winger was bleeding as a result of the hit, but never missed a shift in the third period.

Lehtera spent 17 minutes in the box compared to just 5:40 on the ice. At this point, Gordon has two highly ineffective veterans in Lehtera and Dale Weise, who cleared waivers on Wednesday but will remain on the team’s active roster. 

Will a third trick be a charm?

Sean Couturier’s three goals against the Bruins marked the first time since October 2002 that the Flyers registered hat tricks in consecutive games. Mark Recchi ripped home three goals in a 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames, while John LeClair potted four goals three nights later in a 6-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

It also marked the eighth time in Flyers franchise history that the team had a hat trick in back-to-back games, but that feat has never occurred in three straight games.

So, who could be the likely candidate to put three on the board at the Bell Centre Saturday and make franchise history?

I’m leaning on Claude Giroux, who has 10 goals in 30 career games against the Montreal Canadiens, with a two-goal effort against the Habs in 2011.

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Claude Giroux's unselfishness shouldn't go unnoticed

Claude Giroux's unselfishness shouldn't go unnoticed

Assistant coach Kris Knoblauch went to Claude Giroux and proposed a power-play adjustment.

It required Giroux vacating his usual left circle, where the captain has blasted away for a long time, as lethal as anyone in the game from that spot on the man advantage.

Shifting the right-handed Giroux to the opposite circle, an area not as favorable for his shot, had the premise of augmenting the lefty-shot James van Riemsdyk, who could do greater damage around the net taking right-wall feeds from the captain.

Giroux was receptive.

"Knobber had a conversation with G and got his thoughts on it," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said Tuesday following practice. "It certainly plays to the strengths of JVR, who obviously had a ton of points on the power play in his time in Toronto and maybe that is something we can take advantage of. 

"Obviously if the power play is going at 20 percent plus and we're scoring a power-play goal a game, you're not having the conversation. But credit to Claude for being open-minded to consider it and give it a go."

The first game Giroux and company gave it a go, van Riemsdyk scored a power-play goal and finished with a hat trick as the Flyers rallied resoundingly from a 2-0 deficit to pick up a 7-4 win Monday over the Wild.

A game later, the Flyers found themselves in another 2-0 hole. And another comeback was ignited, this time by a marvelous dish from Giroux, once again making his teammates better. Notching his 500th career assist, the 31-year-old stopped on a dime to recover a loose puck and zip a pass in the opposite direction, finding a streaking Oskar Lindblom.

Suddenly, a play no other Flyer can make had everyone revived. Confidence was restored and fruited into a 4-3 win over the Bruins, giving the Flyers consecutive victories for just the second time since mid-November.

"I've been lucky to play with really good players and I'm lucky to be able to give the puck to all these players," Giroux said. "It's a great accomplishment but we just have to keep going here."

Much of those wins are a product of Giroux's unselfishness, an underrated part to his building (and debated) legacy.

If Giroux shies away from Knoblauch's suggestion, acts like his power-play prowess is infallible, van Riemsdyk might not go off for a much-needed lift.

If Giroux doesn't make a play out of nothing for Lindblom, a comeback might not happen against a Bruins team that will be making noise in the playoffs.

If Giroux doesn't switch positions at 30 years old last season, Sean Couturier might not have his anticipated breakout the organization had been hoping for since the 2011 draft.

"His intensity, he's ready to go every other shift," Gordon said of Giroux. "He wants to play a lot, he does play a lot, he's not an easy guy to keep off the ice in practice when it's probably best for him not to go on the ice. He's very passionate about being a Flyer.

"I haven't felt that he's taken a shift off the entire time that I've been here. Anything that even resembled it might have been more fatigue than anything else, not because of a mental decision to say, 'You know what, I don't feel like playing hard this year.'"

That would be selfishness. You won't find it from Giroux, even in a season like this.

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