Flyers

Pascal Laberge out to be 'the real me' following dark days from concussion

Pascal Laberge out to be 'the real me' following dark days from concussion

VOORHEES, N.J. — On a Saturday night in Victoriaville, Quebec, last October, the trajectory of Pascal Laberge’s third season in the QMJHL changed in a flash and not for the better.

Six minutes into the Tigres’ game against the Moncton Wildcats, Laberge was met by a thundering headshot from Zachary Malatesta as he gathered the puck at his own blue line.

Laberge lay barren on the ice while Victoriaville alternate captain James Phelan immediately jumped Malatesta, who was ejected and then suspended seven games.

“You try to avoid these concussions and when a player does a thing like that, it sure pisses you off a little bit,” Laberge said Friday at development camp at Flyers Skate Zone. “There’s always going to be some guys like that in hockey. It’s just that it happened to me.”

What happened to Laberge was a concussion that caused him to miss over a month before returning Nov. 25 for two games to only sit out another three games as symptoms returned.

Upon returning, Laberge labored to find the consistency and point production that led to the Flyers’ selecting him with the 36th overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft.

After his symptoms subsided enough for him to come back Dec. 8, the 19-year-old forward recorded seven points in eight games in the month. In January, he tallied six points in 10 games but was held pointless during six of those games. He finished the season with 32 points.

In 2015-16, his draft year, Laberge registered 68 points in 56 games for Victoriaville. His 32 points last season was one point more than his 2014-15 rookie campaign in the QMJHL. 

He ended last season with an assist in each of the Tigres’ final three games and scooped up two more in four games during Victoriaville’s first-round postseason exit to Chicoutimi.

Regaining confidence was a barricade for Laberge following his return from his concussion, especially when going toward the boards. “You’re kind of shy to go there,” he said. He often played looking over his shoulder and said it took about two months for him to fully recover.

“The first month,” he said, “I couldn’t wake up. I had to sleep all day.”

By now, Laberge’s story is well known. In summer 2015, his stepmother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer and his father, prostate cancer. His stepmother died in September 2015. His dad had his prostate removed that fall. All while he was trying to get drafted.

Laberge fell to the Flyers in the second round despite being rated 28th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Bureau. Some saw him as a late first-rounder.

One of the traits the Flyers liked about Laberge when they drafted him last summer was his perseverance, how he dealt with his family situation and also still produced on the ice.

Character is something general manager Ron Hextall values greatly. When he talks about prospects, chiefly in regards of development camp, character is one detail he preaches. 

How prospects deal with adversity — albeit on the ice or off it, both are true in Laberge’s case — can make them hungrier and better as a player and person, according to Hextall. 

Hextall offered a guess: Last season, on the ice, was a first for Laberge. A young, talented kid who didn’t have his way, who took a step back in his development and wasn’t a star.

For someone his age, he has been through a lot off the ice. Last season, the concussion was just “another tough time.” It’s getting him stronger, he said.

“Sometimes with my friends,” Laberge said, “I feel a little bit older than them.”

In his second development camp, Laberge claims he’s back to normal, feels good and his concussion issues are in the past. He understands how last season went means the timetable for his path to the NHL has been pushed back because of the lost time.

Laberge wants to get back to “the real me” in 2017-18. With one more year of junior eligibility, he, barring any miracles, will spend another season in Victoriaville.

While Hextall’s been adamant about keeping a few spots open for prospects to earn during training camp in September, it’s a long shot to consider Laberge to be in that competition.

“We didn’t like what he went through,” Hextall said Friday. “We didn’t like, at times, the level he was playing to, which wasn’t at the level he’s capable of. But … 

“You go through adversity like that as a young man, you learn from it. You become stronger. It’s like a team. Sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win.”

If there’s any one thing Laberge learned from last season, it’s … 

“Next time,” he said, “I’ll lift my head.”

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here