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.”

Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

Shorthanded Flyers can't keep up with Avalanche to begin road trip

BOX SCORE

From the moment it was announced that Oskar Lindblom would miss Wednesday night's game, the Flyers' chances at Pepsi Center felt bleak.

No Lindblom, no Travis Konecny and facing the NHL's highest-scoring team in its building was not a promising script for the Flyers, who lost to the Avalanche, 3-1.

In stretches this season, the Flyers have struggled to bury goals. And that has been with Lindblom and Konecny — their two leading goal-scorers at 11 apiece — in the lineup.

The Flyers (17-9-5) did some good things but Colorado finished plays behind its world class talent up top.

The Avalanche (20-8-3) are on an eight-game point streak (7-0-1) in which they've scored 4.13 goals per game.

• Without Konecny (concussion) and Lindblom (upper body), the Flyers had difficulty putting the puck in the net. They were going to have to put up some goals against the Avalanche, who entered scoring an NHL-best 3.70 goals per game. For the second time in the last three games, the Flyers scored only one goal.

The lone tally came from Claude Giroux when the Flyers were trailing 3-0 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation.

• Following a first period in which they survived, especially in the back half of it thanks to Carter Hart, the Flyers actually played a solid second period. At one point during the middle stanza, the Flyers were outshooting Colorado 11-0.

But as the Flyers kept pushing to no avail, the Avalanche changed the whole complexion of the period with one play by their two best weapons. Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen hooked up for a nasty marker to make it 2-0 with 3:55 left in the period, a deflating goal to allow for the Flyers (see highlights).

Considering Colorado was 14-0-1 when leading after the middle period, the Flyers were in a serious hole, even after a hard-working period.

• Hart, who entered 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts, faced the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

He made a highlight-reel save and gave the Flyers a fighting chance in tough circumstances.

The 21-year-old has been impressive during the first period all season long, allowing the Flyers to find their legs and rhythm. He converted 12 of his 24 saves in the opening stanza against Colorado.

On the Avalanche's first-period goal, Scott Laughton won a defensive zone faceoff but the Flyers failed to clear the puck, resulting in Matt Calvert's tally.

Rantanen added his second goal early in the third period and that was pretty much the game.

Colorado goalie Pavel Francouz, who came in 5-0-1 with a 2.36 goals-against average and .926 save percentage over his last eight games (six starts), finished with 32 stops.

• When Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day) is ready to return, Robert Hagg should be the odd man out on defense. Shayne Gostisbehere has found some of his offensive mojo and Myers has shown way too much promise to be sitting when healthy.

A stay-at-home guy like Hagg was far too noticeable against the Avalanche. He committed a penalty and was a minus-2 in 15:21 minutes.

• David Kase was summoned to Denver this morning to make his NHL debut and become the ninth rookie to play for the Flyers this season

The 22-year-old winger had a nice scoring chance and two shots in 7:47 minutes. 

• The Flyers head to the old stomping grounds of general manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant general manager Brent Flahr when they visit the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP).

Fletcher was the GM in Minnesota from 2009 to 2018 and Flahr was his AGM from 2010 to 2018.

The Flyers have not lost consecutive games in regulation since Oct. 27-29.

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Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Flyers at Avalanche: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

As one of the NHL's best teams since Nov. 1 (12-3-4, 28 points), the Flyers now face a new challenge.

Alain Vigneault's undermanned group begins a three-game road trip Wednesday as the Flyers (17-8-5) visit the Avalanche (19-8-3).

Let's get into the essentials:

When: 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Pepsi Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Network
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

• The Flyers are without Travis Konecny (concussion, out indefinitely), Oskar Lindblom (upper body, out tonight), Philippe Myers (back spasms, day to day), Michael Raffl (broken right pinkie finger, out approximately four weeks) and Nolan Patrick (migraine disorder, out indefinitely).

"Injuries are a part of a season. You have to expect it," Vigneault said Monday. "Then you need somebody else to step up."

More than ever this season, the Flyers will be looking to Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes and James van Riemsdyk to produce among the forwards.

The Flyers are 10-2-1 when Hayes records a point and 9-1-0 when van Riemsdyk records a point.

• Not only are the Flyers severely shorthanded Wednesday night, but they're also facing the NHL's highest-scoring club. The Avalanche lead the league with 3.70 goals per game. Their top line of Nathan MacKinnon (47 points in 30 games), Mikko Rantanen (18 points in 14 games) and Gabriel Landeskog (nine points in 14 games) is scary.

"We know going into Colorado, we're going to have to be careful versus their top unit," Vigneault said Tuesday. "[Monday] night, they seemed to load up. That's one of the best lines in hockey."

• Carter Hart will face the Avalanche for the first time in his career.

The 21-year-old goalie is 8-2-2 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage over his last 12 starts.

Projected lineup

Forwards

Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
James van Riemsdyk-Morgan Frost-Tyler Pitlick
Scott Laughton-Kevin Hayes-Joel Farabee
David Kase-Mikhail Vorobyev-Chris Stewart

Defensemen

Ivan Provorov-Matt Niskanen
Travis Sanheim-Justin Braun
Shayne Gostisbehere-Robert Hagg

Goalies

Carter Hart
Brian Elliott

 

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