“Great moments are born from great opportunity” said Herb Brooks before one of the most memorable hockey games in American history. 40 years ago, a ragtag group of amateur hockey players beat the powerhouse Soviet national team. On the anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, something magical is brewing within the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
After hitting rock bottom under the Ron Hextall regime led by Dave Hakstol just one calendar year ago, the Flyers are not only back in the playoff hunt, but very well could still finish in first place in the metro division thanks to Chuck Fletcher and his offseason of change.
One of Fletcher’s first moves was changing up the coaching staff. He brought in new coach Alain Vigneault as well as assistants Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien, who all have plenty of experience, over 2,500 games as head coach between them.
Fletcher armed his new coaches with plenty of useful tools, including free agent acquisition Kevin Hayes, as well as trading for Justin Braun, Tyler Pitlick, and Matt Niskanen. All four have played their role to a T this season. Hayes has become a phenomenal two-way center and saved the penalty kill, Pitlick is a reliable bottom six forward who has chipped in occasional offense, Niskanen has taken a top pair role alongside Ivan Provorov, playing both good hockey as well as becoming a mentor to the young star, and Braun has become a solid defensive defenseman who has eaten heavy minutes in the defensive zone as well as on the penalty kill.
Add those four guys and the new coaching staff to a team with a great foundation already has pushed a group of budding stars into the stratosphere.
This team has seen their fair share of trials and tribulations this season. Losing second-overall pick Nolan Patrick to a migraine disorder before the season started was a huge blow right out of the gate. Luckily Kevin Hayes helped alleviate the pressure on the lineup with his stellar play down the middle. Two weeks before Christmas, the Flyers received another devastating loss as Oskar Lindblom was diagnosed with cancer. The loss took an emotional toll on the team as well as a huge loss in the lineup, as Lindblom was in the midst of a breakout season, and one of the best two-way players on the team.
The loss of Lindblom temporarily put the Flyers into a minor tail spin, but they were able to gather themselves about a month after the original diagnosis.
The next big test for the Flyers organization was the trade deadline. It was Chuck Fletcher’s second deadline with the Flyers organization, but his first with the team in a legitimate playoff hunt. Even with the salary cap limitations, Fletcher added forwards Derek Grant and Nate Thompson to shore up the Flyers forward depth.
With their roster finalized, their last battle of the regular season the Flyers had to face is the possibility of passing the Capitals to win first place in the Metropolitan Division. The last time the Flyers won a division was 2010-11, when it was still the called the Atlantic Division.
Then it all went downhill. On March 12, the NHL paused the regular season due to the coronavirus outbreak. After months of waiting, on May 27, the NHL cancelled the rest of the regular season and decided on a 24-team playoff format. The Flyers finished atop the East and claimed one of the four top spots in the Conference. They will have a could round robin games to determine the seeding before the first round begins on August 11.
Overcoming the odds has been the name of the game for the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers. The rebirth of the Flyers can all be tracked to Chuck Fletcher and his willingness to put a competitive on the ice.
There is an aura about the 2019-20 Flyers that we as fans have not felt in at least a decade. It’s a feeling of invincibility, that no matter what happens they can bounce back through any troubles and beat any team on any give night. A coach that has earned both the trust of the players and the trust of the fans. A young goaltending phenom in the making. An ensemble of players both young and old, that are hungry for success has been the driving force for the Philadelphia Flyers.
As the playoffs approach, the Flyers have their best on-ice product since their last Cup run in 2010. A full decade later, could this be the year the Flyers finally return to the Final bring the Cup back to Philly for the first time since 1975? The magic feeling in the air is hard to shake, so I’ll ask you one question- Do you believe in miracles?
By: Daniel Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: Flyers facebook/twincities.com