VOORHEES, NJ — Mason Millman grabbed a water bottle and cleaned up some of what he couldn’t keep down behind the bench.
The 21-year-old defensive prospect had the unenviable task of being among the first group to plow through John Tortorella’s notorious Day 1 of skate until you practically collapse.
That’s skating and skating and skating. Lap after lap after lap. Down and back after down and back.
At 8:30 am
Millman, far from the only player to be hunched over afterward, saw the big boss give him a supportive tap on the shoulder.
As if to say: Way to go, kid. You finished. That’s what it’s all about.
Tortorella was as advertised Thursday as the Flyers kicked off 2022 training camp in grueling style.
No pucks. All skating.
Each of the four groups to take one of the two ice sheets at Flyers Training Center skated for 27 or so minutes.
The sessions included about 17 minutes of laps that would lengthen in distance as the assistant coaches moved the nets from the top of the circles to the goal crease. Following the laps were down and backs, skating from goal line to goal line for 10 minutes.
“For me, it’s not physical. For them it is. You watch them and it has to be,” Tortorella said. “I get that and I appreciate that. But for me, I’m watching the mental part of it. … Especially with a new team, there are going to be mental and physical tests when they don’t even know it’s happening I was really happy about how the guys handled themselves today.
“There’s going to be harder skates than today as we go through camp. It’s not to pound our chest and just bury them. We want to test them and it develops a camaraderie. They kind of look at you like, ‘You’re not going to get to me.’ I think that’s the attitude we’re trying to develop is a will.”
With a Stanley Cup ring and two Jack Adams Awards on his résumé, the 64-year-old Tortorella was hired in June as the Flyers’ new head coach. He was brought on board to, in large part, change the culture of the club, which went 25-46-11 last season.
“Last year, we dealt with a lot of adversity, on and off the ice,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “Clearly we didn’t meet the challenges that we faced, there’s no ducking that. It was an extremely disappointing season, one we lived with all summer and certainly one that drove us to make the changes that we did, both on and off the ice.
“But this year, it’s a clean slate for everybody — John has made that very clear to the players. We know there’s a lot of skeptics, a lot of people that don’t believe we’re a good hockey team. I know our players are eager to prove them wrong — we all are.”
Nicolas Deslauriers is one of the Flyers’ newcomers. The rugged winger signed a four-year deal in July. As Tortorella watched Deslauriers start to labor through his laps, he went over to assistant coach Brad Shaw a tad concerned.
“We were probably two repetitions into the skate and I went down to Shawsy and I said, ‘S—, Shawsy, I’m not sure what’s going to happen here with Nic,'” Tortorella said. “I was serious. And I watched that guy and he was ugly as hell, but he got through it. He never stopped. He finished to where he was supposed to finish.”
Tortorella was passionate as he talked about it. He felt something was accomplished through the ugliness.
“I went to Nic after, I said, ‘I hope some other guys saw that.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what it looks like as long as the finish was there,'” Tortorella said. “He came into the office after the skate and we talked a little bit about it. Those are important little things.”
Tony DeAngelo, another offseason addition, had a laugh when he sat down in the press conference room upstairs at Flyers Training Center.
“I was trying to find an elevator to get up here,” he said.
The legs were asking for a break.
Had he ever gone through a first day in which there was no use of pucks?
“No,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s all right, changing things up, so it’s good.
“It’s a mixture of all of it. Getting in shape, getting ready for the start of the season, but also mentally, I’m sure it goes through everybody’s head there, you can’t wait for it to be done. But how hard could you push the final two laps, three laps, four laps? Then after that, you’ve got the six up and downs, too. It’s a tough day. He knows what he’s doing.”
Wade Allison is healthy and looking to win over a new coaching staff. He’s pushing for a roster spot and liked being pushed by Tortorella on Thursday.
“Today wasn’t to kill us, today was to let us know that it’s about will,” he said. “And tomorrow’s going to be the same thing.
“Find it deep within yourself and keep pushing, push yourself to be the best you can possibly be. He’s trying to get that from the top players all the way down.”
The Flyers have 60-plus healthy players in camp. Tortorella was “thrilled that everybody came in early” ahead of camp.
“They’ve been here since Sept. 1, most of the veterans, some of the kids came in a little bit later,” he said. “I think they got some good work done together that way and some camaraderie comes into it, also.”
The Flyers were hit hard by injuries last season. They’re dealing with them now, too.
It only heightens Tortorella’s challenge here in Philadelphia.
“When I drove over the bridge and I saw the city of Philly, I love coming to this building because sometimes how great it was, it helps the home team but sometimes it helps the away team even more. You come into a building that’s alive ,” Tortorella said. “That’s my hope is that if we start doing the things we’re supposed to do, act the way we’re supposed to and just put the time in as far as effort, it would get people back in here so we can get that type of atmosphere.
“A before B. I know we want to look at our record and wins and losses and playoffs and crap like that, but I just want us to get on the right track as far as how we are as pros. Hopefully bring it into as a group and how we are as a team.”
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