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Flyers’ Cam Atkinson: Camp Torts is Camp Torture, But It Builds ‘Brotherhood’

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Cam Atkinson, Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers are expecting a tough training camp under demanding new coach John Tortorella.

Right winger Cam Atkinson confirmed Tuesday that, yes, that is what will happen.

Atkinson has first-hand experience. He played for Tortorella for six years in Columbus, and he said those training camps were much more grueling than the one he went through last year, when he was in his initial season with the Flyers. Alain Vigneault was the coach at the time.

“Not that last year’s wasn’t hard,” Atkinson said.

Just not nearly as hard as Tortorella’s camps.

“At Torts’ camps, there’s no surprises,” he said. “One thing I appreciated is that we’re all doing it together. It’s a grind, but it’s a way for us to build a camaraderie and build that brotherhood — and knowing that it sucks not only for you, but every guy around you. There’s a rhyme (and) a reason. It’s meant to be hard. It’s meant so when you start the regular season, you have your legs in the third period when other teams don’t.”

Atkinson, 33, who had 23 goals last season, said the mental aspect of Tortorella’s camps is also grueling.

“Playing when you’re tired. That’s one of his big philosophies — playing when you’re tired,” said Atkinson, whose team starts veteran camp Sept. 22 in Voorhees. Rookie camp begins Thursday. “That’s huge. And just the amount of skating is another huge component. … It’s a lot of taxing on your legs. Like I said, it’s not fun while you’re doing it, but it’s great when you kind of get over that hump and you start feeling great, especially in the third period of a close game.”

The Torts Effect

Atkinson had his best seasons under Tortorella, including a career-high 41 goals in 2018-19. He said several of his Flyers teammates have been asking him what it’s like playing for Tortorella. They also had lots of questions about his camps.

“Those anxious butterflies are kind of creeping,” he said. “That’s what you want. I know first-hand it’s going to be tough, and I still get a little anxious about it.”

Tortorella’s skating drills have a purpose, Atkinson said.

“It’s meant to be tough,” he said. “You want to see who’s going to quit, and who’s going to keep it going when times are not going your way.”

Atkinson said he likes Tortorella’s aggressive style.

“For me as a player, I need someone to kind of push me to my limits,” he said. “You’re not always going to see eye to eye. Torts and I, for the most part, we saw eye to eye. But there were times where we didn’t and we got into those little screaming matches. But that’s what you want. At least I think. And that’s what he wants. He wants to push you to your limits because he knows what you’re capable of doing.

“Some people go one way and some go another,” with that kind of coach. “For me, I kind of thrive on that.”

Personal interest

Atkinson said his relationship with Tortorella “has been amazing. He’s a guy who communicates, and a guy who in the offseason reaches out and sees how your family is doing, sees how your kids are doing. Your mom, your dad. Little things like that go along way, especially in my book.”

The Flyers’ defense, which allowed 3.59 goals per game last season and finished 27th in the 32-team NHL, will “absolutely” improve under Tortorella, Atkinson believes.

“He helped us in Columbus by playing the right way, playing defense first” Atkinson said. “Not always blocking shots, but playing the right way (on defense) allows you to play freely in the offensive zone. It’s amazing that when you play quick and hard in the defensive zone, it usually leads to good zone time in the offensive zone, where everyone wants to play.”

Atkinson said the Philadelphia Flyers will “play a lot harder in front of Carter (Hart, the goalie), I’ll tell you that. As we should. A lot more one and dones, instead of two, three, four, five rebounds, and it ended up in the back of the net.”

Kevin Hayes on Flyers’ Culture Change: ‘Torts Is the Right Guy’ 

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