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Carchidi Column: These Surprising Flyers Have Work Ethic of ’74 Bullies

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Flyers winger Owen Tippett "has a chance to be something special," coach John Tortorella said after Thursday's 5-1 win over Dallas. Photo: AP.

No one is saying the current edition of the Philadelphia Flyers, a close-knit group that has a 25-14-6 record, will come close to accomplishing what the organization did in 1974 and 1975 — winning consecutive Stanley Cups.

But there is a similarity between the Flyers of five decades ago and this year’s team.

They both work their butts off.

And that — along with the team’s improved speed — has taken these rebuilding Flyers into second place in the Metropolitan Division, just two points behind the much more talented New York Rangers.

“I want to finish by telling you something,” former Flyers broadcaster Steve Coates told a sellout crowd in Cherry Hill on Wednesday after he and Tim Saunders received the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association’s Bill Campbell Award for broadcasting excellence. “The Philadelphia Flyers are back!”

The crowd, many of whom came to see the ’74 Flyers honored on the 50-year anniversary of their first Cup, erupted in loud cheers.

“They’re playing Flyers Hockey,” Coates said. “It’s good news, bad news. The good news is that they’re back. The bad news is that I retired at the wrong time.”

Coates pointed to the ’74 champs and said they “set the tone” for the organization.

Now hard-working guys like Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny, Owen Tippett, Joel Farabee and Travis Sanheim, among many others, are trying to set a tone of their own. They have won five straight, including Thursday’s impressive 5-1 whipping of gifted Dallas, and are dominating opponents in shots and possession time.

“Everybody plays for each other,” center Scott Laughton said after the coming-of-age Tippett, 24, scored two goals, one on a fastbreak spin-o-rama that may have been the Flyers’ most artistic goal since Ivan Provorov’s highlight-film tally in overtime to beat Montreal in 2019. “… And nobody gets too high or too low.”

“We’re all buying in,” veteran right winger Cam Atkinson said.

Defying odds

So far, they have defied the odds.  They are playing each shift with relentless abandon. They may not have any true stars like their 1974 and 1975 predecessors, but they make up for talent with their work ethic and their ferocious forecheck.

Oh, they have weaknesses. The power play has been mostly anemic, and they may not have enough offense to remain in a playoff spot.

But they have made hockey in Philadelphia fun again and made the future look bright.

A New Era of Orange?

Indeed.

Dan Hilferty, chairman of the Flyers parent company, Comcast Spectacor, talked about the team’s strides at Wednesday’s banquet.

“It starts with family,” Hilferty said before turning his attention to Caroline Snider, granddaughter of Ed Snider, the Flyers’ late chairman and co-founder. “Caroline, I’m so glad you’re here this evening. And as you know, we celebrated the Ed Snider legacy day (recently). In my opinion, as an observer and as a fan over the years and now being a part of this great organization, Ed Snider was all about (family). It all started with family.”

‘New family of can-do Flyers’

He mentioned Couturier, who has made a smooth return from two back surgeries, and how he represents a “new  leadership, and a new family of can-do Flyers.”

Hilferty said he is not a hockey expert, but that he and the other team execs “each have a role in this process.” He revealed that coach John Tortorella gave him, Briere and club president Keith Jones a rope before the season. “And the idea of the rope is to hang it in our offices, and the four of us in our respective roles would pull this Flyers franchise into the future together. Pull in the same direction.

“So we came up with four things that really amount to what we want to do to restore the Flyers to greatness– create a family environment . We want the players, the players’ families, and everybody associated with the Flyers organization to think this is the greatest franchise in hockey.

“That’s how you guys felt,” he said, pointing to the tables of Flyers from the 1974 Cup champs. “We want to restore that feeling. We want to build from within and build a family.”

Other factors

The other three things on the Core Four’s to-do list: transparency, reconnecting to a fan base that had become disenchanted, and building a “culture of excellence that lasts.”

It won’t be done overnight, but rapid progress has been made.

Hilferty said the front office wants to “communicate, communicate, communicate” — he cited the Cutter Gauthier trade as an example — and “reconnect with the fans. We want them to feel the passion they felt all those years ago.  And you can begin to see it as Sean (Couturier) and the team continue to perform as well as they’re performing. You can see the excitement in the arena, and that’s fun to be around.”

The Wells Fargo was loud Thursday as the Flyers thumped a very good Dallas team. Tippett, a power forward with speed, showed the way with his 17th and 18th goals.

“He has the chance,” Tortorella said, “to be something special.”

So do the Flyers if they don’t veer away from the rebuild. They need to keep their high draft picks (and try to acquire some more), even though it may be tempting to trade for a key veteran who may help now but not so much in the future.

That’s a story for another day. Right now, the focus is on a fascinating and unexpected season, one that has fans returning to the Wells Fargo Center. With the Eagles’ season over, interest in the Flyers is growing.

Hilferty said he was watching TV the other day and a weatherman was measuring the snow on a Coatesville lawn, “and a car comes by — and the guy rolls down the window and yells out, ‘Go Flyers!’ It made me realize we had made it.”

He meant that the Flyers had become relevant, a development that, after too many sorry seasons, has Philadelphia again excited about hockey.

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called Bullies: A Love Story. Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

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