Carter celebrates road trip experience

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:02 PM ET

Jeff Carter has been a pro hockey player only a matter of months but he has encountered experiences only a few veterans have.

One that just ended was never before seen by the Philadelphia Flyers -- the longest road trip in franchise history.

Extended road runs are supposed to be a time for team bonding. This one of 11 games and 7,000 kilometres, was enough to glue the team tighter than icicles to a Hudson Bay blanket.

Rookies such as Carter are not likely to see a tour like it in some time. Mind you, considering the way the NHL schedules games, anything is possible.

The Flyers' long haul began Dec. 23 and, with time home for Christmas, ended Thursday night with the type of outcome gamblers tend to wager heavily on.

When a team coming off a long road trip is facing a rested team hungry for a win, always consider investing in the hungry team.

The Flyers lost only one game and would be going home. The Detroit Red Wings are at the top of the standings with Philly, but had fallen below potential.

Possibly jaded physically and mentally, the Flyers made blunders in their own zone and the Wings deftly converted each one into a goal to break the game open early in the third period en route to a 6-3 win. "They schooled us," Philly coach Ken Hitchcock aptly offered in his post-game summation.

Carter was asked about the marathon.

"It wears on you mentally being on the road so long," he noted. "We played a lot of games in not very many days.

"But it was a great road trip, considering we only lost two games."

Anybody looking at the future of the Flyers ought to look first at guys like the London native and his fellow rookie Mike Richards, also a No. 1 Flyer draft pick.

They arrived in lockstep, having helped the club's American Hockey League affiliate to the league crown last spring. They were teammates with Canadian juniors, then roommates for the run to the AHL's Calder Cup.

While the end of the lockout was being negotiated, they signed amateur contracts with Philadelphia then, when a new collective bargaining agreement was in place, both autographed three-year contracts at the rookie maximum $942,400 a season.

You could say they came to camp more game-ready than anybody after the lockout season, but that brings up another trial by fire for Carter. After the Phantoms won the title, he came down with mononucleosis.

"I felt fine during the playoffs, but when I came home afterward, I just started wearing down," he said. "I really didn't do much until training camp. I feel pretty good now, but my strength is not where it should be after a summer of doing nothing."

A team with the likes of Peter Forsberg, Simon Gagne and Michal Handzus at centre does not offer much footing for rookies such as Carter. He is getting less than 12 minutes ice time a game but is seventh in team scoring with 10 goals and 21 points.

"I'm happy with the time I'm getting," he said. "This a pretty good team here and I'm glad to be part of it.

"(The NHL) is everything I thought it would be and more. It's a battle every night, with no nights off."

There will be many more nights, ones with increased ice time and the past performance charts indicate Jeff Carter will do what he's always done.

He scored 12 goals and 23 points in the AHL playoffs. Before that, he had 123 goals and 123 assists in 236 games with the Soo Greyhounds juniors. He scored a tournament-high seven goals at the world junior championships last year.

Everything indicates he'll continue doing it at this level.


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