April 26, 2006
Flyers must learn game has changed
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press
You'd be in a lousy mood if you'd spent the evening watching the team built for today's hockey flying past your bench and it happened to be the other team.
So when Philadelphia Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock reached a news conference Monday night, there was probably a lot more on his mind than just his team's 8-2 humiliation at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres to go down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final.
Hitchcock is a smart hockey person. That 8-2 result reinforced what he's probably known since early in the NHL season. Flyer management built a team for the 1970s. Since his Flyers had no chance of catching the Sabres via skates, they opted to physically dismantle them. Another '70s idea. The result was predictable. Taking penalties in the new NHL is idiotic.
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff sort of said the same thing. "They played like idiots."
Pointing out the obvious didn't sit well with Hitchcock. He was probably mulling over his Game 3 problem -- how to catch a Ferrari while driving a loaded dump truck.
He opted to offer Ruff advice using a couple of direct F-bombs, which included telling him to mind his own expletive business.
In the world of hockey, Hitchcock is a rarity. He's one of the well-spoken coaches and he cares enough to think about what he says. While coaches are known to spew invective punctuated with profanities, they almost never do it in a public forum with pens, tape recorders and television cameras present. And they especially don't direct F-bombs to the opposition coach.
While they would love to say it, they won't. Coaches have to appear composed and certainly don't want to show the world they, like their players, have lost it. But frustration will do strange things to you, especially when everyone is writing your obituary and deep down inside, you know they're right.
It took Toronto Maple Leafs general manager John Ferguson Jr. a season to figure out he'd built the wrong team. If things continue as they are, Hitchcock and his boss, general manager Bob Clarke, are only going to have four more games than Ferguson to figure that out.
Sabres' Brian Campbell, a Strathroy native who the Flyers have spent the last five periods trying to decapitate, has a handle on it.
"The Sabres are the best team no one knows about. Not many people know about our players. But they can all skate and pass and they are having career years. They're young enough to continue to have career years. There isn't a guy who can't skate and handle the puck. You can play physical hockey, but you can't hook or hold. If you take penalties, they'll eventually kill you."
Not many people outside of hockey experts and Sabres fans know Henrik Tallinder, Paul Gaustad, Thomas Vanek, Toni Lydman, Alex Kotalik or J.P. Dumont, yet reputations mean little in this NHL. Being able to skate, pass and shoot means a lot more.
"We're deep on speed up front," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "That's the new game."
That game is reality. It won't change because most fans like it. It's here and it's a harsh teacher. Intimidation is as out of fashion as the long-panted Cooperalls the Flyers wore in the 1980s. It's now all about skill, mobility and speed. The Leafs and Flyers refuse to accept the game has changed. That's why, to them, it's become nothing more than a big blur as it skates by them.