PHILADELPHIA — Gritty is the home school teacher the world needs right now. The furry Flyers mascot offers an education of sorts each weekday on Instagram with “ Gritty’s 1/4 Hour of Power,” and his top student one day this week was forward Joel Farabee.
Gritty played charades with Farabee and the muted mascot held up signs for his pupil to read on the subject of bees. Example: “In Ancient Egypt, people paid their taxes with honey.”
But would extra honey count against the salary cap?
Farabee and the Flyers may have been brushing up on a second-round postseason scouting report instead of getting a science lesson this week had the season not been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Flyers were the toast of the NHL in early March — they were happy to raise a glass to their prosperity — because of a hot streak that turned them into a postseason threat.
Just how far the Flyers could have gone will never be known – though a proposed plan involves bringing teams back in a few empty NHL buildings to complete some, if not all, of the remaining regular-season games before opening the playoffs – so the slim chance remains they can pick up where they left off March 12, at 89 points (41-21-7) and rising.
But good health and momentum can be tricky to rediscover after a lengthy layoff and there’s no promise better days would be ahead for the Flyers, or any other team, should the season potentially resume in July.
“There’s no doubt that we were playing our best hockey of the season at the time,” coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday. “Our team was in a good place. It will be all our jobs, from coaches to management to players, to get back to that good spot that we were in.”
Vigneault made all the right moves for the Flyers in his first season on the bench, leading them on a nine-game winning streak that ended in a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 10, their last game of the suspended season. Carter Hart, just 21, played every bit like the franchise goalie the Flyers expected. And homegrown talent such as Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny — drafted amid a franchise rebuild — all turned a team with modest expectations into an Eastern Conference contender.
The Flyers scored an average of 4.33 goals per game and allowed an average of 1.89 during their nine-game streak and hadn’t lost consecutive games since an 0-3-1 stretch from Dec. 31–Jan. 4. The Flyers are 39-0-3 this season when they are tied or leading after two periods.
“Once we get back at it, I’m very confident with the focus of our group that we’ll be at the same page as everybody else and it’s going to be our job to work hard, work smart and do the right thing and get back to where we were,” Vigneault said.
Over the last month, Vigneault, who coached two teams in the Final, retreated to Florida and kept busy on the golf course before he eventually drove home to Gatineau in western Quebec, Canada. Vigneault has seen and heard the devastating effects the COVID-19 disease has on his loved ones. His girlfriend, Monica Cotton, is an emergency nurse at Ottawa Hospital and his sister Nicole Vigneault works for Quebec Health, both doing to their part to help those in need.
The Flyers coach, though, has been helpless like so many others when it comes to communication and contact with senior parents.
“My parents are 84 and 86. They are both in a senior residence. They’ve both been isolated since Day One,” Vigneault said. “My mom’s having a little bit more of a challenging time there mentally in the past few months. My dad is still sharp as he can be. There’s no doubt him going through this by himself, he’s very lonely.”
Vigneault said he’s talked to only five Flyers since the season ended and leaves Chris Osmond and Dan Warnke, the team’s strength and conditioning coaches, to keep tabs on the roster.
“Everybody is trying to stay safe. At the same time, when the season starts again, we want to be as ready as we can,” Vigneault said.
When that might be, no one really knows.
But with Philadelphia at 45 years and counting without a Stanley Cup, what’s a few more months?
“I am very confident that we can get something together that’s going to be very efficient for the players, very efficient to get our team ready,” Vigneault said. “Hopefully that’s what happens.”