The Hamilton Spectator

Flyers carry their own bags. They play hard. They win. The team’s culture has changed

- MARCUS HAYES

Less than an hour before, Garnet Hathaway had poked in a puck with 21 seconds to play that gave the Philadelph­ia Flyers the biggest win of their fairy tale season. It was his second-biggest important move Thursday night.

After Hathaway entertaine­d the media with big-picture thoughts about the rebuilding franchise beating the best team in hockey, and small-picture thoughts about his most productive month so far, Hathaway, the last guy in the room, finally closed his giant hockey duffel bag. That was the cue for Flyers head equipment manager Rick Bronwell to reach for the handle.

Quick as a whippet, Hathaway snatched the bag away, hoisted it on his back, and was gone. In his sock feet, black long johns, hat on backward, Hathaway walked the bag down the hallway and stacked it on a cart with the other 21.

Bronwell just shook his head and chuckled.

Asked about the move when he returned to the locker room, Hathaway replied, “Those guys do so much for us, behind the scenes — you guys can’t imagine. That’s the least we can do for them.”

Hathaway knew that Bronwell and his assistants would be unloading those bags four hours later, around 2 a.m., at the Flyers’ next stop, while the players had their bedtime nightcaps in the fancy downtown hotel in Tampa. Bronwell and his boys appreciate every bag they don’t have to lift. They’re part of the team, too. Hathaway and many others, like Morgan Frost and Marc Staal, treat them as such. That sort of culture shift is one piece of the puzzle that has the Flyers inside the playoff bubble with 17 games to play.

“A lot of guys do that,” Bronwell said before their game Saturday in Tampa.

“He fits into what we’re doing here. Getting the job done, but having fun.”

Bronwell has been in profession­al hockey locker rooms for more than 35 years. This one is special.

“This room has been phenomenal. Everyone gets along,” he said. “You come to work and everyone seems to be happy to be here, whether we win or lose.”

Of course, winning helps more than losing. At 33-24-8, they already have two more wins than last season, and with 74 points, just one fewer point than last year. They stand third in the Metropolit­an Division, an astonishin­g feat considerin­g their pointed efforts to strip the roster of big-name, long-term deals, which is exactly the opposite of their efforts of, well, their entire existence.

After 55 years of the team going for broke, rookie general manager Danny Brière and rookie president Keith Jones — former Flyers players who profited from the all-in philosophy — started looking for players like Hathaway.

He’s 32, he cost them $4.75 million (U.S.) for this season and next, and he has set an example of profession­alism and humility for the likes of young Morgan Frost, Tyson Foerster and linemate Noah Cates. With 11 points and a minus-6 rating, he’s on pace for his worst statistica­l season in six years, but the Flyers couldn’t be happier.

“He’s been everything we hoped he’d be,” Jones said Saturday.

So has Scott Laughton, who, at 32 points, probably won’t reach his career high of 43 set last season, but, in his 11th season, all in Philadelph­ia, he’s everybody’s big brother. The Flyers wanted at least a firstround pick for Laughton, who has been a fourth-line centre at times this season. They were asking for first-line prices.

“I wasn’t going to trade him for fair value, because he’s more than fair value to us,” Brière said after the deadline expired at 3 p.m. Friday. “The intangible­s that he brings in the locker room are something that has no price. Other teams don’t see that. But we do.”

Laughton wasn’t exactly untouchabl­e, and, technicall­y, neither was fellow alternate captain Travis Konecny, captain Sean Couturier, or defenceman Travis Sanheim, as much for their talent as their character. Having shed players like Kevin Hayes, Ivan Provorov and Tony DeAngelo, it was this core the Flyers sought to complement with players like Hathaway.

“The organizati­on hand-picked their guys and changed the locker room to get the right guys to build that culture,” Hathaway said. “That was something I wanted to come in and be a part of. To be a part of that culture build has been amazing.” As has its manifestat­ion. From rookie goalie Samuel Ersson to Hathaway, a third-line right winger, the Flyers have consistent­ly been entertaini­ng and successful this season because they play each shift for all that it’s worth. That’s how they stole a 2-1 win against a 90-point Florida club, on the road, on the eve of a tense trade deadline that had already cost them their best defenceman, Sean Walker, whose absence required American Hockey League call-ups Adam Ginning and Ronnie Attard to play their first National Hockey League games of the season.

They had as much business winning in Sunrise, Fla., on Thursday as Buster Douglas had of beating Mike Tyson in Tokyo, but win they did.

“The most gratifying thing about Thursday was, if every guy hadn’t played his best game, we wouldn’t have won that game,” Hathaway said after Saturday morning’s skate. “There’s that buy-in you have to have against that team.”

They relished the moment, but not for long. After all, the deadline still loomed 17 hours later, and they might still have lost teammates to some team desperate to make a Stanley Cup run. That team used to be the Flyers, every year. Not this time. Not with this room.

“We don’t sit on wins very long,” Hathaway said. “Or losses.”

That’s good. After the biggest win of the season on Thursday, they suffered a 7-0 loss at Tampa. The last time they were humbled in such a manner — they lost in November at winless San Jose, the worst loss of the season — they went on a fivegame winning streak.

It is a mark of a good team. A strong team. They focus on the task at hand, when the task is at hand. They fixate on flushing all results, whether good or bad. Bad games can fester. Great games breed complacenc­y.

They win, or they lose, and they pack their bags and they head to the next town for the next game.

After, of course, they put those bags on the cart themselves.

This room has been phenomenal. Everyone gets along. You come to work and everyone seems to be happy to be here, whether we win or lose.

RICK BRONWELL PHILADELPH­IA FLYERS HEAD EQUIPMENT MANAGER

 ?? MATT SLOCUM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? Garnet Hathaway, pictured, is 32, he cost the Flyers $4.75 million (U.S.) for this season and next and he has set an example of profession­alism and humility for the likes of young Morgan Frost, Tyson Foerster and linemate Noah Cates.
MATT SLOCUM THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE PHOTO Garnet Hathaway, pictured, is 32, he cost the Flyers $4.75 million (U.S.) for this season and next and he has set an example of profession­alism and humility for the likes of young Morgan Frost, Tyson Foerster and linemate Noah Cates.

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