Flyers Learn From World Series Champion Kansas City Royals

VOORHEES, N.J. — Another Flyers development camp went quietly into the night on Monday at Skate Zone, following the team’s annual 3-on-3, dual half-ice mini-tournament (see story).

After four days of drills, skill development, nutritional education, video and workout regime planning, the 34 prospects got to unwind on the ice a bit and have some actual fun.

Prospects talked about things they learned, things they never considered and things that changed.

This year’s camp was a tad different in that the Flyers went outside the box to incorporate some ideas they picked up, of all things, at spring training.

Camp supervisors John Riley and Kjell Samuelsson were in Glendale, Arizona, last March and dropped by Surprise, Arizona (near Phoenix), to visit the reigning World Series champion Kansas City Royals.

Royals assistant general manager J.J. Piccollo, who is from Cherry Hill, is on good terms with several Flyers staffers.

There’s always something that carries over from one sport to another, even between hockey and Major League Baseball.

“I try to be open-minded and be progressive with my learning and certainly watch other sports and learn from them,” Riley said. “Sammy and I actually spent some days with the Kansas City Royals sharing ideas at their spring training.

“As far as professional sports for Kjell, Brady [Robinson] and I, we try to learn from other sports and certainly incorporate them into practice planning and the drills that we do during the course of the session.”

One of the things they watched with the Royals was some of their base running drills, how runners are taught to cut the corners of a bag to create speed and shorten distance.

It’s not all that different from how a player crosses over or cuts a pylon on the ice to create speed off transition and shorten his distance to the puck or net.

“We might see them do certain drills with their teams and see them do it well or do it poorly and build on that,” Riley said. “Then, like I said, just studying and learning the game for myself and trying to incorporate those things.”

He said some of what the Flyers hoped to learn were philosophical and organizational ideas.

“It’s more … what’s your process?” Riley said. “How do you take a player from A to B? Having the opportunity to get behind the scenes and then talk about the development of baseball players versus the development of hockey players.

“There were some things that stuck out. For example, the first morning that we were there we watched 40 professional baseball players work on rounding first base for 20 minutes.”

Riley would not give out many specifics — the Flyers, under general manager Ron Hextall, almost never divulge anything that can give the opposition a peek into how they do their business (something Dean Lombardi preached) — but their players had some insight.

“Stick flex,” said Tanner Laczynski, a sixth-round pick this past June who was attending his first camp. “Use a stick that is half your body weight. Flex is measured by PSI and a bunch of things which I felt was cool.”

It’s not all that different from a baseball player who is 6-foot-2 and uses a specific bat weight. A smaller player would use a lighter bat — 31 ounces — to create speed off his swing, while a larger player might prefer heavier lumber, such as the 47-ounce bat David Ortiz uses to train.

“It’s the little drills that they do in spring training and how that can translate to teaching fundamentals in hockey,” Riley said. “You want to make sure that in the development process you don’t overlook those things.”

Chris Pryor, the Flyers' director of scouting, said what impressed him was the Royals emphasized the need for having patience in their minor-league prospects — Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez came through their system — and not push players to the majors before they’re ready.

Which is what Hextall has been preaching here in Philly since the day he arrived. There are no overnight fixes to make the Flyers a Stanley Cup contender. It takes time when you are in a rebuild mode.

“The culture Ron has brought in, the importance of it, the time to bring kids along the right way, Kansas City did that,” Pryor said. “How they bring their kids along is what we’re doing.”

Video instruction is part of the camp, as well. Riley picked up on something he saw online recently and incorporated it into the classroom teaching at the camp.

“I heard an interview on NHL.com when Tory Krug signed his contract the other day and the reporter asked him about when he first signed,” Riley explained.

“His answer was, ‘How much I didn’t know.' It was the first thing he said and I found that telling. I actually played the interview for the kids that they’re young, they’re green, they’re hungry, and they’re sponges.”

The Flyers also used guest speakers to inform the prospects about nutritional needs, social media, drugs and alcohol, sex education, etc.

“All of the different aspects of life that you need to master to be a professional athlete,” Riley said. “It’s not just about skating or puck handling, it’s about all of those things.”

Reece Willcox, a 2012 draft pick, whose been to several of these camps (see story), seemed to enjoy himself.

“I learn something new every time that I step on the ice,” Willcox said. “They’re pretty good at what they do.”

Willcox said he took something valuable away from this camp that he needs to remember when the Phantoms gather again this fall for actual training camp.

“We were working on opening up our hips rather than crossing over when you’re pivoting from backwards to forwards,” he said.

“That’s something that I have a hard time doing, but it’s something that saves a lot of time going back.”

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