WINNIPEG, Manitoba - When the Flyers' charter touched down early Wednesday morning, they were greeted with their first snowfall of the early season. Mid-November in Winnipeg may as well be late January in Philadelphia. Temperatures in the 20s, scarf and glove weather, and cars caked in snow slush.
While Nolan Patrick recognized all the familiar sights of his hometown and was clearly comfortable in familiar surroundings happy to be back to see family and friends, very little changes here in the Canadian midwest. Perhaps more importantly, change for Patrick seems to move just as slowly.
Just like he did three weeks ago, Patrick was on the ice practicing with his teammates at the MTS Place in Winnipeg. The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie did not have an ounce of enthusiasm in his voice as if he was preparing to play his first NHL game in the area he grew up watching, learning and playing the sport of hockey.
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"Anywhere would be nice," Patrick said. "Obviously to play here would be pretty cool, play my first game in my hometown, but that decision is not really up to me, so I guess we'll see what happens."
"I'll make those decisions on game day," said head coach Dave Hakstol, which leads one to believe Patrick's return to the ice is now based more on what works best for the team and not anything related to the protocol and baseline testing.
"It's hard on any player. When you're out of the lineup for an extended period of time, sometimes more so for a young player. He's worked hard. He's done all the things asked of him. Most importantly, he's got a good group of teammates around him. Those are some of the most important people around him when he is out of the lineup."
Patrick was quick to remind the Canadian media how he was struggling when he sustained the hit Oct. 24 against the Ducks. In the four previous games, Patrick had contributed just one assist and five shots on net. You can't expect a player still learning the NHL game having missed three weeks to be the offensive savior on a team that hasn't scored a goal in their last 156 minutes of action.
"Hopefully I can contribute when I get back," Patrick said. "That's something that I need to produce more when I get back. My last couple of games before I got hurt I didn't think I played really well. I'll just try and get into a rhythm as fast I can when I get back."
This ordeal isn't much different than Patrick's final season of junior hockey with the Brandon Wheat Kings when he was in and out of the lineup dealing with a multitude of core muscle injuries.
"It's not that frustrating," Patrick said. "I've been through the injury process before so I know how to handle it. I just try and stay positive through the whole thing. I don't think anyone wants to be hurt. It's part of the game. Just stay positive throughout the process."
Patrick circled Thursday on his calendar months ago when the NHL schedule was released, and the Flyers likely wanted Patrick to accompany the team, if anything, just to enjoy his first trip back to the town where he grew up. Eventually, he'll have that first game in Winnipeg, but for now, it may not be what's best for a struggling Flyers team searching for offense.
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald rejoined the team for the first time Wednesday in Winnipeg. MacDonald hadn't skated since taking a slap shot off his leg Oct. 21 against the Edmonton Oilers. MacDonald just ditched the crutches the past Saturday, so it doesn't appear as if he's preparing to play against the Jets either.
"I'm not sure that's realistic or not," MacDonald said. "Just being off for the amount of time I was. It did feel really good, but again, we just have to go through the process of seeing how it feels tomorrow (Thursday), and kind of progress from there and make sure there's no setbacks or anything."
General manager Ron Hextall did not accompany the team to Winnipeg as he prepares to join the league's other GMs in Montreal, where a number of topics will be discussed, including the effect of the new slashing penalty and the changes to the coach's challenge.
Trade talks are always on the table now that injuries have created some holes on team's rosters, while other teams are looking to fortify their position, especially after the three-team swap earlier this month that sent Matt Duchene to Ottawa.