VOORHEES, N.J. — Out came the yellow, well-traveled rope, untangled by the Flyers’ assistant coaches and stretched down the ice.
That’s the unsettling image of a John Tortorella training camp commencing in grueling style.
Tortorella, an NHL head coach for over 20 years, has always used the same exact rope from his time in Tampa Bay. He won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Lightning and the Flyers are his fifth club.
So, yeah, the rope has gotten some good run, striking fear into a countless number of players.
“It goes with me everywhere,” Tortorella said with a smile Thursday after Day 1 of training camp. “I’ve been fired a few times; I always ask for the rope back when I’m out the door.”
Entering Year 2 with Tortorella at the helm, the Flyers, as expected, skated lap after lap around the yellow rope.
Not one puck in sight.
Starting at 8:30 a.m. and split into three groups over the morning, the Flyers skated eight sets of three laps around the nets, which were at opposite ends of the ice and tied together by Tortorella’s rope.
Throughout the eight sets of three laps, one net was gradually moved from above the slot area to deep between the circles. The laps lengthened as the rope tightened.
After the laps came down-and-back reps to finish the session. Each group was on the ice for 35 minutes.
Last year, Tortorella had the Flyers do six sets of three laps.
“There’s two more this year, so a little bit harder,” Scott Laughton said. “Done now and I think it brings all the boys together.”
The purpose of the skate is to push through it mentally as a team.
“I don’t think any other team in the league does it like this,” Laughton said. “Try to get the edge when you can. There’s a method to what Torts does here and it definitely brings us together.”
The taxing morning must’ve felt like déjà vu for Marc Staal. The 36-year-old defenseman played five seasons for Tortorella when the two were with the Rangers.
After he finished, Staal and his head coach shared a laugh.
“He just said, ‘I can’t believe you’re still doing laps,'” Staal said. “I’m like, ‘Me neither.’ It’s a good skate. It’s more of a mental challenge than physical, too. It’s everything. And everyone’s got to do it together. Everyone gets through it and then we get started.
“I think he keeps making it harder, to be honest. I think we did more laps this time around. It hasn’t changed. It still hurts.”
The Flyers have missed the playoffs the last three seasons, losing 139 combined games in that span (81-107-32). They had a transition year in 2022-23 under Tortorella (31-38-13) and are now openly embracing a rebuilding mindset with president of hockey operations Keith Jones and general manager Danny Briere taking over.
As the Flyers aim to use and develop their younger players, Tortorella sees a lot for grabs within his roster.
“Oh, there are things that are wide open,” the head coach said. “We certainly don’t have all the answers as far as what our lineup is. I thought guys progressed last year, some of our kids, especially our forwards ended up progressing quite a bit.
“But it’s a land of opportunity here. When you’re a team that has very publicly stated that we’re starting over and trying to get this right, there is opportunity. It’s always interesting to see what happens in a camp when there is that type of opportunity.”
Owen Tippett said that was the theme of Tortorella’s pre-camp address.
“He was pretty much saying that we have a young core and there are going to be spots available,” the 24-year-old winger said. “If you think you kind of have a spot, don’t get too comfortable. Everyone’s got to prove something.”
Laughton, a 29-year-old alternate captain, is entering his 11th year with the Flyers.
He likes the youth and direction of the club. Day 1 of no pucks and all skating didn’t change his outlook.
“I think it’s exciting for these young guys to see they have an opportunity and what they can do with it,” Laughton said. “Time will tell what happens, but it’s an exciting time for the Flyers. Not only the personnel changes, but I think what we did with our staff — bringing in Jonesy and having Danny, these people that know what the city wants and what we need. It has been a great summer for the Flyers.”