If Nolan Patrick can be in the Flyers lineup on opening night Jan. 13 against Pittsburgh, it will be exactly 650 days between games.
That’s any games. At any level. Exhibitions included. (Scrimmages not included).
One would think that would be a huge step for an athlete dealing with the complexities of the types of head-related injuries Patrick has dealt with for the better part of the last three years.
Whether it’s been a concussion, or chronic migraines, or a headache disorder, or a combination of everything, just getting back on the ice should be considered a triumphant milestone.
Watching Patrick practice on the first day of Training Camp for the Flyers, you could see what makes him a gifted talent. The puck skills. The skating ability. The control. The possession prowess. The creativity.
There’s a reason he was picked No. 2 overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft, even if the consensus in the Flyers draft room was to go with a defenseman like Miro Heiskanen or Cale Makar. Then-GM Ron Hextall went against the grain and took the big center who came into the previous season as the consensus No. 1 prospect available in the draft.
One day of practice with his teammates though, does not a triumphant return make – even if the coach was glowing about him:
“I thought Nolan looked really good today,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “I’ve had a couple chats with him the last couple days. He feels good about where he is. He’s really upbeat about his energy level.
“I thought he looked really good. I see the excitement in him about being back with his teammates, about working and having fun. I see the excitement in his teammates with him being back. In this situation, obviously he was probably very nervous today. Anxious to get going, (because he) hasn’t played in a while. I think for him and for our team, it was a positive day, a step forward, and we’ll take it a day at a time and see how he’s doing.”
And yet, Patrick had no interest in discussing this. Any of it really.
He spoke with the media after practice for five minutes. It was the first five minutes he’s spoken publicly in almost a year.
And rather than update everyone on his condition and what he’s been through since he last played a game in April 2019, Patrick answered 12 questions in 285 total words, many of them repetitive.
And look, I get not wanting to talk about your medical history in public. I honestly respect that side of Nolan – or any player for that matter – who wants to keep what they are going through private.
But, he had to know he was going to be asked what he was going to be asked. He had to know these questions were coming. If he didn’t want to talk about it, he should have politely declined comment. Or, he should have alerted the media relations staff that he wouldn’t be taking any questions about his injury.
Instead, he gave us this:
It came across poorly. And not because he didn’t answer our questions. I understand why some athletes and coaches loathe questions from reporters.
But rather, this interview gets the failing grade from me because this was a real opportunity for Patrick to engender some real understanding and maybe even a little sympathy for what he’s been going through. To give himself some benefit of doubt if he starts off the season a little sluggish, or isn’t in the lineup to begin with, because he just isn’t ready.
Instead, we got a response with a don’t care attitude. And that could well just be toward us media cretins. And I get it – sometimes. Who the hell wants to answer questions from a bunch of guys who are always poking and prodding into your situation?
But, it’s not like we’ve been asking for constant updates from him for the better part of two years. The last time Patrick spoke to the Philly media, based on my Google capabilities, was Feb. 24 2020. All other updates came through GM Chuck Fletcher, Vigneault or a team spokesman.
So, maybe, you know, throw us a bone. Tell us what it’s been like battling these migraines. Tell us about fits and starts in recovery. Give us a little insight into the battle. It’s been a long road back, one that should be celebrated. It could engender a lot of support and understanding that way.
And when I say us, I don’t mean the assemblage of socially distanced media in the virtual press conference, I mean the fans of the team reachable through our mediums.
Instead, Patrick comes across with a little attitude. He obviously wants to be left alone about his injury and recovery. He’d rather we don’t pay attention to it at all.
So fine, Nolan. I won’t ask about the headaches. I won’t wonder if your symptoms are related to a concussion. I won’t ask anything personal.
But I also won’t base opinions of your play on the fact that you haven’t suited up for a game in nearly two years. You can’t have it both ways.
If you’re in the lineup, the expectation is you will play at the highest level and there’s no need to get back up to speed.
You have flashed the ability to play this sport at the highest level and be successful at it. Make that happen again, so all we can talk about is what is happening on ice, not what is happening off it.
Meanwhile, you have a coach to impress:
“This is basically it for me,” Vigneault said of his chance to get to know Patrick as a player. “Obviously last year I saw bits and pieces a few times with our group. I don’t remember or recall him ever being with the whole team at any specific time.
“As far as getting to know him and getting to know what type of young man he is and what type of player, this is really my first introduction. He wasn’t really around our team very much last year. I have been around him now for a couple of weeks… It’s taking it a day at a time. Obviously it’s a very exciting time for him I believe and I’m confident that he’s going to do fine.”
Then on the other hand… there’s Oskar
Oskar Lindblom also talked to the media. He was a bundle of fresh and excited energy. His story, well-documented as it is, is even more impressive than Patrick’s. Getting back to play two games in the August playoffs despite a diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, last December was a thing of miracles.
To think he’s almost back to his playing weight and the shape he was in before his diagnosis last December, is downright incredible.
Lindblom talked about training in the offseason. How he concentrated on power and strength. He admitted that his weight has fluctuated all over the place during his cancer treatment and recovery, and that he is thrilled to get back to a more regimented schedule, one he embraced fully pre-diagnosis.
But, he also wants people to be able to hear his story. He wants to share his story. He wants to help others who have gone through or are going through similar medical issues.
“Sometimes it’s kind of the same questions over and over again about what happened before, but at the same time, I want to be… a spokesperson for something good,” Lindblom said about talking about his recovery from cancer. “I know people that are in the same spot I was. I just try to help people, try to cheer them up and do my best to help them. It’s more fun to do that. If you guys (the media) want to talk about it, I’ll talk about it. It’s not a big deal at all.”
Notice a difference?
Quick Hitters from Day One
- The Flyers scrimmaged against themselves for 30 minutes. The Orange team won 2-1 on goals from Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny. ECHLer Max Willman, a very late add to camp, scored the first goal of camp against Carter Hart – and the only goal for Team Black.
- The top defensemen were all with the first group on the main sheet of ice where practice was being run by Vigneault (Phantoms coach Scott Gordon was running practice on the second sheet). Ivan Provorov was paired with Justin Braun today, for both the practice and the scrimmage, but Vigneault said he’ll be with someone else tomorrow. He said he’ll try and lock in the pairings somewhere between days three and five.
- Erik Gustafsson was paired with Robert Hagg. Gustafsson’s game looks a lot like Shayne Gostisbehere’s, just a little bit better in all facets. He looked sharp, especially since he’s with a new team.
- Sam Morin was someone we all watched in the scrimmage. He made a couple nice plays, but it’s safe to say he has a long way to go before he’s comfortable as a left wing.
- Carter Hart said he hates cooking, so one of the things he did in the offseason was to hire a meal service for lunches and dinners. He said it was the best decision he could have ever made. It makes him feel really good and kept him lean and healthy.
- Just showing what a Class Act Vigneault is, he assigned 2020 first round pick Tyson Foerster to a line with Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk for the first day of practice. Why? I’ll let the coach explain: “I had what I believe was my sensitive moment of the season,” he said. “I talked to Chuck a couple of days ago about Tyson…. I said to him, the young man, first round pick to Philly, we want him to be a big part of this organization. He never got to come out on the stage with all of us, put his Flyers jersey and take a team picture with the group on the stage. I think it’d be great for him the first time he steps on the ice to practice and to scrimmage, to be with two former first-round players, Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk, two guys that were on that stage. I threw that at Chuck and he thought it was a good idea. It was a sensitive moment for me in the sense that I thought the young man obviously missed out on that day. That was sort of our way, and my way, for the Flyers organization to welcome to our group and hope that he’s a big part of our future moving forward at some point.”
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