Kicking back at Trial on the Isle

Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Flyers

What do the Philadelphia Flyers and the Jersey Shore have in common?

Nothing really, at least for 364 days out of any given year.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Flyers organization took time out from breaking in the new prospect crop to hit the sun, sand, surf and base paths during the 12th annual Trial on the Isle in Stone Harbor, New Jersey.

Though our Fearless Leader posted this baby with pics I took, it’s your old pal Bob H reporting, taking a badly-needed day away from the office.

Begun at the suggestion of then-players Rick Tocchet and Mark Recchi back in 2000 and facilitated by coach Jim McCrossin, the original idea was to put together a day of off-ice training events which featured the current roster.

It is now as it was then, commencing on a morning filled with physical challenges. Where once 23 men competed against each other in a variety of disciplines that included swimming, biking and running, this time around the day began on the beach at 96th Street with a set of physical challenges between the prospects and local members of the military.

One of the dry-land events was what can best be described as piggy-back races, featuring two prospects racing against each other from the dunes to the edge of the water and back again.

There were also push-up contests, and a ride on cycles that looked like Big Wheels, only with…well, big wheels that were brightly-colored and over-sized. So shoot me, I got up too late to catch everything that went on, and had to sneak in a catnap as soon as I got down there.

Before I go any further, I have to note that sticking 40 or so kids, mostly Canadian and European stock with a few from the Northern reaches of the U.S.A, in the heat and humidity of the mid-Atlantic in the dead of Summer isn’t exactly the best idea.

If you get the feeling most hockey players that young are really kind of devoid of personality, today really didn’t dispel those myths. They complained, almost to a man about the heat, albeit respectfully and quietly, almost like a whisper-down-the-lane kind of thing.

Some looked like zombies by the time the sun started sinking in the hottest time of day, right when the softball game kicked off. All of them conserved whatever energy they could (more on this later).

Anyway, welcome to Philadelphia, kids. They could have this thing running down the middle of Aramingo Avenue in early August, so count your blessings. Bet you’ll be glad to get back indoors in the chill of the rink, eh?

The first two hours down, a badly-needed cooling period was in the offing, and here’s where the Trial takes a different turn.

Several years ago, the idea to meld community work with the gathering gave kids who are the youngest Flyers fans a chance to learn the basics of the game. That part happened several blocks away, at the Stone Harbor Elementary’s asphalt playground.

As you see above, kids of all ages got the chance to exercise like a pro in warmups, pick up a stick, run through some drills with the young men on the Hooked on Hockey! team, and break out their inner Claude Giroux for a shot to score into the dual nets set up beneath the basketball hoops.

One unintended consequence of the demonstration was that some youngsters got stage fright when their parents (and local media) suddenly turned their cameras on their nascent exploits. Ahhh, the vagaries of the ESPN generation…

The broiling sun had begun to make its return journey back down towards the horizon, at the fields on 80th Street and Second Avenue in late afternoon of a hot and humid day.

Giants, who have not yet grown into their bodies but who are willing to throw themselves into the path of a puck speeding in excess of 90 miles per hour, met their most daunting foe: the neon-green regulation softball.

Rookies playing against the best and brightest that Stone Harbor’s government and town services had to offer, in a seven-inning matchup (told to go the full nine if the Flyers prospects were losing by then). They arrived everywhere via a large tour bus, but the amenities stopped there. Some of the kids drew the short straws and had to truck their supplies in and out of the playing area.

Maybe that extra bit of exertion butchered their competitive spirit, because some of those at-bats were punchlines waiting to happen. These are future hockey players, yes, but they’re youngsters — particularly the Americans in the bunch which included Derian Hatcher’s son Chase — who have played the sport before.

Cal Heeter, tall, lanky goaltender from THE Ohio State University, seemed to fill up his side of the batter’s box…and proceeded to hit a foul pop negative 10 feet for an out. Someone, who we suspect looked like Nick Cousins but was called by several different names sometimes lovingly butchered by erstwhile broadcasters Lou Nolan and Steve Coates, launched an inside-the-park homer to left field, easily eclipsing the 250-foot mark on the fly.

One definitive pronunciation came from third-round pick and Union College’s defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who was actually called out by Coates before his first at-bat. Make note everyone, his last name is pronounced “GOST-is-behr.”

(A quick side note — not that anyone would have expected less, but Trevor van Riemsdyk received an ovation just a bit louder and longer than his compatriots from the dozens in attendance, which I thought was a fitting tribute to his brother and the promise that TVR will be as good or better than the departed JVR)

There were plenty of defensive gaffes on both sides, as the all-dirt infield on this sweltering afternoon was reminiscent of India before the British Raj, plenty of surprises lurking beneath the heat and dust.

In the end, the Flyers prospects emerged victorious with a double-digit burst of offense, another triumph for youth and exuberance over experience. Another triumph was the one for Flyers Charities, which raffled off dozens of items including game-worn jerseys and signed game-used sticks.

Mere seconds after the final out was recorded, a swarm of fans descended upon the prospects, Looooou, Coatesy, the club’s new director of player personnel Ian Laperriere and Hatcher.

I managed to snap this shot — from a distance beyond the crush — because it captured the moment Laperriere (6’0″ bent over to talk to some fans as well as Hatcher (6’5″) and the Michigan native’s body was completely blocked out by his Quebecois counterpart.

Bet that never happened once on the ice.

Anywhoo, the day concluded with a dinner, open to the public, at the Stone Harbor Yacht Club, but since we do this for the love of the game and not for actual dollars, that was too rich for my blood. Besides, would they really let me in the doors if given the chance? Don’t answer that.

Flyers rookie camp continues through the remainder of the week AND the weekend. Laperriere confirmed at the end of the softball game that there will be two more scrimmages, Saturday and Sunday. Of course, make sure you consult the Flyers in case anything else changes between now and then.

A special shout out to Flyers master of Public Relations Zack Hill, who seems to be recovering nicely from offseason hip surgery. Wherever he’s gotta be, he’s gonna be there.