Roster shaping up; Flyers bonding at West Point

The Flyers' 23-man roster is shaping up, and it may include a few surprises.

Before last night's 4-3 preseason loss to the host New Jersey Devils, the Flyers released center Jim Dowd and defenseman Bryan Berard, a pair of veterans.

The release of Dowd, who was stricken with the flu and played in just one preseason game, was expected, but Berard's release was a mild surprise. He had played well in four preseason games (three assists), but the Flyers apparently weren't enamored with his defense. Coach John Stevens prefers stay-at-home defensemen.

      “They’re both high-quality people and they were very competitive; it was just a matter of numbers,” said general manager Paul Holmgren, adding that the Flyers have 49 of the organization’s allotted 50 spots filled. “I’m thankful they came to camp; they added a spark.”

    Stevens said it was painful to cut the veterans.He talked about Dowd's class and about how Berard had overcome obstacles (a bad back, a eye injury that nearly left him blind) in his career and how he was an inspiring player.

   The Flyers will make final cuts later this week. Because of injuries to defensemen Ryan Parent (shoulder) and Randy Jones (hip), it wouldn't be surprising if the Flyers carried eight blue-liners on their original roster.

   Here's an educated guess on how the roster will look:

   Forwards (13): Scottie Upshall, Simon Gagne, Glen Metropolit, Joffrey Lupul, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Mike Knuble, Steve Downie, Danny Briere, Riley Cote, Arron Asham and (surprise, surprise) Princeton product Darroll Powe.

   Defensemen (8): Lasse Kukkonen, Braydon Coburn, Jones, Parent, Ossi Vaananen, Steve Eminger, Kimmo Timonen and (surprise, surprise) Danny Syvret.

   Goalies (2): Marty Biron and Antero Niittymaki.

   Ultra-impressive rookie defenseman Luca Sbisa, 18, is still hopeful of making the team, but he is epcected to go to juniors for more seasoning.

    * * * * * * * * * *

    The Flyers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Devils Saturday, but Gagne was a bright spot.

    The Flyers finished 4-4 in the preseason, and their offense was sporadic. They outscored opponents, 19-17. In Saturday's game, the Flyers' power play was extremely sharp, but the penalty kill allowed three goals.

   * * * * * * * * * *

 Flyers at West Point

   The Flyers, preparing for their season opener Saturday against the New York Rangers, started a three-day bonding camp here at the

United States




    Three days of getting away and getting to know each other in a different setting. Three days of drills designed to get the team to act as a unit instead of individuals.

     Call it Camp Group Hug.

    “It’s a chance for the guys to be all together,” winger Simon Gagne said. “

West Point

may be the best place for that. You don’t have too many distractions here and it gives the team a chance to know each other and know the new guys.”

   And an opportunity to mingle with the cadets and get a different perspective on life.

     “We all know what’s going on with the war and you have a chance to meet some great people,” Gagne said. “Once you’re allowed in their lives, you learn a lot about that.”

    In addition to two practices at Army’s rink, the Flyers will be doing team-building exercises that will teach them to trust each other. Today, they listen to Nate “Dr. Z” Zinsser, a sports psychologist from

West Point


    “We talked through some things about our team (with Zinsser)….and went outside and put it to the test with some challenges and interactive activities,” said Flyers coach John Stevens as he stood outside the stately stone-and-brick hotel, The Thayer, where the team is staying on Army’s campus.

    Stevens, whose team finished the NHL portion of its preseason schedule with a 4-4 record, said the three-day retreat “breaks up camp. We’re going through a grind when this rolls around and this gives the guys a change of settings and a chance to get some off-ice time together and get to know each other.”

     Over the years, the Flyers have had similar bonding trips; they were at West Point in 2005 and at the




Annapolis, Md.

, in 2006. Last year, they had a team-building trip in Whistler,

British Columbia


     Veteran right winger Mike Knuble said the trip to

West Point

three years ago remains entrenched in his mind.

    “The captain (of Army’s hockey team) was killed in two weeks prior to us getting there,” Knuble recalled. “That sticks out the most. The last time we were there, the war was kind of heating up and a lot of those kids were facing the fact they were going off to . And it’s still the same thing _ and that’s the scary part.”

     The Flyers learned recently that Ben Stafford, 29, a former member of their AHL farm team, the Phantoms, was being deployed to . Stafford, who attended Yale, retired from the Phantoms after the 2005 season and went to medical school in


before joining the Marines.

     “I talked to Ben a few days ago. He still has a lot of close friends here and keeps in touch with them,” said Stevens, adding that


is especially close with Antero Niittymaki, the Flyers’ backup goalie, and defenseman Randy Jones.

    “Ben was one of those guys who was a total low-maintenance guy. He did everything that was right for the hockey team,” said Stevens, who was the Phantoms’ head coach when


played there. “He had a real passion to join the Marine Corps…and I’m thankful for what he’s doing.”



, a center, scored the decisive goal in the 2005 game in which the Phantoms won the Calder Cup. Flyers captain Mike Richards was briefly a teammate of


’s during the AHL playoffs that season.

    “He was a good hockey player and a great guy,” said Richards, whose team will play the Phantoms at the Spectrum Tuesday night. “It’s amazing what he’s gone through and you have a lot of respect for someone who’s doing what he’s doing.”

   Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at