Weary but determined, Olympians rejoin Flyers

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Mike Richards was one of two Flyers on the gold medal-winning Canadian team. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

TAMPA, Fla. - Having won gold medals for Team Canada thanks to Sunday's riveting 3-2 overtime win over the Americans, Chris Pronger and Mike Richards hope some of their chemistry rubs off on the Flyers as they make a Stanley Cup run.

"I guess we'll find out," Pronger said with a smile yesterday.

"To be in a pressure-packed situation is always good to get used to," Richards said.

Pronger, Richards and Kimmo Timonen - who was on Finland's bronze-medal team - looked exhausted as they joined their teammates at a swanky Tampa hotel late yesterday afternoon. They had to get up at 4:30 a.m. to travel from Vancouver to Tampa, where the Flyers face the Lightning tonight.

But they weren't complaining. Pronger and Richards were especially ecstatic because they had helped restore Canada's pride with their epic Olympic win.

Now they hope to lead the Flyers to their first Cup since 1975. With 22 games left, the Flyers are sixth in the Eastern Conference, but they have won four straight and are trying to peak at the right time of the season - like the Pittsburgh Penguins did last year.

"When you're able to achieve something like that, you hope that some of the things you learned over those two weeks you're able to bring back to your team and use," Pronger said of Team Canada's gold-medal ride.

Winger Simon Gagne said Pronger and Richards "are going to bring a lot of confidence" from their Olympic journey. "Having them win something is an experience that they have, and I think it will be a plus for them and a plus for us."

Pronger noted that Timonen, the Flyers' veteran defenseman, helped Finland outlast Slovakia for third place.

"Kimmo's team had a big bronze-medal win by coming back in the third period. When things like that happen, you certainly can draw from those experiences and, hopefully, use some of that with your team," Pronger said.

Pronger, Richards, and Timonen will be in the lineup tonight. Yes, they will be a little weary, but Pronger thinks his teammates who didn't play in the Olympics had it tougher than the four Flyers who did. (Oskars Bartulis played for Latvia.)

Pronger was asked if it would be tough to jump back into NHL action with games on consecutive nights. "I don't think so," he said. "We're gone two weeks, but you're still playing, you're still kind of into the groove. I think the other way around, that it will be a little harder for the guys who had 10 days off. I'm not one who likes taking 10 days off."

Pronger, 35, who probably played in his last Olympics, acknowledged that if Team Canada "had been on the losing end, maybe you're a little bit defeated and want to take a break."

Coach Peter Laviolette thinks the NHL will benefit from the suspenseful Olympic gold-medal game. "Anytime you see a sporting event like that, it's good for the game," he said. "Kids see that and they want to start playing street hockey, and they want to get involved in hockey.  I think it was a positive day for the NHL, for ice hockey, and for USA hockey and hockey Canada."

According to the Vancouver Sun, Sunday's Olympic gold-medal game was the most-watched TV broadcast in Canadian history, with an average audience of 16.6 million viewers. The peak viewership was estimated at 22 million people - or two-thirds of Canada's population.


Contact staff writer Sam Carchidi at 215-854-5181 or scarchidi@phillynews.com.