LONDON, Ontario -- To the groan of the crowd, every time the public address announcer conveyed a promotion or information inside Budweiser Gardens during Sunday’s preseason game, he would refer to “your hometown Flyers.”
Understandably, most of the crowd was wearing Maple Leafs jerseys - since London is located less than two hours from Toronto.
Those in London consider it a “home” game because sparkling Budweiser Gardens is managed by the Flyers’ parent company, Comcast-Spectacor, and Sunday was their ninth straight preseason trip to the building.
For Flyers prospect Anthony Stolarz, though, it actually was a home game.
Stolarz, 19, helped carry the hometown London Knights to the OHL championship last season and a berth in the Memorial Cup. Sunday was his first glimpse at real NHL talent in a game situation.
“It was a special occasion,” Stolarz said. “It was nice to have the home crowd behind me. Just to play an exhibition game with the Flyers and get a little taste of NHL action, it really makes you want more and to work that much harder to get there.”
Stolarz relieved starter Steve Mason (also a London product) with 11:56 remaining in the second period. And though it didn’t exactly start out the way he’d hoped, with Toronto scoring on their second shot, Stolarz closed out the loss stopping 14 of 15 shots.
“I thought he came in and did a real nice job for us,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
A year ago, Stolarz would not have been able to play with the Flyers in the preseason. He was heading off to the Univ. of Omaha-Nebraska, where it would have been a violation of NCAA rules.
Stolarz, the Flyers’ second round pick in 2012, left Omaha last December, joined the Knights and went 13-3-2 with a .920 save percentage in the regular season, stealing the starting job from Jake Paterson.
With such a stacked squad, London will be counting on goaltending from Stolarz and Paterson to get them back to the OHL championship. This year, the Knights will be hosting the Memorial Cup, guaranteeing a berth for London in their home building for the Canadian junior hockey national championship tournament.
“I worked with coach (Jeff) Reese a lot this summer on my patience, staying back and letting the puck come to me,” Stolarz said. “Last year I was probably a little too aggressive, coming out of my crease. I had a real sense of comfort in this building.”
GAME GRADES: Just a couple quick hits from Sunday night’s action:
Nick Cousins - Very active in the play, controlled the puck and helped create offensive chances. Was not noticeably unreliable in the defensive zone, which had been his knock. Finished with one shot on net and was even for the night.
Scott Laughton - Did a lot of little things right that help make a team successful - things that don’t always show up on the scoresheet. Helped get the Flyers out of trouble in their own end on numerous occasions. Decent on face-offs.
Hal Gill: The veteran tryout seemed just a step slow, even playing against a Leafs roster that barely made it to the veteran minimum for preseason. Slid and took himself out of the play on a 2-on-1, which resulted in a goal for Nazem Kadri. Passes weren’t crisp coming out of the zone. Likely a true longshot to earn a contract.
Erik Gustafsson: After a strong end to last season and a trip to the World Championships, Gustafsson had a rough start to the first half of Sunday’s game. He lost a clear footrace to Mason Raymond for a shorthanded breakaway goal. He also made a boneheaded turnover just inside the Flyers’ blue line, which resulted in Toronto’s second goal.
READ BACK: Flyers forward Matt Read moved around quite a bit during his childhood as his father, Lorne, forged a career in the Canadian forces. He was born in Calgary, got hooked on hockey in Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia, went to middle school in Colorado Springs, played junior hockey in Des Moines, Iowa, and went to college in Bemidji, Minnesota.
“I live in Minneapolis now, and spend my summers there, but whenever anyone asks me where I’m from, I say London, Ontario,” Read said Sunday. “I moved here when I was 13 and I went to high school here. My parents still live here.
“It was a special night to play here. It was nice for my family and friends to not have to travel too far to see me play.”
Read said he had at least 10 to 15 family members at Budweiser Gardens, with plenty more friends buying tickets to the game on their own.
CLARKSON BROTHERS: While newly minted Maple Leafs forward David Clarkson was a scratch against the Flyers on Sunday night, his younger brother, Doug, netted a goal for the Flyers in their loss.
The Flyers signed Doug Clarkson to a minor league contract last week. He will report to the Phantoms. He redirected a Nick Grossmann point shot in the first period and then dropped the gloves with David Broll on the ensuing faceoff.
David Clarkson, who is four and a half years older, said he was proud of all that his brother accomplished. Doug Clarkson bounced around in junior hockey and even played Canadian collegiate puck before landing in the minors last season.
The Clarkson’s are from Toronto. David Clarkson signed a 7-year, $36.5 million deal with the Leafs this summer after a 7-year run with the Devils.
“I haven’t seem him play in awhile, but he’s a big kid,” David Clarkson said. “When it’s your brother, it’s tough. You can’t cheer for him, but I’m happy for him. He’s had a career where he’s gone different paths, and this is a chance to show what he has.
“We were very competitive. Any sport we played, there was usually a fight at the end of it with my parents breaking it up. But he really helped me get where I am. When you have a brother who pushes you - and I pushed him - it makes you a better athlete.”
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