Michal Neuvirth didn't have much time to ease into this hockey season. The Flyers goalie was a member of the Czech Republic team in the recently completed World Cup of Hockey tournament. After two pre-tournament games in which he stopped 45 of 46 shots, his first game came against eventual champion Canada.
Even though Canada pinned a 6-0 loss on the Czechs, Neuvirth stood tall in goal. He made 44 saves, and without some big stops the score could have been much worse.
"It was always my goal to play for my country and I had a fun time and it can help me to get better in my career," Neuvirth said after practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.
Neuvirth could see his first preseason action Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center against the Boston Bruins, but Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said he would not announce his decision until Saturday morning. Hakstol said that whether it's Neuvirth or Steve Mason, the goalie would play the entire game.
Neuvirth and Mason can become free agents after the season, so it will be interesting to see how the goaltending position plays out.
Last year Neuvirth, now 28, was brought in to be the backup, but he played well in the regular season and even better in the postseason.
Following a 6-1 playoff loss to the Washington Capitals that left the Flyers down three games to none in the best-of-seven opening round series, Neuvirth replaced Mason in goal.
The Flyers won the next two games. That included a 2-0 victory in Game 5 in which Neuvirth made 44 saves, many of the spectacular variety. The Flyers were finally eliminated, 1-0, in Game 6.
"It helped my confidence and was a good experience, but that was last year and this is a new season, a new chapter, and I am moving forward and not looking in the past," Neuvirth said.
While his exemplary playoff performance made the greatest impression, Neuvirth's Czech Republic and Flyers teammate Jake Voracek said the goalie had sustained excellence since he joined the team last season, signing as a free agent after competing for both Buffalo and the New York Islanders in the 2014-2015 season.
In the regular season for the Flyers, Neuvirth had a 2.24 goals against average, a .924 save percentage, and an 18-8-4 record.
"He didn't only have a great playoff, he was solid all season for us," Voracek said. "He has been amazing for us, and every time he gives us a chance to win the game."
Voracek said the strong play continued in September.
This season Neuvirth has a simple goal.
"Just play my game and enjoy playing hockey," he said.
He said a summer of hard workouts in the Czech Republic left him feeling strong entering the season. Playing for his country last month has put him ahead of where he usually is this time of year.
"I didn't know what to expect, but it was great," he said. "I just have positive memories."