When you join the Philadelphia Little Flyers, you aren’t just joining a team.
You join an organization where winning is part of the everyday structure, where giving your best is both expected and bolstered.
By Joshua Boyd
“Winning is expected. We’ve made it to the EHL Finals the last two years, and we’re always striving to be a better organization and a better team,” said Alex Ochterbeck, a second-year Little Flyer. “Being a member of the Little Flyers and playing for them is a big honor. We always try to continue the culture that was given to us and passed down through the years.”
The Little Flyers are celebrating their 15th anniversary as a junior program here in 2017-18, and they have recently been a powerhouse in the EHL. They are four-time division champions and three-time regular season champions. They finished just an overtime goal short of the 2017 championship.
That moment, last April, when the season ended without the prize they were looking for, is a fire that pushes the veterans every day – from time in the gym through skills work and into the games.
“There’s definitely that sense of unfinished business,” said third-year defenseman Trevor Lewandowski. “Coming back this year, we definitely have that goal, of bringing the organization a championship. I also came back because of all the opportunities they’ve given me, and I want to repay them with an EHL championship.”
As of Oct. 12, the Little Flyers stood at 7-3 overall for the 2017 season. The push towards the playoffs has already begun. The offense especially is Exhibit A in the fire of the bellies of Ochterbeck and Joey Savel (24 points in 10 games apiece).
“It’s great being here. The organization is amazing, and the coaches really take care of us. They’re always thinking about the next step,” said Savel. “This is my second year, and I want to win a championship. Individually, I want to add some speed to my game.”
These veteran players all have the fullest confidence in first-year head coach George Lewis. Lewis was an assistant during the Little Flyers’ drive to the championship series. That run was led by former head coach Rocky Russo (who is now head coach of the NAHL’s Amarillo Bulls).
Lewis cut his teeth in coaching as a volunteer assistant with the Penn State Nittany Lions just as the team moved to NCAA Division 1 in 2013. He stayed there for three years before joining the Little Flyers.
“As ’97’s, all five of our 20-year-old guys came back for the right reasons. They are really hungry to finish it off after last year,” said Lewis. “When a player comes to the Little Flyers, they know what they’re signing up for. When you have all the guys pulling the same way, the result is a winning culture.”
Players also come looking for the gateway to their future. When Russo went to Amarillo, he promoted four former Little Flyers to the Tier-2 North American League game, putting them in front of NCAA Division 1 scouts all season.
Sixteen former Little Flyers will play NCAA Division 3 hockey this season.
“From last season, we had 10 college commitments – eight who played with us last year and two who were in the NAHL,” said Lewis. “We give our players a little bit of freedom to create, though within a structure, and they’re taking advantage of that.”
“The culture is second to none. I think it is the best culture you can find in junior hockey, honestly,” said Lewandowski. “From the attention to detail, the work ethic, the coaching staff, I don’t think you can find a more invested organization in terms of player development and moving guys on to where they want to go.”
Like the other veterans, Lewandowski is pushing to break past the finals to a championship. He has made two finals trips with the Little Flyers, and with this being his final year of eligibility, he wants to go out on top. There is a ton of work to be done before any of that can happen.
“Defensively, there’s always room for improvement. Last year, I was mostly a stay-at-home defenseman, and a huge guy on the penalty kill. I’ll hop in and make plays a little more and contribute to the offense, while also staying home,” said Lewandowski.
He knows that every moment of his continued development will be closely monitored and attended to by the coaching staff. Lewis is joined by assistant coaches Mike Narrigan and Mark Catron.
“They are there for me every day. Anything I ask of them, they will stay after and help me with,” Lewandowski said. “The ice time is crucial – there are no days wasted. The off-ice development at the Ice Works [in Aston, Pa.] is a huge factor for me as well.”
Players began showing up to the Ice Works in August, already preparing for the 2017-18 season. Players and coaches alike are dedicated to making this 15th season the best ever in Little Flyers history.
“We have had a good start. The players are eager to learn, everyone’s having fun,” said Lewis. “I’m excited to see where we are when everyone has grown and we become the team we are capable of becoming.”
Top photo: Joey Savel fights for a loose puck between a pair of Philadelphia Junior Flyers defensemen during the 2016 EHL championship series. Photo by Joshua Boyd
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