Zolnierczyk Eager For Outdoor Excitement

2 Jan

CITIZENS BANK PARK — Forgive Harry Zolnierczyk if he hasn’t stopped to smell the roses. He’s been a little busy surpassing expectations. He was part of the marketing campaign for the outdoor series in Philadelphia. His face has been plastered on SEPTA buses — promoting the Phantoms game on Jan. 6.

He hasn’t played for the Phantoms since Oct. 29. Instead he’s been quickly moving up the ranks, being a versatile piece for the Flyers. He’s been a fixture on a few lines for the NHL club this year and he’s anxious to keep going.

After all, 2011 was a good year for him. He signed his entry-level contract with the Flyers in March and by Oct. 18, in his first NHL game, he had a goal. Now he has the opportunity to play outdoors in 2012 and he’d like to spend it with his family, even if they weren’t able to make it in time for the family skate following Friday’s practice.

“My mom’s driving in right now and a couple of her good family friends, some neighbors are driving with her,” said Zolnierczyk.

Sounds like a good opportunity to take a quick breather and reflect on how far he’s come.

“I guess so. You’re finally here,” he said. “There’s still a lot more to accomplish for this team and definitely for myself, but it’s something you gotta take in today and that way you’re ready when it comes tomorrow.”

Preparation has been a big part of Zolnierczyk’s plan. It’s what’s got him from Brown University to the Philadelphia Flyers in less than a year.

“At the beginning of this year, I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I set my expectations high and it started a little up and down. As we started getting close, it started looking like it was going to be realistic and I mean, it’s just another game, but I’m definitely excited.”

Skating outside, in a baseball stadium, has that effect. Like most kids from Canada, Zolnierczyk remembers spending all day outside playing with friends, and even some long nights.

“Being from Toronto, outdoor rinks, outdoor ponds, things like that — I haven’t been on those in years except maybe a couple Christmases ago just for fun, a late-night shinny,” he recalled. “That was pretty special to have a full practice, gearing up for a full game in the NHL outdoors. That’s pretty cool.”

Only 10 Flyers on the current roster have Winter Classic experience, so Zolnierczyk was eager to get some knowledge of what to expect when the puck drops on Monday at 3 p.m. Brown’s Meehan Auditorium holds only 3,100, so the jump to the NHL was big enough. On Monday, he’ll see more than double a sold-out Wells Fargo Center crowd.

“Max Talbot just said ‘try to picture this place kinda full because it will kinda throw you off at the beginning,’” said Zolnierczyk. “Just the perception of people further back and that many people surrounding you in that big of an environment, it’s something that you have to be prepared for because it’s gonna happen fast [on Monday].”

Hopefully at some point in Monday’s activity, there will be a spare moment for the 24-year-old to step back and take it all in. With how fast he skates and how fast he’s moving up the ranks, he needs to force himself to stop, if only for a second, and take it all in.

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