The first day of a John Tortorella-run training camp is putting the player through the skating gauntlet. No pucks ever touch the ice. It’s simply skating – high pace, extended distance, repetition. 

Normally, Tortorella does six reps of three laps during these sessions. On the first day of Flyers training camp on Thursday, he opted for eight.

“I thought they could handle a couple more reps,” Tortorella said. “It’s more of a test. I felt our guys could handle it and they did. Six is hard. Two more, why not? They went about it the right way.”

The increased distance in skating is measured by a rope that is tied to the two nets. It starts from the hashmarks in each zone and eventually expands to beyond the crease. That rope is also a familiar part of a Tortorella camp.

“That is the same rope since I started in Tampa. It goes with me everywhere,” Tortorella said. “I’ve been fired a few times, I always ask for the rope back when I’m out the door. It was sitting on my desk. I was going to put it in the middle of the locker room this morning."

The point of all this is that the open of Tortorella’s camps are meant to set the tone. It’s the precursor to the workload that will come in preparation for the preseason and beyond. The message in this training camp is all about the opportunity ahead. Roster spots are readily available, and camp will ultimately decide who gets the first look in many of the open roles.

“There’s things that are wide open. We certainly don’t have all the answers as far as what our lineup is. I thought guys progressed last year, some of our kids, especially our forwards,” Tortorella said. “It’s a land of opportunity here. When you’re a team that has very publicly stated that we’re starting over and trying to get this right, there’s opportunity. It’s always interesting to see what happens in a camp when there is that type of opportunity.”

While Thursday was the official first day of on-ice activity for the Flyers, the majority of the team has already been in town for weeks. Tortorella likes to have the team together as early as possible to be able to not only get informal skates and practices going at the facility, but to also bond away from the rink as well.

Between that time together for the last few weeks and some changes to the roster from the offseason, it’s created a different feeling in the locker room.

“Everybody came here Sept. 1. It’s kind of a standard for us right now, guys get in here by the first. We can’t force them to, but they come. I like the feeling of the room. It has changed,” Tortorella said. “Kevin [Hayes]’ gone. Tony [DeAngelo]’s gone. [Ivan Provorov]’s gone. Really good people. I wish them nothing but great luck with their teams, and they landed on some good teams. Our room needed to change. When you subtract people, it allows the room to open up and allow people to speak, to show who they are. 

“That’s the exciting part for me. We’ve just had such a good feeling around here since all of them have come in.”

Last season, Tortorella’s first with the Flyers, involved a learning curve for the coach as much as the players. Everyone was able to start with, essentially, a clean slate. It was a large information-gathering session for Tortorella. 

This season, that will be the biggest change to Tortorella’s coaching. While the foundational aspects of his style will remain, his knowledge of the players returning has only grown.

“This is my second year. I understand the players better. They understand me. It will change that way,” Tortorella said. “Eventually, we’ll talk about style of play. I think some of our style of play has to change as you grow and you see what you have. But as far as coaching the players, it will change because I think there’s more comfort in one another. 

“Does it change the accountability? No. The accountability and standard of play here – that is non-negotiable. That is always going to be held to the proper standard.”

At the start of last year’s training camp, and for the first few months of the season, Tortorella was essentially the only person speaking in terms of a rebuild. Perhaps the biggest change of the offseason was the franchise’s public stance on rebuilding and the process ahead. 

While this may be the first season for the Flyers in a very public rebuild, it’s not for Tortorella, who wants to see the next step of the process take shape.

“The team’s probably going to be younger. Just as you look at the layout, especially our back end. That is definitely young. We’re going to have some horror shows in certain games with our young back end, but we’re going to work with them,” Tortorella said. “We’re going to live through some of the mistakes and see what we have there. When some veteran guys leave, it opens up more spots for the young guys to grow. The last 25-30 games last year, I was playing kids all over the place. They’re getting the time. We’re going to continue to grow it that way. 

“Having said that, there’s always a next step. In my mind, we were rebuilding last year. I don’t care what we said or what was allowed to be said or whatever. In my mind, we were rebuilding. I’m going to the second step of this here. 

“We’re going to continue to rebuild, but you still have to not always fall on that part of it that it’s all kids. There’s a lot of different things that could happen, but it’s all still in the realm of ‘we’re still going through a process of trying to be a competitive team in this league.’”

Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN. Follow him on social media @Kevin_Durso.

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