UMBERGER - A YOUNG PLAYER WHO GOT IT
It helped that the former Flyer scored two goals, and nearly a third, in his first game back since being traded from Philadelphia to Columbus, but the fact is, I likely would have devoted a good chunk of my space to Umberger because he's such a quality human being who was well-liked during his four years in Philadelphia (I include the season with the Phantoms during the lockout).
The fact that he had a big game only made his prominence in stories more applicable.
So, why dedicate so much space to a former player who is now doing his thing for the opposition?
Because he is everything you want in your locker room and on your hockey team and the Flyers really miss that kind of player.
There is a reputation, deserved or not, that the Flyers younger players, for the most part, are bratty.
Umberger, while he was close with all of them and remains friends with all of them, always seemed a bit more mature, a bit more refined.
When the young Flyers were moving into homes in Voorhees, NJ or transplanting themselves onto the Philadelphia side, Umberger was buying a home for himself and his lovely young wife in secluded Medford, N.J. - near then coach Ken Hitchcock.
He was always a player who was willing to buy into Hitchcock's system, something a lot of young players are not apt to do.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter speak politely about Hitchcock, but they don't ever say anything glowing about their former coach who rode them very hard.
Patrick Sharp, now starring for the Chicago Blackhawks, also struggled under Hitch as a young player, but learned to appreciate Hitch's lessons after he was traded from Philadelphia.
Simon Gagne grew up from being a pure scorer to one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL under Hitchcock.
So, when Hitchcock had the opportunity to bring Umberger into Columbus, he jumped at the chance.
"R.J. has really grown into the kind of player who I can sit down and talk to and have him get the message across to the other players that I want to get across through him as a leader," Hitchcock said.
He's on pace to have the best year of his career. He has 17 goals and 18 assists for 35 points. That would be third best on the Flyers right now.
But it's so much more than that with him. He gets the fans. He gets the media. He knows how to be communicative. He can express his feelings properly without sweating the small stuff. If he has a bad game and gets criticized for it, he's not going to let the printed words eat away at him. His Teflon personality works.
Here's all you need to know about the guy.
After the game tonight, rather than go immediately to the team bus, he sought me and another writer out and asked us to do him a favor.
He wanted us to let the fans of Philadelphia know that he wanted to come onto the ice to thank them for the way they've treated him, both in the past and tonight, but couldn't because there was an immediate team meeting after game.
"I don't want them to think I'm blowing them off or anything," he said.
He could have simply got on the bus to the airport. He could have popped in his I-pod and drowned out all distractions. He could have just ho-hummed his way through another loss and looked forward to a little nap on his short flight home.
Instead, he wanted to find a way to say thank you to the fans of Philadelphia and made it his mission.
He got to a couple of us. I spread the word through the press box in hopes that all in attendance at this game as well as all those who follow the FLyers from home get to see how genuine Umberger really is.
And who knows, maybe one day when he's a free agent, this organization will bring him back.
Because he always wanted to be a Flyer for the rest of his career. He has a tattoo of the logo to prove it.
And he is a model of what a class act is in the sport of hockey.