Jan. 3—Long before Cam York established himself as one of the Flyers' best puck-moving defensemen, he first learned how to move his feet as a member of the Anaheim Jr. Ducks minor hockey team while growing up in Anaheim Hills, Calif.

The Jr. Ducks would practice twice a week at the Rinks in Anaheim, preceded by a skills clinic run by Craig Johnson, who coached York from squirt (ages 9-10) to his first year of bantam (ages 13-14). Johnson ran drills that required his players to work on their edges and their lateral movement and skate with the puck while keeping their heads up. Then they transitioned to stickhandling drills.

Those clinics gave York the foundation for his skill set now, which has been on display with the Flyers for the last 10 games (one goal, five assists) after a 20-game stint with the AHL's Lehigh Valley Phantoms to start the season.

"I feel like the skill that I have today is because of [Johnson]," York said. "A lot of the stuff that we worked on back when I was a little kid playing hockey in California I use today. So he was a really good coach and I wouldn't be where I am today without him."

Most importantly for York, Johnson kept hockey fun, even during 6 a.m. Saturday practices. The small-area games that Johnson ran on the half sheets of ice that his team practiced on required players to make quick decisions with the puck. York spoke fondly of those games, which were equal parts enjoyable and beneficial to his development.

For the last eight years, Johnson continued to watch York from afar after York departed the Jr. Ducks for Shattuck St. Mary's School in Minnesota, then the U.S. National Team Development Program, and finally the University of Michigan. York remained close friends with Johnson's son Ryan, who was drafted No. 31 overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2019. Now, as an assistant coach for the Anaheim Ducks, Johnson will watch York play in the NHL up close for the first time from the bench when the Flyers take on the Ducks on Monday night.

"I watch him and I see a little boy when I [met] him," Johnson said. "Now, he's a man and he's playing against the best players in the world and he's doing well. He's making plays that I saw him do when he was a young kid. And he's continued to do it."

York has plenty of fond memories already playing in the Honda Center, from competing in a one-on-one shootout tournament as a youth hockey player to making his season debut last season with the Flyers. For that game, York estimated he had roughly 20 friends and family members in attendance. This year, he estimates that number will be closer to 30.

"I grew up watching so many games there," York said. "It was a little weird to be in the opposing room and see what that was like. So I think this go-around, I feel a little bit more comfortable going there."

He is comfortable not just playing in a familiar building, but also being a member of the Flyers' locker room. York has found it easy to adjust to the day-to-day with the Flyers thanks to the welcoming nature of the players. He also has carved out a role for himself on the ice, both at five-on-five (averaging 18 minutes, 32 seconds of ice time) and as the quarterback of the second power-play unit.

Johnson still sees the traits in York that made him a special youth player. At a young age, York could "think the game," boasting a hockey IQ that allowed him to make good decisions with the puck. That intelligence is still evident as York continues to make an impact in his second full year of professional hockey. But even between last season and this, Johnson has noticed differences in York's game. He's bigger, stronger, and he looks more comfortable on the ice, too.

Just as York was inspired by Ducks players Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry while he grew up, the next generation of Anaheim-area hockey players is watching York as an example of what it takes to reach hockey's biggest stage. On Monday, York gets to be that example in the flesh.

"It's a big game for Cam," Johnson said. "But Cam did a lot for hockey in California, too. He helped grow it. I remember kids that were mites or squirts at the time; they'd come watch us. And those same kids right now are playing junior hockey. Cam's a reason probably why a lot of them have continued to go."

Breakaways

Goalie Samuel Ersson (.885 save percentage, 2-0-0) will start against the Ducks, seeking his third straight win. Carter Hart (concussion) has passed his evaluation, according to John Tortorella, but the coach decided to give Ersson the nod. Felix Sandström will serve as the backup. ... Defenseman Justin Braun will enter the lineup and is expected to play on the third pairing alongside York. Defenseman Nick Seeler will be out of the lineup. ... Flyers 2022 No. 5 overall pick Cutter Gauthier scored twice in the United States' 11-1 quarterfinal victory over Germany at the World Juniors.

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