STONE HARBOR - Some of the Philadelphia Flyers' prospects had just headed to the beach at 96th Street for a game of beach volleyball Wednesday when claps of thunder forced them back on the bus for a few minutes.
Goalie Anthony Stolarz just smiled. As a native of Jackson Township, he's experienced his share of summer storms at the Jersey Shore.
"Growing up, my friends and I went to the beach a lot," Stolarz said. "We'd go to Belmar, Point Pleasant and Seaside Heights and spend the weekends there. It was a lot of fun."
He was back on the beach Wednesday as part of the Flyers' seventh annual Trial on the Isle activities.
The 19-year-old was joined by 30 other Flyers' prospects and rookies who participated in several events such as water activities at Stone Harbor Yacht Club, a youth clinic and autograph session at Stone Harbor Elementary School and beach volleyball.
For most of the players, it was their first trip to Cape May County.
"It's pretty cool," defenseman Samuel Morin, the Flyers' 2013 first-round draft pick, said between bites of a soft pretzel. "The water is colder than I expected, but I'm still enjoying myself. There are a lot of Flyers' fans here and it's been real fun."
Dozens of fans sporting orange and black jerseys and T-shirts with the Flyers' symbol showed up at the beach in search of autographs and photos.
Most of the attention was centered on former Flyers forward Ian Laperriere, who now serves as the team's director of player development. Prior to signing with the Flyers four years ago, Laperriere had also never been to any local beaches, but now spends several weeks a summer there with his family.
"I had no idea the beaches here were so nice until I came here for the first time," Laperriere said. "I don't have a place here yet, but we always take vacations in Longport, Ocean City and here. Coming here today was a chance for us to show these guys what 'Flyers Nation' is all about."
Stolarz, 19, could soon be one of the more popular players. A second-round draft pick in 2012, he enjoyed a solid season with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, posting a 13-3-2 record in 20 games with a .920 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average, then went 13-5 in the playoffs with a .923 save percentage and 2.53 goals-against average.
He is slated to play for the Knights again this season. The team is also hosting the prestigious Memorial Cup.
"I was the starter last year until I kind of faded toward the end of the season," Stolarz said. "It will be an open competition in training camp this year."
Joining the Knights was part of a whirlwind year for Stolarz. He spent his senior year of high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he took classes while playing for the Corpus Christi IceRays of the North American Hockey League. He went 23-22-4 for the IceRays with .920 save percentage and 2.84 goals-against average.
He accepted a scholarship to the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but left after one semester to sign with the Knights.
"Corpus Christi was nice," Stolarz said. "I certainly didn't mind the beaches and the 80-degree weather all year. I also liked Nebraska-Omaha, but I only got to play in eight games and I was in 41 in London. I just couldn't pass up the opportunity because it was much better for my development."
Stolarz got his start in ice hockey at age 4 and became a goalie when he was seven. Throughout his youth he bypassed other sports even after growing to 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds.
Given his size, he would have been an ideal candidate to play tight end for Jackson Memorial's football team and power forward for the Jaguars' basketball squad, but he only played for their hockey team.
"Jackson's definitely more of a wrestling and football school," Stolarz said. "And now baseball is becoming big since they had a player, Matt Theiss, drafted by the Boston Red Sox this year. I get asked all the time why I didn't play other sports. I guess it's because my older brother Todd played hockey and I just followed him. Hockey is in our blood."
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