GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – At this point, some would call it epidemic.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just hockey. After a 4-1 loss to the defending Calder Cup champions, who now play as the Syracuse Crunch, it’s easier to be fickle in such an assessment. Maybe giving up the first goal of the game in eight straight contests is just a bad run.
Maybe going into 16 consecutive intermissions without a lead is a quirk of the statistics. Maybe getting behind and having to chase the game turns good effort and hard work into misguided energy.
Well, the last maybe is a definite with these Phantoms, who continue to be inconsistent in the first tenth of their season. Whether the rest is true or not remains to be seen, but unless the Phantoms can figure out a way to change those trends, those perceptions could very well become realities.
“We don’t stop working but we don’t work very efficiently,” said Danny Syvret. “The work is coming but the production isn’t there. When you are behind it’s a given that you are going to try harder to score and that usually isn’t the best way to play the game. “Supporting the puck in a close area and then going for long bomb plays don’t usually work and you can easily lose a game playing that way.”
And that’s what the Phantoms have found themselves doing when they get behind – pressing too hard, getting away from their structure and trying low percentage plays in hopes they will work.
“We start to get away from everything we want to see with the structure and the setup,” coach Terry Murray said. “We were freelancing out there and as soon as that happens it snowballs… We got away from everything and our spacing got to be too big. It got further away every shift. I addressed the team about it after the game, we were looking for passes from our goal line to the red line.“We’re on the other side of their defensemen. It’s impossible to make those plays.”
The Crunch scored on their first shot of the game as AHL scoring leader Cory Conacher surprised Marc-Andre Bourdon with his speed, blew past him on the left wing and lifted a backhander past Cal Heeter to make it 1-0 midway through the first period. It was a disappointing incidence for the Phantoms, who had dominated play through the game’s first 10 minutes. However, they didn’t respond poorly.
The continued to have good energy in what was a chippy period and were able to draw even before the end of the frame. Sean Couturier won faceoff cleanly back to Cullen Eddy at the point. He snapped a shot on goal that Harry Zolnierczyk tipped past Syracuse goalie Dustin Tokarski, knotting the score.
It was Zolnierczyk’s third goal of the season, having scored one in each home game. But once the second period began, Syracuse starting dictating their style of game, scored two quick goals 100 seconds apart, and left the Phantoms in chase mode.
“We start the games well but then we slowly fade away from what’s working and that’s hurting us right now,” Zolnierczyk said. “Getting down in every game is frustrating. We talk about scoring that first goal to set ourselves up. But then we get behind and we don’t fade away right off the bat but slowly but surely we start tightening up and deviating away from the gameplan.”
The Phantoms had their chances, but went 0-for-7 on the power play, and really only had sustained pressure in one of those opportunities. “Special teams are critical obviously in the game today,” Murray said. “We relied on it in the game against them last week and today it didn’t come through for us… You have to keep going with it and keep getting the chances. Tonight we had pucks end up on the sticks of players that you want to have it, but some nights they don’t go in for you.”
Murray was specifically referring to a chance Couturier had on the power play early in the third period where he couldn’t lift the puck off the ice and over a sprawling Tokarski. Tye McGinn had a couple of chances around the net, but couldn’t finish and Matt Ford had a snipe effort from in close that Tokarski gloved.
The Phantoms were given another power play chance late in the game, and Murray pulled Heeter for the extra attacker, but the Phantoms couldn’t get set up in the 6-on-4 and Matt Taormina iced the puck into the empty net to round out the scoring for Syracuse.
The goal for the Phantoms (3-5-0, six points) now will be to turn things around against an Albany Devils team who dominated them last week in a game in Albany. “[Tonight was] part of the learning process,” Murray said. “As players they have to take a look at it. We have to talk about it as coaches and we have to bring it back together quickly.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
After leading the Adirondack Phantoms in scoring in 2011-12, getting sent down to the Trenton Titans of the ECHL this season was a bit of a shock to Jason Akeson.
It was the kind of thing that in the past may have bothered him considerably.
But not this year. Not now. Not after talking to his mom.
See, Patricia Wheatley is Jason’s inspiration. Not just because she’s a mother to two top tier hockey talents – Jason’s brother Tyler, a defenseman, plays Junior A in Smiths Falls, Ontario for the Bears – but because she is a living, breathing example of how to overcome adversity.
Wheatley was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that attacked the muscles and bones in her arm.
She would have to endure a lengthy battle, one that was filled with hurdles and setbacks. There were days of intense chemotherapy and an uncertainty about her health on a day-to-day basis.
But the one thing that kept her going was hockey.
She always wanted to know what was going on with Jason and Tyler. She wanted to hear their stories about life in junior hockey, or for Jason last season, life in the American Hockey League.
“She loves the game as much as we do,” Akeson said. “She didn’t want to talk about it. She was more concerned about us. Hockey kept the cancer off my mom’s mind.”
So, when Akeson was surprisingly sent to Trenton rather than Glens Falls, NY, home of the Phantoms, it was Wheatley who got him to accept and understand his situation.
“The last few years have been hard for me emotionally,” Akeson said. “Moving away from home knowing my mother had cancer was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through. But she’s one of the most strong people I know and the way she carried herself on a daily basis inspired my whole family – including me to keep working hard when your down in the dumps. At then end of the day, I was just playing hockey and I have to realize what a privilege that is. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Trenton or wherever because there’s a lot more important things going on in life if I just pay attention.”
Like his mom beating cancer and going into remission.
That was the news that came shortly after he was told he was starting the season in Trenton.
“Getting that phone call that she was cancer-free was a great day,” Akeson said. “I was pretty upset. I trained hard all summer to be a top player in the AHL this season, and then being sent to Trenton was a shock to my system. But, then I talked to mom and realized that if you just keep fighting and stay positive, you can overcome anything. Anything is possible. She was very strong and we’re very proud of her. Now I have to be the same way.”
It’s not like Akeson took a step back over the summer. You don’t just go from leading a team in scoring (14 goals, 41 assists for 55 points in 76 games with the Phantoms) to being demoted.
Instead, Akeson was caught up in a numbers game. With NHL talent playing in the AHL during the labor unrest, it was inevitable that Akeson’s name would slip a little down the depth chart.
And once it got down below the top six forwards, it didn’t seem to make sense for the Flyers to keep him in Adirondack, because he wasn’t going to fill the role that are usually reserved for third and fourth line players.
“A guy like Garret Roe is a similar-sized guy who can play on the third or fourth line because he’s a hard worker and he’s gritty and plays with a more grind-it-out mentality,” said Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, who has been working with the Titans. “Akeson is a different player. He’s small, but he is purely a skill guy and a playmaker, so with the top six being filled on the Phantoms by guys like (Sean) Couturier and (Brayden) Schenn, it’s hard to imagine Akeson getting the kind of ice time he needs to be successful with that group.
“That’s why he’s in Trenton, but that said, he’s a very skilled guy… probably the most skilled guy in Trenton. He’s got great hands and vision, and makes plays. He’s a smart player. Not a lot of speed, but he knows how to play the game.”
Which has been the story of Akeson’s career. He’s too small (5-foot-10) and not fast enough for his size to play.
He’s heard the same thing since he was little, and yet has continued to prove everyone wrong.
He was an elite scorer in two seasons with the Cumberland Grads in Junior A. When he made it to major junior, he was a second team All-Rookie selection for the Kitchener Rangers with 64 points in his first full season.
In his second season with the Rangers, that total climbed to 80 points, playing with NHL-talent Jeff Skinner and Jeremy Morin.
It was the belief by many scouts that Akeson was a product of playing with guys who were first and second round picks in the NHL, and couldn’t thrive without them.
Then Akeson proved everyone wrong again.
In his final junior season, Akeson finished with 108 points, tied for the most in the OHL. The Flyers liked what they saw and decided to take a chance on him, offering him a three-year entry-level deal as an undrafted free agent prior to last season.
Still just 22-years-old, Akeson still has a lot to work on… and a lot to prove.
“Every day, everything I do is an attempt to get faster,” Akeson said. “That’s what the sport of hockey is now. The game is all about speed. There’s no gray area. I know that’s what I have to work on the most. I thought I was doing it and doing well, but to get sent down was a blow to my pride at first.
“However, I now know that life goes on. I can’t pout and whine. It’s the way the sport goes. I’m playing with a great group of guys who all want to take that next step and get to the AHL. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. I’ve been successful there and I just want to get back. That’s my focus.”
And so far so good for Akeson, who is third on the Titans in scoring with two goals, four assists and six points in the Titans first seven games.
“He’s gone there and played and I thought he’s played really well,” Berube said. “He ran the power play well. You can see he has the ability to slow the game down and use his vision to create plays. But That’s also the reality. It’s good to be able to slow the game down, but you can’t always do things slower. You have to make quicker decisions and do things at a more intense rate of speed. He knows he has to play that way, and he knows he’ll be back to the AHL as soon as the lockout ends.
“To be a small player in the NHL, you have to be exceptional, but I never count a guy out. He’s intelligent and has great skill. There are a lot of guys that don’t have that. If he becomes a harder player to play against… then he can make it. I’ve seen it before. It’s not impossible.”
With his mom in his corner, chatting hockey and offering advice and inspiration, Akeson too knows now that nothing is impossible.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
When looking back at the history of the Philadelphia Flyers, it’s not a surprise to learn that the franchise has come oh-so-close to ending a Stanley Cup championship drought that dates back to 1975.
Over a four-year career with the Flyers, goaltender Robert Esche posted a 60-40-16 record to go along with seven shutouts and a 2.45 goals-against average in 128 regular season games.
Six times in the last 37 years the Flyers have reached the Cup Final only to fall just short in reclaiming the silver chalice as their own.
And yet, despite getting to within a win or two of doing just that on a few occasions, some would argue that the team that had the best chance to eradicate the drought was one that never made it to the Final.
That would be the 2003-04 Flyers, who dropped an emotional, seven-game series to the eventual Cup champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
It was a team loaded with big name talent. There was Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Keith Primeau. There was John LeClair, Mark Recchi and Sami Kapanen. There was Eric Desjardins, Simon Gagne and Michal Handzus.
It was a who’s who of hockey coached by a Stanley Cup-winning coach in Ken Hitchcock.
Yet, as good as they were up front, if they were going to make a run to the Cup, they were going to need somebody to be outstanding in goal.
The year started with Jeff Hackett as the No. 1 guy, but he was diagnosed with vertigo in early January and never played again.
The Flyers traded for veteran Sean Burke about a month later and although it looked like he was going to be the guy for the first several weeks he was in Philly, in mid-March Hitchcock made a surprise decision.
Robert Esche, his 26-year-old backup goalie had played well all season filling in for both Hackett and Burke. Hitchcock decided Esche was going to be the guy the Flyers would go with for the playoffs and have Burke as a veteran to step in, in case Esche cracked under pressure.
The thing was, Esche never did crack. He finished the regular season with the best numbers of his career going 21-11-7 with a 2.04 goals against average and a .915 save percentage.
In the playoffs Esche, who refused to speak to the media that postseason, earning the nickname, “Silent Bob,” was just as good with a 2.32 GAA and an even better .918 save percentage.
He helped carry a Flyers team depleted with injuries on defense (so much so that Kapanen, a forward, had to play regularly on the Flyers defense), to Game 7 of that Conference Final.
Esche was never the same after that season. A lockout that cancelled the following season hurt Esche from a physical standpoint, as he never seemed to get back to his playing shape the next season, and was being pressured by rookie goalie Antero Niittymaki, who had guided the Philadelphia Phantoms to the Calder Cup championship in the AHL during the locked out season.
Esche still held on to the No. 1 job in the 2005-06 playoffs, but barely. Not that it mattered as the Flyers were eliminated by a good Buffalo Sabres team in six games.
The following year proved to be the worst in Flyers history, and by the end of the season Esche was ready to move on from Philadelphia.
Last month, Esche returned to Philly for the first time since leaving the Flyers. He was working out with some NHL players at Flyers Skate Zone.
We caught up with him to see what he was up to since leaving the organization in the Spring of 2007.
In 2003, Esche won the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against it.
Q: What have you been doing since leaving the Flyers?
A: “When I first left the NHL back in 2007 I was looking for a job here and nothing really sunk in with an NHL team. It was mostly two-way contract offers and I wanted to play a lot of games so Russia was a good fit for me.
I went to Ak Bars Kazan in my first year - which is the gateway to Siberia - and we had a great team that went far in the playoffs [He had a 1.86 GAA in 18 games]. That was exciting as I got my first taste of Russia.
“The next year I went to St. Petersburg and Barry Smith was the coach there. It was a very North American team and most of the Russians had played in the NHL so there was a lot more English being spoken and it was more of an international city where we could send our kids to school rather than do the home schooling. I stayed there for two years and had two extremely successful seasons. [He had nine shutouts and a 1.87 GAA in 2008-09 and six shutouts and a 2.07 GAA in 2009-10].
“Then I went to Belarus. At that point the family stayed home. I played in Minsk. That was different. I’ll leave it at that [3.30 GAA in 24 games].
“Then last year I played in Switzerland [for SCL Tigers Langnau with a 3.05 GAA in 40 games]. That was my favorite year from a family standpoint but from a hockey standpoint it was just different hockey.
“I’ve been all over the map and kept my restaurant going and doing a lot farming to supplement the restaurant, so it has been good.”
Q: Can you tell us about the restaurant and your farm?
A: “I actually set up the business plan several years ago because I always wanted to go into farming. So, I went to school, took some classes on it and really studied it while I was in Russia – because there is a lot of down time there. We have the beef, the chicken broilers, the egg layers and the produce as well. We supplement roughly 55 percent of the restaurant [called Esche’s Aqua Vino, located on the Marina in downtown Utica, N.Y.] in the summer and fall months. Now we’re moving into aquaponics at the farm to try to create year-round sustainability for the restaurant.
“Oddly enough restaurants and farming are two of the most difficult industries to go into, but together they go well and are a hand-in-glove fit. Getting everybody on board is a little trying at times – like getting the chefs on board because the food is 100 percent different then food you buy from distributors. It’s not portion controlled so that’s an issue, especially when somebody comes out with a bigger steak than the next person. The restaurant is in Utica. The farm is my home property. I have 80 acres just outside of Utica.”
Q: What about your future in hockey? You’re 34 years old and haven’t been in the NHL in five years. What’s next?
A: “I’d like to keep on playing as long as I can. I really want to stay over here [in North America]. The last five years from a family standpoint and personally have been tough. But I learned a lot and the weaknesses in my game got better. I never really read plays that much until I went over to Russia because that’s what you have to do there. I want to stay on this side of the ocean. Maybe I can latch on somewhere on a tryout or on a two-way contract so I can try to work my way back up back to where I think I can get to.”
Esche participated in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy for Team USA.
Q: So, how did you end up working out here? There had to be somewhere closer to home for you to skate and workout, no?
A: “I always loved the Flyers organization and everyone in the organization. I’ve always thought of myself as a Flyer. When I left, I left on good terms. It was a very frustrating year -for everyone from the bottom up to the top down. I don’t think it was easy on any one person. I wasn’t even playing at the end when we had three goalies.
“But [general manager Paul Holmgren] treated me great through that whole thing and really made a tough situation as easy as possible. So, for me, I’ve always felt that kinship with the Flyers organization, especially with guys like [head athletic trainer Jim] McCrossin and [assistant athletic trainer] Sal [Raffa] and [Head Equipment Manager] Derek [Settlemyre], [equipment manager] Harry [Bricker] and [assistant equipment trainer Mike Craytor]. Everybody in here had always helped me out the five years I was here, so I called Holmgren up to see if I would be getting in the way, and he said, no, come on down.
“I was able to work with goalie coach Jeff Reese and that was my first goalie session in five years. They don’t have goalie coaches [in Switzerland] and in Russia we had a guy, but he never worked with me. He worked with the other goalies, but never with me. I don’t know if I scared him or what.”
Q: What’s the next step in the process? Do you start contacting teams to let them know you are trying to get back?
A: “I got John LeClair as my new agent. He works for Lewis Gross [LeClair’s agent when he was a player]. There was a team that was interested in me and then two months ago it fell through and I got ultra depressed. I really wanted to stay over here, but it was tough because I never really had an agent and always handled things myself. Then McCrossin told me that Johnny was starting to get into it at some level – so I called him up.
“First I talked to one of my best friends – Sean Burke and he told me he didn’t think my prospects were that good, but then I talked to Lewis and John and they said they didn’t think it would be that hard to find me something, so I called Holmgren immediately to see if I can get on the ice because we don’t have much up in Utica. Realistically, for being out of the league for five years, I think I’m probably going to have to go on a tryout somewhere to see where I fit in. If I was to be offered a contract, it’d be awesome, but realistically, an AHL contract where I remain a free agent or a tryout would be the best thing.”
Q: You have the farm, you have the restaurant, you’re a very successful businessman. So, what still drives you to play hockey in the NHL after being out of the league for so long?
A: “What still drives me is I do like the game. Oddly enough I’m a pretty smart guy, so I’m an absentee owner of the restaurant. That place pretty much runs itself. And the farm is really a summer thing. I don’t have a cow/calf operation where you have to go through the birthing and everything. I get feeder cattle and I get the chickens in the spring time and when you are done with them you go to have them slaughtered. So, I don’t really have anything going on in the winter. The thing I can say about my five years overseas is I really missed it over here.
“Look, I was paid well over there and that made me have a blind eye a little bit to the fact that I wasn’t in the NHL anymore, but I missed it.
“There were too many late nights talking to ex-NHLers who were on my team – whether it was [Darius] Kasparaitis or [Sergei] Zubov or [Petr] Cajanek or [Sergei] Brylin. We all said the same thing – ‘I would do anything to come back and play.’
“In those five years, I had contract offers from the NHL but the money kept keeping me over there or I wasn’t allowed out of my contract sometimes, so the timing has always been kind of screwed up with me because you have to sign a contract so early over there and I wasn’t willing to roll the dice and [not sign] and say, ‘I can come back.’
“But now my kids are older and I want to come back here and I want to play. I really enjoy the sport. I don’t think I enjoyed it over there. It’s different. You go out on the ice over there you’re just trying to get by, where as here, it’s such a competitive, passionate thing.”
Q: You left the KHL for Switzerland last season despite being pretty successful as a goaltender there. Were you thinking about signing somewhere in the KHL only to change your mind after the plane crash that killed the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv team last September?
A: “It was horrible. I was friends with Karel Rachunek and [Pavol] Demitra and I knew [Brad] McCrimmon when I was young because he was on the Phoenix Coyotes when I was a prospect there.
“The scary thing for me personally is that summer, I was leaving Belarus and I didn’t want to go back there. I had played against Yaroslavl and had a good playoff against them. So they were talking to me and they were debating between me and Stefan Liv. They ended up signing him, but my name was thrown about as being the goalie there.
“I sit back and look at it now and it’s so weird. My idol growing up was Waylon Jennings and he’s the one who gave up his seat on a charter plane to the Big Bopper because the Big Bopper had a cold. That was the plane that crashed [also killing Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens].
“That summer I was so upset because I wanted to go to Yaroslavl, but looking back on it, sometimes things just happen and whether you believe in pre-destiny or manifest destiny, there’s no way of explaining this. It was a horrible feeling.
Esche posted a 13-11 record with one shutout and a 2.73 goals-against average in 25 Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Flyers.
“I have so many friends in the KHL who wanted to quit after that crash – or just take a bus – but that’s unrealistic. Those planes are all those old Soviet era planes. I guess it’s better now, I don’t know, but at the time it was horrible. I wasn’t particularly a good flyer to begin with, but the flying in Russia was not good.”
Q: What is your favorite memory of playing in Philadelphia?
A: “I was extremely lucky to play with so many great guys in such a great organization so for me to put my finger on any one thing would be impossible to do. Some of the best friends I have came from this team.
“It was the golden age of hockey pre-lockout where every guy on the team was a household name and that was really cool. I know we didn’t win anything but we were really close and had some unfortunate injuries at the end there with defensemen that was pretty tough.
“Tampa Bay was awesome but we were right there. It was great, I didn’t have to talk to the media – I loved it. I wasn’t even really upset. When I got the green light I was thrilled that I didn’t have to talk to the media.
“I played with two of my best friends in Burke and Recchi but we had so many great guys – [Roenick], Johnny, Desjardins, Amonte – the whole team was filled with great, great guys and it was really unfortunate that we didn’t win it. But the Flyers always find a way to bounce back and get right back where they belong at or near the top of the league. The way they do things here is just outstanding.”
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Terry Murray tried switching up the lineup. He tried conveying a message of communication, trust, and belief in a system.
As a veteran coach, whose seen highs and lows with a hockey team, he has a pretty good idea of which buttons to push when.
And while he still is keeping the panic button under 24-hour armed guard, a few other pushes still brought no positive results.
A day after getting completely dominated by Albany, the Phantoms played a better brand of hockey for 20 minutes, before losing their cool – and their discipline – allowing the highest scoring power play nine chances with the man advantage.
The end result wasn’t pretty – a 6-2 loss to the Rochester Americans, the Phantoms fourth loss in their last five games.
“We’ve just got to settle down,” Murray said. “There’s got to be more composure from our young players and we have to trust each other. Trust our linemates. Trust other people to do their own job. If we can just grab onto that, we can become a pretty good team. We’ve shown it already by playing some very good games and good responsibility without the puck, but the last two games it’s slipped away.”
And the Phantoms have done so in new ways each time.
Against the Devils, there was a failure to communicate, an inability to win puck battles, and a one-night turnover affliction.
Against the Amerks, a good opening 20 minutes spilled over into a second period based in hesitation and uncertainty, which led to penalties, which mounted frustration, which cost them a game.
“Some of the penalties that we took weren’t disciplined at all and that’s going to cost you, especially against that team,” said goalie Scott Munroe, who had to make 45 saves in the loss. “We were a little leery of their power play, and if you give them that many chances they’re going to put a couple in.”
Which the Americans did, going 2-for-9 with the man advantage.
However, Murray wanted to caution that the spike in penalties, (the Phantoms were the least penalized team in the AHL entering the game) was not the primary reason for the Phantoms loss.
“There’s more to it than that,” Murray said. “We end up chasing the puck too much. Two men going to the puck carrier in our defensive zone opens up the back door – and the first goal we gave up is an example of that.”
It left Rick Schofield wide-open for a goal that gave Rochester an early 1-0 lead.
It also marked the sixth consecutive game to start the season that the Phantoms allowed the first goal.
But Munroe was strong in the period, making 14 saves, keeping the game a one-goal deficit after one period.
It looked like the Phantoms were going to continue to play a solid game when Harry Zolnierczyk out-hustled both T.J. Brennan and Rochester goalie David Leggio to a loose puck in the opening minute of the second period for an easy goal, tying the score 1-1.
But Rochester answered 90 seconds later with a power play goal by captain Kevin Porter, and just like that the Phantoms were back in a hole, and this time, they weren’t climbing out.
“We got out of our rhythm in the second period and that hurt us the rest of the game,” said Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom. “A lot of the stick penalties are on us because we weren’t moving our feet. If it’s a hard penalty because of a hard hit, you don’t mind killing those off, but the trips and slashes and stuff, that’s just us not digging in.”
By the end of the period, Rochester added a second goal by Schofield and a power play redirection goal by Evan Rankin, to make the second period deficit 4-1.
It was the 12th consecutive intermission that the Phantoms went into their locker room without a lead, which adds a level of unwanted pressure.
It’s strange that this is happening to a team with 10 players with NHL experience playing at the AHL level, and even more so because of how well they played as a team a week ago during a hard-fought split with St. John in Newfoundland.
“I was really encouraged after that trip,” Munroe said. “We played two really good games and we were skating well. We were looking like a team. Then we come back from the trip, we got spanked in Albany and we come out [Saturday] with another one.”
Murray benched five players who played in Albany Friday – Matt Mangene, Garrett Roe, Eric Wellwood, Oliver Lauridsen and Jeff Dimmen – and replaced them with five players who were in business suits Friday – Tyler Brown, Mike Testwuide, Matt Ford, Zack Fitzgerald and Cullen Eddy.
Testwuide, playing his first game of the season, drew the Phantoms within 4-2 with an effort goal when he fought for position in front of the net and slid a loose puck past Leggio for 4-2.
With a power play in the closing minutes, Murray pulled Munroe to try to gain a greater offensive advantage, but a zone clear by Nick Crawford went right into the empty net to seal the victory for Rochester.
“We had a 20 minute effort only,” Murray said. “That’s where the game was at. We came out in the second and looked rattled at times… we paid a price for it.”
NOTES: Tye McGinn won a heavyweight fight with Nick Tarnasky after Tarnasky drilled Danny Syvret from behind into the boards. McGinn cut Tarnasky over the left eye with one of his punches that landed… Sean Couturier picked up an assist, and was probably the Phantoms best skater in the game, however Murray didn’t want to heap any praise on him after a bad loss. “It’s not a night to talk about any one player. That was a team that put up 51 shots on us tonight and everyone is responsible for what is going on… Zac Rinaldo, who had been a bastion of disciplined hockey in the first five games, took three penalties Saturday, including a charging major.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
ALBANY, N.Y. – Cal Heeter said he is a perfectionist.
If that’s the case, then the only way the Phantoms would have won Friday is if Heeter was, in fact, perfect.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t. The score or his statistics won’t show it, but Heeter was the best player on the ice for the Phantoms in their disappointing 5-1 loss to the Albany Devils.
It is the third loss in four games for the Phantoms (2-3-0), who return to the ice Saturday at home in Glens Falls to face the high scoring Rochester Americans, top affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres.
The Amerks boast the highest scoring offense in the AHL so far, and if the Phantoms are going to defeat them, they’re going to have to do a complete 180 degree turn from the way they played Friday.
“I felt bad for Heeter because that was his second start (as a pro) and we came up with an unacceptable performance,” said Phantoms coach Terry Murray. “It’s too bad because he did battle and compete and make some big saves for us.”
That he did, but goalies, unless they’re named Ron Hextall, can’t score goals for you, and you can’t score goals if you don’t shoot the puck.
The Phantoms didn’t really register a shot until the 14:42 mark of the first period (they were credited with one a couple minutes earlier that never reached the goalie) and by that point they were already behind 2-0.
It marked the fifth straight game to start the season that the Phantoms allowed the first goal of the game.
“That was a team that played the game they wanted to play,” Murray said of the Devils. “They beat us to pucks and did the things they wanted to do along the boards. The board game was an easy game for them. That’s a team that taught us a lesson here tonight.”
The Devils were also opportunistic, taking advantage of Phantoms mistakes to account for four of their goals.
Erik Gustafsson couldn’t corral a loose puck in front of Heeter in the first period, allowing Jacob Josefson to slam dunk the puck into an open net to make it 1-0.
Danny Syvret then turned the puck over in front of his own net, leading to a 2-on-0 situation to which Heeter had no chance to thwart as Matt Anderson scored to make it 2-0.
After Zac Rinaldo scored on a penalty shot (you read that correctly) the Devils got a penalty shot of their own.
Marc-Andre Bourdon, who was back in the lineup after missing the last two games with an injury, hooked Adam Henrique’s stick.
Referee Chris Brown awarded Henrique with a penalty shot, even though he wasn’t free and clear on Heeter – and got off a good shot too.
Henrique didn’t fail, and after two periods it was 3-1.
“It was a tough call because he still got his shot off and had a pretty good scoring chance,” said Heeter, who made a nice save on Henrique on the play. “There’s not really much you can do about that though. It’s my job to make saves and I tried to step up on the penalty shot there and I came away a little short.”
Syvret got beat again in the third period when Phil DeSimone weaved around him and slid a shot through Heeter’s five-hole to make it 4-1, and all but eliminate any chance the Phantoms had of getting back in the game.
Darcy Zajac re-directed an Adam Larsson shot past Heeter a few minutes later to round out the scoring.
“I’m not really happy when I have a goal scored on me, no matter what kind of shot it is,” said Heeter, who made 25 saves. “It doesn’t matter if it was a penalty shot, or a screened tip-in like the fifth goal. The fourth one I’d like to have back because it squeezed in through the five-hole. You can take positives from every game, but you have to be realistic too and realize that you still need to get better.”
The Phantoms couldn’t have been much worse. With the exception of Heeter, Rinaldo, Harry Zolnierczyk and a line that was put together in the third period consisting of Andrew Johnston, Matt Mangene and Garrett Roe, there weren’t too many Phantoms who could feel good about how they played.
“We have to come out tomorrow with a whole different attitude,” said Rinaldo, who had several bug hits in the game, including a clean, open-ice check on Adam Larsson that left the big-bodied Devils defenseman shaken. “We have to come out with guns firing. We have to get pucks to the net, pucks deep. We’ll bounce back though.”
TRENTON, N.J. – Marcel Noebels had just finished a lengthy practice with the Trenton Titans. It went a little longer than usual, but the players didn’t mind as they were getting some special attention from Flyers assistant coaches Kevin McCarthy, Craig Berube and goalie coach Jeff Reese.
Noebels seemed to be in a good mood. He had just scored his first professional hockey goal and had just finished a chat with some local reporters who had caught wind of the prospect’s progression through the early part of the 2012-13 campaign.
So you could excuse Noebels if he was basking in the attention for a day.
Maybe it was this giddiness that propelled him to say what he said next. Perhaps it was confidence. Either way, Noebels sounded like a guy who wasn’t long for the ECHL.
“I want to move up (to Adirondack of the AHL),” he said. “But I want to do it before all the NHL guys go back to the NHL.”
If Noebels keeps playing as he has so far for the Titans, his shot in the AHL may come sooner rather than later.
Noebels, a left wing, is second on the Titans in scoring so far this season. He has six points (two goals, four assists) through the Titans first five games and one of his goals came on the power play – as he’s getting a chance to play in all situations for the 4-1-0-0 Titans.
“I think it’s been a pretty good start for me,” Noebels said. “I’m in my first pro season, I’m the youngest guy on the team (20-years-old), and I’m doing pretty good.
“I’m taking a lot of responsibility, and trying not to be last in line to step up and be a leader. Stats are not everything but I want to be the best player out there every game.”
It’s the right attitude for Noebels, a native of Toenisvorst, Germany, who the Flyers see as a real NHL-caliber prospect.
They were thrilled to get him in the fourth round (118th overall) of the 2011 draft, because they felt he was talented enough to be drafted higher but just slipped through the cracks.
“He’s a good skater,” said Berube, who is spending time watching the Titans and working with Noebels and the other Flyers prospects on the Titans. “He’s a big guy (6-foot-2, 204 lbs.) and he’s got good hands. In the game I saw I thought he looked good. I didn’t think he looked out of place. He’s got to get to the net more and do some damage around there. His net presence could have been better, but that’s something you learn the more you play pro hockey. He needs to be patient, but he’s got the aptitude and the right attitude that’s he’ll get it. He’s going to have potential to score some goals.”
That he showed in junior hockey.
In his first season in the Western Hockey League as an 18-year-old with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Noebels potted 28 goals and added 26 assists for 54 points in 64 games.
In his second junior season, Noebels split time between Seattle and the Portland Winterhawks and combined for 20 goals and 38 assists for 58 points in 62 games.
However, Noebels was never really known as a defensive-minded player, nor is he a physical guy. And while you can get away with deficiencies in those areas in junior hockey, they stick out sorely in the professional ranks – even in a league like the ECHL.
“He’s been really good so far, and we really like him as a prospect,” said Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren. “But he needs to break a few junior habits first. We think he will , and we think he’ll do it rather quickly.”
Noebels admitted that he’s spoken to Berube a bit about those holes in his game, and feels that he is addressing them daily while practicing with the Titans.
"There are two things I want to improve in my game,” Noebels said. “I try to look too many times for linemates. That doesn’t mean I want to be selfish, but I should drive the net more and not always look for the pretty play.
“Then In front of the net I need to be strong and be tough. I need to win stick battles and puck battles. I’m a good one-on-one player in the corners, because I use my body in the corners to shield the puck, but I have to hit more frequently to get to the puck. At the junior level it’s different, here there’s a lot more structure and more hockey smarts. You have to look at the game and be smarter on the ice. Everyone is older, more experienced. You need to step up your game higher.”
As far as Berube’s concerned, it shows that Noebels is listening and grasping what it is the Flyers want from him. That simply makes it a matter of putting those words and thoughts to practice.
“He has the ability to propel himself up the ladder quickly,” Berube said. “He can really skate for a big guy. When you have that already, you tend to have an edge on guys who don’t move as well. He wants to play. He really seems interested in doing what is necessary to get to the next level. He has confidence and he has a great attitude. To me, that’s a very good sign.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
UPDATED AS OF OCT. 18
"Niko is day-to-day with a neck/whiplash injury. He will be re-evaluated over the weekend."
Hovinen is currently assigned to the Flyers ECHL affiliate, the Trenton Titans.
He stopped 11 of 12 shots he faced before leaving early in the second period during the Trenton-Reading game on Wednesday, October 17. The Titans went on to defeat the Royals, who are the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, 3-1.
TRENTON, N.J. – Asked to describe the difference between Niko Hovinen’s goaltending two weeks ago in an AHL preseason game and where he was after his first official start in North American professional hockey, Flyers’ goaltending coach Jeff Reese was all smiles.
“Night and Day,” he said after he and Flyers assistant coach Kevin McCarthy helped the Trenton Titans at their practice Tuesday. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement already.”
It probably helped a ton that Hovinen had a strong first outing for the Titans in their ECHL opener last week.
Hovinen had 31 saves in a 3-1 victory over Greeneville at the Sun National Bank Center.
“He played really well and got some confidence and a little of his swagger back,” Reese said. “He’s getting more and more comfortable with what we’re trying to do. He just got his family to move here from Finland [Hovinen has a wife and an infant daughter] and that makes him feel a lot more comfortable not just on the ice, but off it as well.”
Hovinen admitted that playing goal in North America, on smaller rinks and at a higher rate of speed, is something he has to get used to before he can really start to flourish.
At first he thought the adjustment wouldn’t be too hard – after all, he was told by many that the Finnish Elite League was the closest in terms of style to the North American Leagues.
But his indoctrination was anything but similar.
Hovinen was beaten repeatedly by shots to the short side because his angles in net were out of whack, thanks to the smaller ice.
As a result he struggled mightily in that exhibition game against Albany, and the Flyers brass knew immediately that the answer for Hovinen was to let him get his feet wet in the North American game in the ECHL, rather than struggle to find it in the AHL, which would start the season with more talent than usual with NHL caliber players participating during a work stoppage.
“It wasn’t the greatest day when they sent me down,” Hovinen said. “But when I look at it now, it was a good thing that I was sent down here. Obviously I wasn’t ready and I needed to work on a few things. There’s no better place to do that but here.”
The Flyers expected Hovinen to be their top goaltending prospect at the AHL level, but after seeing him during workouts in the summer, the Flyers hedged their bets and signed AHL veteran Scott Munroe.
Munroe was likely going to be on the Phantoms roster as an experienced voice, but that meant the other spot would belong to either Hovinen or Cal Heeter, whom the Flyers signed as a free agent after his career at the Ohio State University came to a close.
Heeter won the team over with his competitive style, which coupled with Hovinen’s subpar performance, was enough to have their chips each fall in the opposite place than expected.
That does not mean Hovinen’s star has fallen. The Flyers still have high expectations for the big Finn (Hovinen is 6-foot-7, which is the tallest goalie in the history of the ECHL).
“It takes a little bit of time to adjust sometimes,” Reese said. “The game is different over here. The rinks, the angles… it takes time. I know this is not where he really wants to be, but you know what? [Los Angeles Kings goalie] Jonathan Quick was in this league five years ago.”
And now he has a Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his mantle.
“I feel better every day and I can’t wait to see what happens,” Hovinen said. “I want to go back up (to the AHL) as quickly as possible, so I’m going to work as hard as I can every day and improve on the things I need to improve on.”
NOTES: Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette and assistant general manager John Paddock took in the Titans practice from the stands… Flyers prospect Marcel Noebels, who has three assists in two games, said he too is looking to get back to the Phantoms as quickly as possible, “I want to get back there before the NHL guys leave,” he said… The Titans next home game is tomorrow against Reading. Tickets are still available and range in price from $15-$30 per seat.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email him at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
O.K., maybe a period-and-a-half.
No matter, because for the final 30 minutes of the opening game of the season for the Adirondack Phantoms, there were no better players on the ice.
The Phantoms overcame three separate one-goal deficits and used special teams to take over the game – scoring twice on the power play and once shorthanded – to defeat the Portland Pirates 6-3 at Glens Falls Civic Center.
As for Couturier and Schenn, they combined for three goals and two assists for five points.
Not a bad debut, eh?
Couturier scored a power play goal in the second period to tie the game 3-3 and Schenn scored twice in the third period – once on a nifty shorthanded chance and once into an empty net to propel the Phantoms to victory.
“We didn’t generate a whole lot in the first half of the game,” Schenn said. “But once we got those 5-on-3 chances [the Phantoms had three of them in the game] it seemed like our confidence went up and we got into a groove.”
Whatever the impetus, the duo took over.
“They stepped up their game to another level in the third period,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “They showed the NHL experience that they have.”
Couturier scored his first AHL goal on a two-man advantage in the second period when he flipped the rebound of a Danny Syvret shot past Pirates goalie Chad Johnson to tie the score 3-3.
The goal was originally waived off by referee Chris Brown, but was counted after Brown reviewed the video replay.
It was the second time Brown had to go to the replay in the period, spending several minutes trying to determine if a shot by Zac Rinaldo went into the net.
At first glance, the puck seemed to go into the net, hit the back piping and kick back out, but the limited camera angles available to Brown were inconclusive, so he couldn’t allow the goal to count.
“He told me that it looked like the puck was going in but then the video cut out and he could never see it go into the net, so he couldn’t count the goal,” Rinaldo said. “He tried to look at it for a long time, but he just couldn’t see it go in.”
That would have tied the game for the Phantoms after Andy Meile gave Portland a lead 1:14 into the second period, and Couturier’s tally would have put the Phantoms ahead, but the Phantoms were a victim of a lack of technology in their 33-year-old home rink.
They didn’t need technological assistance in the third though.
“I was just standing in front of the net and Holmstrom made a nice pass to me,” McGinn said. “I saw the goalie was bending his knee a little bit so there was a little spot there so I shot it and hoped for the best.”
The Phantoms were protecting the one goal lead well from there, shutting the door defensively, however Matt Ford took a slash penalty with six minutes remaining, giving the Pirates one last chance.
That’s when Schenn took over.
Couturier forced a turnover by Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Schenn rushed the puck up ice one-on-one with David Rundblad.
Rundblad tried to wipe Schenn out of the play, but the Phantoms forward was too slick to get rubbed out and instead made a touch pass to himself, stepping around the check, and then snapping a shot off of Johnson’s skate and into the net for a shortie and the needed insurance goal.
Schenn later added an empty-netter, finishing off his three-point night.
“You have to be good on special teams to be a team that is going to win,” Murray said. “The power play came through at the right time, but we got a huge shorthanded goal to secure it for us. It was a great play by Couturier to go straight at the body [of Larsson] to create a loose puck and Schenn did the right thing taking it to the net.
“It was two young guys that really understood the importance of the situation.”
Not to be overshadowed, Scott Munroe finished with 24 saves to earn the win, and after allowing a cheapie in the first period to Larsson, really settled down and kept the Phantoms in the game with some big stops, especially early in the second period.
“I think he really knuckled down after allowing that one goal,” Murray said. “He showed a real professionalism and made some big stops that allowed us to settle into our game and gain composure.”
After Ethan Werek gave the Pirates an early lead, Harry Zolnierczyk scored the first goal of the season for the Phantoms, in typical Harry Z style – crashing the net at top speed.
However, Zolnierczyk wasn’t trying to poke a puck past the goalie or beat him with a nasty wrister, instead he was simply trying to make a pass.
His attempt to find Eric Wellwood on the doorstep instead banked off of Portland defenseman Chris Summers’ skate and bee-lined past Johnson to tie the score 1-1.
The play was made by Rob Bordson, a surprise starter in the Phantoms lineup, as he dipsy-dooed through the Portland defense before dropping a pass to the speedy Zolnierczyk.
A wild final minute of play in the first period saw two goals in 33 seconds.
Ekman-Larsson, the gifted defenseman for Portland who had 14 goals as a rookie for the Phoenix Coyotes last season, beat Munroe with a shot from the point off a faceoff win by Meile at 19:09 to give Portland a 2-1 lead.
But the Phantoms answered quickly when Ben Holmstrom’s shot rebounded out to Garrett Roe who faked a backhander before doing a 360-degree turn and slipping a forehander past the surprised Johnson.
Known more for his vision and playmaking ability than his scoring touch, Roe made a sensational play to score the goal and tie the score with a mere 18 ticks left on the clock.
“The shot came off the goalie’s pads and it was in my feet and I saw the defenseman’s stick coming in there, so I kind of used my foot to protect it, gave up on the backhand and just turned around and fired it,” Roe said. “I had no idea it was going to go in. I think the goalie thought I was going to go backhand too and was a little off his angle, but I’ll take whatever I can get.
And so will the Phantoms, who will take the win and head to Springfield Sunday to begin a four-game road trip against their division rivals.
“We had turnovers and got pretty sloppy in the defensive zone early, not playing with a lot of poise on the puck,” Roe said. “But we turned it around in the second and into the third and simplified things. We started shutting things down. I think it was just a first game thing where we needed to get back in the swing of things. Overall we’re happy, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Terry Murray has coached 1,012 NHL games – which is more than any coach in the 76-year history of the American Hockey League.
And yet, prior to opening night for the Phantoms, he admitted that he still gets butterflies.
“You’re just excited to start the new season,” he said. “So, yeah, there are definitely some nerves there.”
It could also be that it’s Murray’s first game coaching in the AHL in 22 years. Or, it could be that he’s just ready to begin what many believe will be a successful campaign for the Adirondack Phantoms.
Since moving to Northern New York from Philadelphia three seasons ago, the Phantoms have scuffled, and missed the playoffs each season.
But the roster is chock-full of talent this season, loaded with 10 players with NHL experience, so expectations have definitely reached a new level.
“Every team has at least one player with that experience but we’re lucky enough to have a couple handfuls,” said Harry Zolnierczyk, who got to play 37 games with the big club last season. “Then the other guys are playing to try to get to the NHL, so they all want to be playing their best games up front here in the season. It’s going to be pretty intense right off the bat.”
And that intensity will only be driven further by the hopes of the loyal Adirondack fan base that hasn’t seen a Calder Cup title won by the team that makes the Glens Falls Civic Center home since 1991-92.
The players know that. They can feel it in their own locker room.
“The last couple years haven’t worked out the way the organization wanted it to work,” said Brandon Manning, who played four games in the NHL last season. “But the talent is here this year. It’s just a matter of it coming together. We’ve been working on that in training camp, but just this week, coming back up here to Glens Falls, it’s definitely exciting. The hype is there, now all we need to do is come through and it can be a great year for us for sure.”
While the pursuit of the Calder Cup is an ultimate team goal for the Phantoms, the key aspect of the AHL is development – as NHL teams hope to nurture and improve their prospects to the point where they can contribute consistently at the next level.
That’s why Murray is here.
“It’s nice to know that you have a coach with as much as experience as he has,” Zolnierczyk said. “You can definitely learn a lot from him which is great.”
The Phantoms are really deep up front, have a strong defensive corps and have veteran experience in goal with Scott Munroe, who gets the nod over first –year pro and training camp surprise Cal Heeter.
It’s just the right formula, the team hopes, to put together a very successful season.
A visit from an old friend… or two
When the Phantoms last won the Calder Cup in 2005, the veteran anchor of the defense was an AHL legend.
John Slaney, who played in more than 600 games in the AHL in parts of 13 seasons and amassed 519 career points, won his only Calder Cup that season.
At the time, Phantoms coach John Stevens referred to Slaney, one of his alternate captains, as a “coach on the ice.”
Consider that some pretty good foreshadowing on Stevens’ part.
Now, seven years later, Slaney, 40, is starting his second season as an assistant coach of the Portland Pirates, the AHL affiliate for the Phoenix Coyotes.
“Now that it’s my second season it’s a little easier because I know what my role is as a coach and I’m more organized,” Slaney said. “The important thing is developing these kids on the ice and the fundamental part of figuring out what each one of them needs to work on and hopefully I can correct them.”
Slaney is excited for the start of the AHL season because it brings back memories of that 2004-05 season – with all the talent that filtered down from the NHL while the league was on hiatus.
“There’s no question the game is going to be a lot quicker because there’s going to be some really good players that are playing in our league,” Slaney said. “It takes me back (to 2004-05). Those are some good memories for me personally.”
Slaney had 14 goals and 30 assists for 44 points in 78 games for the Phantoms that season and added another three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 21 playoff games, en route to his only professional championship. It was a season he remembers fondly.
“I remember my first NHL game was at the Montreal Forum,” Slaney said. “And you know what hockey is like in Canada, so that was unreal, but when you see what the fans in Philly did, especially that year and in those finals (more than 20,000 filled the Wells Fargo Center for the Calder Cup championship game) it was outstanding. We did it right that year winning the Cup for those people.”
Another Portland connection to the Flyers organization, albeit distantly, is center Brett Hextall.
The son of Flyers goaltending legend, and current Los Angeles Kings assistant general manager Ron Hextall, is a Philadelphia native and was a sixth round pick of the Coyotes in 2008.
Now 24, Hextall is entering his second season with the Pirates after playing three seasons at the University of North Dakota. He had seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 72 games for Portland last season.
Leadership Group Announced
The Phantoms have named Ben Holmstrom as their captain for the 2012-13 season. Holmstrom, 25, has played parts of the last three seasons with the Phantoms and had a nice season for them in 2011-12 with 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points. He has also played seven games in the NHL over the past two seasons with the Flyers.
The two alternate captains are Manning and Danny Syvret. The duo will likely play together as a defensive pairing to start the season for the Phantoms.
How deep are the Phantoms? Only one player on the team has won a Calder Cup – defenseman Jeff Dimmen who won last season with Norfolk – and he can’t crack the starting defensive unit… Look for Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn to play together and not centering two different lines. The organization wants to see Schenn play more on the wing to see if that’s a viable option for him on a more consistent basis at the next level… Scratches for the opener are Mike Testwuide, Shane Harper, Matt Mangene, Dimmen and Zack FitzGerald… Some names you might recognize on the Portland roster: Defenseman David Rundblad (30 games in the NHL last season with Ottawa and Phoenix), Defenseman Chris Summers (21 games with the Coyotes), Center Rob Klinkhammer (15 games with Phoenix), right wing Chris Connor (147 career NHL games with Dallas, Pittsburgh and Detroit), Joel Rechlicz (tough guy with 17 NHL games with the Islanders and Washington), defenseman Michael Stone (13 games with Phoenix), Alexandre Bolduc (48 NHL games with Vancouver and Phoenix), goalie Chad Johnson (six games with the Rangers) and most notably, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who had 13 goals and 19 assists in 82 games with the Coyotes last season.
VOORHEES, N.J. – The cacophonous cries for help on the Flyers blue line resonated throughout much of the summer.
The belief was, (and maybe still is by many), that the biggest need for the Flyers is on defense.
However, when getting a closer look at the organizational depth chart, and getting a glimpse at what likely will be the group of rearguards that will make up the six-or-seven defensemen on the Phantoms in the enhanced AHL, it’s easy to see that defense will be a strength for the affiliate, which is a plus for the organization as a whole.
“There are a bunch of defensemen here with NHL experience under their belt, and with the situation in hockey right now, it will be a positive for a lot of us,” said Danny Syvret, 27, who is entering his eighth season as a pro. “We’ll have bigger roles on the Phantoms than if we were back in the NHL and we’ll be better suited to develop ourselves.”
Manning, 22, was an excellent defenseman with the Phantoms last season – when he was healthy – and even made it to the Flyers for four games as a bit of a reward for his fine play.
“He has shown the ability to join the attack,” said Phantoms coach Terry Murray. “He’s got good feet and skates very well. He’s got a bit of an offensive mindset. In the game against Albany [last Tuesday] I saw a skirmish along the boards and he skated right in and supported his teammates from the blue line to make sure they weren’t going to be outnumbered in any of those physical situations, and that’s a good sign to me.”
As for Lauridsen, the 23-year-old is simply imposing in stature, and continues improving in specific aspects of the game.
“He’s a big body,” Murray said of the 6-foot-6 Denmark native. “He’s got size, strength, intensity and emotion in his game. But I’m really starting to see good things from him on the penalty kill. He’s blocking shots and is working very hard to get into those shooting lanes, which is a skill in and of itself.
“If you get a player that size down the road who can play minutes and kill penalties, you want to give him as much time as possible.”
Syvret is a definite on the team, and likely so is Cullen Eddy, who has been a fixture on the Phantoms for the past two seasons.
The battle appears to be for the No. 7 defenseman between Blake Kessel, a Phantoms regular last season, and Zack Fitzgerald, an eight-year AHL vagabond who is on his fifth different AHL team in the last five seasons. In each of his previous stops he has also accrued more than 200 penalty minutes, so he might have an edge as an enforcer.
“It’s good to have veteran players as long as they are the right kind of role model,” Murray said. “As long as the effort and the play is there on a consistent basis – if you have good veterans who bring the right attitude and the work, they’ll lead and show the way.”
Another bonus for this Phantoms team is the roster stability it will have until the NHL season begins. In most years, rosters are constantly in flux, with players moving up and down and not a lot of consistency and cohesiveness forming.
This year will be different.
“It’s going to be different for sure,” said Bourdon. “We’re going to have one team and not guys coming up and down all season. This year we’ll be able to stay together and get a good chemistry and I think we’ll have a very strong unit back here.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37