Anthony Stolarz grew up minutes from Six Flags Great Adventure.
As a kid, it was a convenience to have an amusement park so close to home, and he did frequent it several times a summer with his friends, but the truth is, he’s not really into roller coasters.
“I’m much more of a water park kind of guy myself,” he said. “You know, relax in the sun, swim, cool off, it’s more laid back and low key.”
A lot like Stolarz wants to be perceived – laid back, low key, under the radar a little bit.
Which is fine and dandy, especially when you are a freshman goaltender on a nationally ranked college hockey program and your getting a lighter load as you bide your time behind a more established upper classman.
And while that is technically the case for Stolarz, 18, a second round draft pick of the Flyers last summer, playing at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, which is ranked No. 12 in the nation, it’s been a little more than just getting his feet wet in his first collegiate season.
Actually, it’s been more like holding his feet to the fire.
Stolarz has played in just seven of UNO’s 18 games thus far this season, but it’s not like coach Dean Blaise is making him take baby steps against inferior competition.
No, Stolarz has faced five teams that were nationally ranked at the time they played. And one of the other two – Bemidji State – reached the Frozen Four in 2009.
So, yeah, it’s been daunting.
Not that Stolarz will let on that it has been. Nope. When he talks about playing these games, the reaction you get is more Lazy River than Kingda Ka.
“It’s been a great experience,” Stolarz said. “The competition is great in college hockey and you have to bring your ‘A’ game every night. I have to admit that in the beginning I was a little shaky because of nerves, you know, it was my first time playing college hockey, but once I got adjusted and worked hard in practice, I got used to the speed of the game and I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable. It’s been tremendous. I have confidence in my abilities and confidence that I’m going to stop the puck and give my team a chance to win and I think as the season’s progressed I’ve been able to do that.”
Consider his first start in college was against No. 3 Notre Dame – and he only allowed three goals – and to say he’s only gotten better would be tough to accomplish, but he has.
Those three goals against the Irish were the most he allowed in a game this season (he also allowed three against Bemidji State). Otherwise it was two goals allowed against then-No. 17 Northern Michigan, two against No. 16 St. Cloud State and two against No. 18 Minnesota State.
And those are in games his team lost.
It’s safe to say that Stolarz has a record of 2-4-0 so far this season because his team hasn’t done a great job scoring for him either.
But those two wins – they were beauties.
His first collegiate victory came Nov. 24 when he blanked Alabama-Huntsville 8-0, making 20 saves.
Then, last Saturday, he thwarted Minnesota State 5-1, making a career high 27 saves.
At the holiday break, Stolarz has a goals against average of 2.15 and a save percentage of .911.
Not bad for a kid who in 2011 wasn’t sure if hockey was even going to be in his future.
That’s because he had been cut by two different Eastern Junior Hockey League teams. That’s Tier III Junior A. Not to mention, the year before your draft year. It didn’t look good.
So he gave it a go in the North American Hockey League with the Corpus Christi Ice Rays. It’s a league that is so far off the radar, only one player from the entire league was invited to the NHL combine.
That player was Stolarz.
Excited to be invited, Stolarz wasn’t thinking of being drafted, instead he was just hoping to get a college to notice him and maybe earn a scholarship.
But he made an impression on at least one guy, Flyers scout Neil Little.
“First and foremost when you find a guy with that kind of size with great mobility, it really opens your eyes,” said Little. “Not many guys can combine their size with flexibility, agility and overall skill. There are a lot of qualities there that I really liked about him.”
Stolarz is 6-foot-6, so he’s hard to miss. Growing up in New Jersey, he idolized Martin Brodeur (sorry Flyers fans, his parents were both from the Northern part of the state, which is why he roots for the Mets, Nets and Giants too – give him a pass).
However, his game is not modeled after Brodeur at all, but much more in the vein of Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne.
“Anthony is a tremendous athlete and from a technical standpoint, he has a real good foundation,” Little said. “He can only improve from there an we expect big things from him.”
Little went on to add that goalies usually take longer to develop into NHL caliber talent, but the Flyers are very high on Stolarz and can see him blossoming quicker than most – which is why they took him in the second round – with the draft pick acquired from Columbus in the trade for Sergei Bobrovsky.
But Stolarz isn’t getting ahead of himself. Not even a little bit. As a matter of fact, while most draft picks will tell you they wish they can fast forward a few years and get right to their first NHL camp, Stolarz is just the opposite.
“It’s good to go to college and get an education,” Stolarz said. “At first my thought was that it was going to be for a career, but maybe now it’s for a fallback plan in case hockey doesn’t work out – and you can’t play hockey forever – but it’s important to me to get that education first because they way things have gone for me in the last couple years, I look at hockey as being a bonus for me.”
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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Mike Testwuide has been patient. He’s had no other choice.
A healthy scratch in six of the previous seven games, and having not dressed since December 1, the Phantoms power forward has been searching for an individual identity in coach Terry Murray’s system, trying to reclaim a regular spot that was his in the Phantom’s lineup in each of the previous two seasons.
It’s been a pretty tough road to hoe for the 25-year-old.
After a successful four-year run at Colorado College, the Flyers signed him to a free agent contract in March, 2010.
The Flyers were excited about his potential because of his size and his knack for scoring goals.
In his first professional season, Testwuide started to show glimpses of that promise, potting 18 goals and finishing with 39 points in 76 games for the Phantoms in 2010-11.
But then his production dipped in 2011-12. His goal total went down to 12. His point total dropped to 29. And, although it’s not always a great indicator of on-ice performance, his plus/minus rating waned considerably, going from a plus-12 in his first season to a minus-5 in his second.
This year, he’s played fewer games than any active Phantoms forward except Jason Akeson, who has only been with the team for 11 games.
And when he’s played, his ice time has been limited to mostly fourth line duty with scant – if any – special teams time.
The knock on Testwuide was that he wasn’t thinking the game correctly. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying, or that his effort was missing, it’s just that the effort and energy was a little misguided and didn’t always fit within the structure of Murray’s system.
Murray had hoped that Testwuide would figure it out on his own, but no matter how many times he struck flint to steel, while he would get the occasional spark, the tinder would not ignite.
So, Murray decided to give him a push.
Saturday, Testwuide was back in the lineup, but when he saw his number on the board it was in a foreign location.
“When I looked at it he had me at center,” Testwuide said. “I’ve never played center in my life.”
The move was a shrewd one by the wily coach. Put a player who needs to focus more on details in a brand new position, so he has no choice but to focus and play within the confines of the game plan.
For one night, it was a resounding success. Although the Phantoms still lost a good hockey game 3-2 to Manchester, Testwuide was excellent.
He scored one goal, probably scored the second, although he said he wouldn’t request a scoring change, and all told, played his best game of the season under Murray.
“We need some balance here,” Murray said. “We’ve been relying a lot on (Sean) Couturier and (Brayden) Schenn and it’s nice to see (Testwuide) step up. He’s been doing a lot of hard work and doing a lot of skating when he was out of the lineup. He got an opportunity and came up big time.”
His goal came when he took a nice drop pass from Jeff Dimmen and sniped a wrister to the top shelf far side. It was just his second goal – and point – of the season.
The second goal – which ultimately goes into the annals as belonging to Tyler Brown after it hit his skate on a shot by Danny Syvret – was probably batted in by Testwuide – he said he got his stick on it, even if the replay officials beg to differ – but the play was made possible by Testwuide skating hard to the net and looking to make something happen, rather than just lingering on the outskirts of the play.
“(Murray) kind of threw a curveball at me when I came in and looked at the lineup and I was a centerman," Testwuide said. "Sometimes shaking up things like that you have to think about positioning – I’ve never been in those positions, I’ve never really been a centerman. It was kind of cool to feel the puck a little bit more and get some opportunities with the puck.
“Coming into the lineup, I just wanted to contribute, get some energy for the guys, take some minutes away from the guys who are logging 20-plus minutes," he said. "If we can get a couple minutes away from them I think they’ll stay fresher. I think it paid off.”
And Murray took notice of it, which means Testwuide should get yet another chance when the Phantoms take on St. John’s Wednesday at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“ It wasn’t just him scoring,” Murray said. “There was good energy and he used his size and strength and moved the puck well. He held onto the puck and carried it. I liked what he gave us.”
The next step is to continue to give that effort to the team whether it’s at center, or somewhere else.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the new center for the team,” Testwuide. “I wouldn’t say that at all. But I liked the new look and I liked having the puck on my stick, but I’m not going to change my tires – I’m a right winger for sure.”
Erik Gustafsson missed his first game of the season Saturday with a right foot injury after blocking a shot in the third period of Friday’s game.
The good news for the Phantoms is that x-rays came back negative, which means Gustafsson should be back expeditiously.
“I’d be really disappointed in myself if I couldn’t play Wednesday,” Gustafsson said. “But to be honest, it still hurts a lot, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be O.K.”
Gustafsson is considered the Phantoms top defenseman and is third on the team in scoring with 14 points.
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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Rob Bordson sat in the locker room well after the game was over staring off into space.
He was drenched in sweat. He had ice bags taped to several joints on his body. His look was one of exasperation.
He didn’t say a word, but an expert in translating body language would interpret it thusly:
“How can we have possibly lost that game?”
It’s a fair question, because for much of the contest, the Phantoms played pretty darn well. It wasn’t their best effort of the season, but it wasn’t too far behind.
Heck, they took a lead into the second intermission for just the fifth time all season, so they had to feel good about themselves heading into the final 20 minutes.
But two unfortunate goals, both the result of unfortunate circumstances led to the unfortunate events that were two goals against in the final period and resulted in a 3-2 loss to the Manchester Monarchs, the Phantoms seventh loss in their last eight games.
Needless to say, Lemony Snicket would have enjoyed the game.
“I really liked the way we played,” coach Terry Murray said. “Their second and third goals came from about as far away from the net as you would want. I’d like to redo those plays but overall I liked the buy-in by everybody and their emotion was tremendous. It was a good game by two teams with a lot of skill and both goaltenders played really well. Unfortunately we had that one break down at the end that led to the winning goal.”
That breakdown occurred when Tyler Brown blew a tire, as he was carrying the puck and trying to get it out of the Phantoms zone. The puck made it’s way to the point to Monarchs defenseman Slava Voynov, who fired a shot on goal.
Mike Testwuide, who was skating over to help cover for Brown, inadvertently screened goalie Cal Heeter, who was distracted ever so slightly by Testwuide moving into his line of sight and rather than make an easy save, rolled his eyes toward the rafters after the puck somehow squeezed under his arm and into the net.
"I saw the guy winding up and then didn't see it until it was past the first guy who was trying to block it and then lost it again at the second guy right in front of me,” Heeter said. “That's a shot I need to stop, regardless of if anyone blocks me or screens me."
It was a killer for the Phantoms, who probably deserved a better fate.
Of course, the tying goal wasn’t much better as an Andrew Campbell shot from the point was blockered by Heeter onto the waiting stick of Tanner Pearson in the slot, but it’s hard to point fingers at the Phantoms goalie who played well, making 33 saves and keeping the Phantoms in the game at times when his team was still a little casual in their own zone with the puck.
“We were better for sure,” Murray said. “We moved the puck not too badly tonight. We got caught a few times in the second period where they had a man in front and we had a defenseman on the wrong side of him, but overall I thought we recovered pucks, we moved our feet and moved pucks pretty well.”
That they did, and it all started with Zac Rinaldo trying to wake his team up in the opening minute of the game.
Rinaldo, who until Friday had not had a fight all season, dropped the gloves 40 seconds into the game with Richard Clune, and got the crowd fired up with a big win, sending Clune to the locker room to have facial wounds treated.
After finishing his beating, Rinaldo played to the bench and the crowd, raising his arms and demanding that everyone get loud and get into the game.
“He did an unbelievable job at the beginning of the game to set the tone,” Murray said.
But, Rinaldo admitted afterward, that while he wanted to get his team and the fans inside the Glens Falls Civic Center fired up, he had another agenda as well.
“I knew it was the first television game (being broadcast back to Philadelphia),” Rinaldo said. “All the fans in Philly were watching, so I wanted to give them something to cheer about.
“(Clune) is a good guy, but I fought him before and he was talking a lot during the warm ups. Then he made that hit and the opportunity was there. It was a good time to get going again as far as fighting is concerned.”
It didn’t spark the offense though, and were it not for Heeter in the opening period, the Phantoms would have found themselves behind again at the first intermission.
But in the second period started in familiar fashion, with the opposition scoring first as Linden Vey dipsy-dooed his way through the Phantoms defense and around Heeter to score the first goal.
However Testwuide, back in the lineup for the first time since December 1 (a healthy scratch for four straight games and six-of-seven), took a pretty drop pass from Jeff Dimmen and snapped a wrister past goalie Peter Mannino to tie the score.
Then, getting a power play chance late in the period, Brown tipped a Danny Syvret shot past Mannino to give the Phantoms that 2-1 lead.
At that point, it looked good. Then the third period happened, leaving Bordson and his teammates incredulous.
“We have to get better from this point,” Murray said. “The fact of the matter is emotionally you can’t let this get you down. This was a much better game than what we played (Friday) and we have to build on it.”
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GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – The Adirondack Phantoms are tired of playing like a cheesy 80’s pop song.
You know, one step forward, two steps back.
And after beating the Syracuse Crunch a week ago, they were hoping to break that pattern, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
First came an overtime loss to Providence last Saturday. And after having four days to think about it and work out the kinks, the Phantoms responded Friday in a rematch with the Crunch by not playing with needed energy and desperation for the first half of the game, and rather than find it, choosing instead to lose discipline and focus.
In what amounted to one of, if not the worst performances of the season for the Phantoms, they fell to the Crunch 3-0 at Glens Falls Civic Center.
After winning three straight games during Thanksgiving week, the Phantoms have now dropped six-of-seven (1-5-1) since, including the last two contests.
The Phantoms gave up two quick goals in the second period – an even strength marker by Alex Killorn and a shorthanded tally by Richard Panik after a turnover by Danny Syvret and bad coverage by Brandon Manning and at that point, the Phantoms went in the completely wrong direction.
Rather than dig in and re-energize, the Phantoms instead let their emotions get the better of them. They lost their discipline and their focus, and ultimately made Riku Helenius’ night relatively easy, getting only 21 shots on goal.
“We had an O.K. start,” coach Terry Murray said. “I didn’t mind our first period. I wish we had been able to take advantage of the power plays. We didn’t break the puck out the right way and the dump-ins didn’t allow us to recover. We ended up standing still at the blue line when the puck was rimmed.
“But as the game went along in the second period our energy got lower and then after the second goal it really dropped off big time and then the frustration set in after that and we got into a situation where we started to bring the referee into it and blaming him for situations when he was just doing his job.
“That’s something these young guys have to take away from this game. You have to have discipline. There’s going to be a lot of adversity in your career and you are never going to get even with the officiating.”
The Phantoms were whistled for 16 penalties, which actually was one fewer than Syracuse, as the two teams combined for 119 penalty minutes, but the Phantoms needed to try and come back in the game, not get caught up in the antagonistic style of play the Crunch were utilizing as an obvious strategy to throw off the Phantoms.
“(We got) into a hole that is too big to dig out of on a game like tonight,” Murray said. You are playing one of the better teams in the league. They’re a team that has the lowest shots against in the league and you get into a situation where it feels like it’s impossible and that’s the attitude we cannot let creep into our game.
“You have to battle and learn how to deal with it and still be able to play the game. If we would only stay with the game plan and stop with the crazy turnovers on both ends of the ice - we were turning the puck over at both blue lines and giving them the opportunity to do too much with the puck and there were too many problems for our team because of that.
“These plays that we’re trying, they’re not going to work anywhere. We have to put them in our back pocket and leave them there.”
The Phantoms did get too cute far too often, whether it was home run passing attempts, or low percentage breakout attempts, too many times the puck was coming right back at goalie Scott Munroe, who did all he could, despite taking the loss.
“It’s a combination of things,” Manning said. “Whether it’s the refereeing, or there’s something going on with the team or with yourself, or whatever it is. It’s kind of the way we are. We had some unbelievable games like against Syracuse last week and to throw up one like tonight it’s tough, it’s frustrating and that’s pretty obvious out there.”
Despite it only being a two-goal game, the third period degenerated into a bit of a gong show with fights and penalties, including Zac Rinaldo’s first fight of the season against Keith Aulie.
But Radko Gudas put the game away with a wrister from the right circle that surprised Munroe, to round out the scoring.
Making matters worse, Erik Gustafsson blocked a shot off his foot while killing off one of the nine penalties the Phantoms had assessed to them in the final period and was limping badly on his way to the locker room, leaving his status for tonight’s game against Manchester uncertain.
Either way, the Phantoms are going to have to regroup quickly.
“We’re a team that struggles to score,” Syvret said. “We have to get back to playing a little tighter defensively and limiting their chances and hopefully being able to score on ours.”
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If you know Jeremy Roenick, you knew it was only a matter of time.
The guy just loves the spotlight. He craves it. It’s what made him one of the best hockey players of a generation. It’s what’s made him a must-see broadcaster during games for NBC telecasts.
And now, it’s what makes him a best-selling author.
Roenick, who spent a very memorable portion of his career with the Philadelphia Flyers (2001-2005) has co-authored a book with USA Today hockey writer Kevin Allen titled “J.R. – My Life as the Most Outspoken, Fearless and Hard-Hitting Man in Hockey.”
Though the title is long, it is accurate, because the book does cover his life – from his earliest days playing pee-wee hockey in Washington D.C., to his time at Thayer Academy in Massachusetts, to his brief stint in Junior hockey all the way through is illustrious NHL career and even beyond into his world of acting, golfing and broadcasting.
“The one thing I said to Kevin when we started the process is that I wanted this book to be so entertaining that it sounds like me, sitting in a bar with a bunch of friends telling stories.”
And that’s exactly how the book reads.
It’s very stream of conscious. It’s one epic, anecdotal story after another. Just when you read it and think that a story is a bit too much to be believed, Roenick rebounds with another one that is even more incredible and leaves you in stitches.
There are people in this world who have that innate ability to be in the memorable place at just the right time more than once. Roenick has enough stories to tell for a dozen of those people – and he has a bunch of them in this book.
Whether he’s describing the hatred the Chicago Blackhawks players had for their coach (and former Flyers coach) Mike Keenan, or he’s talking about a bender in Western Canada that went wrong in the wee hours of the morning, or his attempt at skinny-dipping at a South Jersey golf course to rescue a club he threw in the water out of frustration (yes, there is photo, provided by another former Flyer – Rick Tocchet), Roenick has a knack for weaving the story in a way that brings about a great payoff at the end of each tale.
“Initially I was skeptical about writing a book because I never want to disappoint anyone by not being entertaining, either on ice or off ice,” Roenick said. “I want everyone I encounter in any way to come away with a great experience.
“People are drawn to sports in general because they always wanted to be a sports star and a celebrity and they want to know what it’s like. So I wanted to make sure that if I was writing a book, I was giving them a real taste of what a locker room is like and what life on the road is like. I tried to bring them experiences that most people would never get a chance to be a part of first hand.”
Like being in a tense poker hand on a team charter flight against one of your teammates with $110,000 on the line.
The team? The teammate? The result? Better we let you read it for yourself.
The book is available in a lot of places – book stores, both physical and online – but maybe the best place to purchase the book – especially in time for the holidays – is through Roenick’s Website, because there, you can get your copy of the book personalized by J.R. himself.
And it’s worth the purchase just for the stories about his time in Philadelphia alone.
He talks about his run-ins with then-Flyers coach Ken Hitchock. He describes the struggles of returning from the broken jaw he suffered in 2004 when getting hit by a shot by Boris Mironov. He talks at length about the great run to Game 7 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Final and the emotion that went into that trip.
But probably the most memorable part of what he said about his time with the Flyers is his outright criticism of goalie Roman Cechmanek. Roenick believes that the Flyers were talented enough to win a Stanley Cup had Cechmanek cared about playing in the postseason.
Here’s an excerpt from the book:
“He would look good in the regular season, and then the playoffs would start and suddenly he was giving up bad goals. In 2000-01, he had a 2.01 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in the regular season. Then, his playoff numbers were 3.11 and .896. The way he performed in the playoffs made me believe he had come to the NHL just for the money and not to play with the world’s best players and win the Stanley Cup. To me he seemed like a phony, a true fraud. I had no use for him.”
Later he added:
“In my career, I only ran into a few teammates whom I considered lost causes. I couldn’t stand playing with goalie Roman Cechmanek in Philadelphia because I felt like he had one foot back in the Czech Republic the minute the regular season was over. He didn’t seem to be as serious about the NHL playoffs as the rest of us were. It made me wonder whether he would have preferred playing for his country in the World Championships rather than the Stanley Cup playoffs. Players only get paid in the regular season, not the playoffs. It didn’t seem like a coincidence to me that when the paychecks stopped coming, Cechmanek’s performance level went downhill. I remember telling teammates after the 2001-02 season that if he was in Philadelphia’s net the following fall, I wasn’t [bleeping] coming back.”
It’s that kind of no frills, unfiltered attitude and approach that Roenick always had as a player, and it is prevalent throughout his book.
“I knew I left a lasting impression on the ice,” Roenick said. “I don’t care about making more friends or about pleasing everyone in hockey… I don’t have the time to worry about the masses if they like me or not… I’m here to inform, give opinions and not to make friends. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad. But along the way, you’re going to say things people are going to love too.”
And Flyers fans are going to love this book too. From it’s opening paragraph where Roenick said he was watching an interview with Sidney Crosby and wanted to jump through the television and grab Crosby by the throat.
Although he says it a bit more colorfully.
He talks about kissing Mark Recchi – and Ed Snider – and goes into detail about his pre-game ritual in Philadelphia that encompassed turning out the lights in the locker room, hanging a disco ball, and then dancing with Todd Fedoruk.
Oh, and Roenick bitterly lashes out against some Pittsburgh fans as well for the things they say to him on Twitter.
Yeah, Flyers fans will like that too.
All told, it’s an entertaining read, with so many memorable stories and a voice that is 100 percent J.R.
He wouldn’t have it any other way.
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A breakthrough freshman season. Getting drafted by an NHL team. Having an even better start to the sophomore campaign. Just days away from being asked to represent the United States at the World Junior Championships.
The last 12 months of Shayne Gostisbehere’s life has been a whirlwind, for sure, but one where each time he turns around he’s gaining more and more positive notoriety.
Not that he’s letting it get to his head at all.
“Right now I see myself in the same spot I was in a year ago,” said Gostisbehere, 19, a sophomore defenseman for Union College (N.Y.). “I’m just doing what I have to do in college. I’m not looking to make any jumps because of everything that’s happened. I just want to keep going to college.”
It’s not that anyone is pushing him to do something else – specifically the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him in the third round (78th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
It’s just that he has his priorities and he’s keeping them in line.
He’s getting good grades. He’s playing good hockey. He’s already been named to the preliminary roster for the U.S. World Junior Hockey Championship team and all indications are he’ll probably be on the final roster for that tournament that takes place during the Christmas season.
Did we mention he’s playing good hockey?
Through his first 13 games this season, Gostisbehere, a native of Margate, Florida, had 13 points - not bad for a defenseman to average a point per game. But he has a flair for the dramatic. He has game-winning goals. He had game-tying goals. He single-handedly has brought his team back from the brink of defeat to either tie or win a game.
Oh, and he’s been playing responsible defense too.
“I was surprised how mature he is game-wise,” said Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere. “Everyone is excited about his numbers, but I’m happiest with his awareness in his own zone.
“One of the best things about him is he always wants to be part of the answer to whatever the team needs to succeed. That’s a great quality that not too many young guys have in their game, but he does.”
Hockey’s Future had him rated as the fourth-best NCAA prospect in the draft last summer, offering this scouting report:
Gostisbehere is a smart, puck-moving defenseman who sees the ice remarkably well. But what sets him apart from many collegiate rookie defensemen is his ability to balance great offensive skills with a solid defensive game. Gostisbehere is smart in knowing when to jump into plays and his decision-making is very good. He moves exceedingly well with the puck and his passing skills are excellent. Gostisbehere also possesses a great stick and does a good job of taking away lanes. While Gostisbehere's one-on-one coverage is good, he'll need to continue to improve his gap control. Gostisbehere is a superb skater with good speed and agility. He possesses a very good shot and can get pucks to the net. Gostisbehere's greatest attributes, such as his skating will be further enhanced with continued physical development.
“It’s definitely been a good season so far,” Gostisbehere said. “My team is off to a great start and hopefully we can build off it. As for me personally, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully it will keep going as well as it has so far.”
If Gostisbehere can avoid injury – he’s already dealt with an ankle sprain and a nasty cut on his nose – there’s no reason that he should drop off. After all, it was last season that he got on the Flyers’ radar when he actually got better during the NCAA playoffs and was a key ingredient to Union’s unexpected run to the Frozen Four.
Couple that with what expects to be a thrilling World Junior tournament where the Americans are again, expected to be among the favorites with Canada and Russia, and Gostisbehere is on a very solid path.
“It’s a great honor to be added to that roster and I’m looking forward to training camp for the tournament,” he said. “I felt like I gave it my all during the summer and wanted to give myself the best chance of being part of that team.”
Playing two times a week now is easy-peasy compared to the grueling schedule of the World Junior Tournament, but Laperriere thinks Gostisbehere will hold up well.
“He has a flair offensively but he’s not a big guy,” Laperriere said. “ But that doesn’t matter if he can skate and compete and he’s getting better at that every year. Hopefully he’ll learn from all those tournaments. When you are 18-19-years-old, it’s a real test, but he’s playing against 21-22 year olds in college so he should be fine. I’m actually looking forward to seeing him play because of that.”
And Flyers fans should be excited, because it’s been quite a long time since a homegrown defenseman has blossomed into a quality player for the Flyers, however the organization feels cautiously optimistic that they may have found a gem in the third round.
“I think fans can be excited, yeah,” Laperriere said. “He’s not the physical big guy, but… well… I’m not going to say he’s going to be a Kimmo Timonen, but he has the offensive mindset and the intelligence like Kimmo does. It’s encouraging to see that he has those details in his game already. We hope he improves like we want him to because we think he could develop into a really good player at the next level.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
The moment is still frozen in my mind.
There I was, 13, sporting an Aqua Net supported spiked-fro, decked out in my Eagle-made Flyers jersey with the crude, No. 31 stitched on the shoulder in felt by my mom memorializing the late Pelle Lindbergh.
I had a seat right along the goal line in the lower bowl of the Spectrum. It was the strangest of situations. Every hockey game I had ever been to up until this point in my life had always been with my dad.
Not this time. No, while I was nervously fidgeting on the edge of my seat, my aunt, just 28 herself, was next to me, grabbing my right arm every time she was overcome with nervous anxiety, which, for the most part, was every time the Montreal Canadiens had touched the puck.
Sinisalo spent nine seasons with the Flyers, posting 199 goals and 209 assists for 408 points in 526 regular season games.
It was Game 1 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. My aunt had procured tickets through work and of all the people she could have chosen to go with, she picked her teenage nephew.
I’m not someone who buys into the belief in fate, but if there was ever a time that made me think twice, it was that May 4th evening, 25 years ago.
I mentioned the jersey I was wearing, but I didn’t tell you whose name was on the back. It was lkka Sinisalo. He was my favorite Flyer as a kid.
My aunt was a Derek Smith fan. So there we sat, No. 23 and No. 24, in sequential order, hoping and praying that the Flyers would hold off a tough Montreal squad.
The Canadiens built a 2-1 lead before Sinisalo scored to tie it early in the third period, sending me to my feet euphorically.
However, Montreal regained the lead, and then went into shutdown mode, trying to milk the last 13 minutes off the clock and steal a victory in Philly to open the series.
And it looked for a while like that was going to be the case. The Flyers struggled to generate much offense for a stretch, and a one-goal defeat appeared to be the destiny.
Then, with just under four minutes to go, Smith tied it. I mean, really? Two tying goals by our two favorite players, in the third period of a playoff game? Not to mention with an unlikely pair of aunt and nephew at the game?
Then came overtime.
A scrum of bodies in front of the net right in front of us. Sticks poking at Montreal goalie Brian Heyward who appeared to have the puck covered. Referee Terry Gregson’s whistle had to be coming any millisecond, right? I mean, nobody could see anything.
That is, except for those of us perfectly positioned on that goal line. What we saw, in what seemed like super-slow motion, was the blade of a stick poking through Heyward’s pads and just dislodging the puck enough for it to start trickling behind Heyward and do a little sashay across the goal line.
Our section erupted a good two seconds before the rest of the building. The stick that poked the puck loose? Sinisalo’s.
Sign Man whipped out one of his classics: “Ilkka Score-a Goal-a,” it read.
In his nine year career with the Flyers Sinisalo scored 199 regular season goals and 21 more in the playoffs, but none were bigger than that night against Montreal.
It was one of my aunt’s favorite stories. She told it repeatedly for the next six years before she died from complications with treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Since she can’t tell it anymore, I do. And I couldn’t think of a better time to revisit it then today – when we catch up with Sinisalo as part of our ‘Where Are They Now” features on Flyers alumni.
The first time I told Sinisalo that story directly, he said, “Looking at you, I feel really old.”
Fair enough. I can see how a slightly overweight, balding guy telling you he owned your jersey as a kid can make your age awareness a stark reality.
But he followed up by calling the goal, “lucky,” and crediting Peter Zezel for doing most of the work to make the goal happen, saying he was just “in the right place at the right time.”
Well, if timing is everything, then Sinisalo has it in spades.
A bit of a late bloomer, Sinisalo, a native of Valkeakoski, Finland was undrafted and spent the first four years of his professional career playing for HIFG Helsinki in the Finnish Elite League.
During the 1980-81 season, the Flyers saw that Sinisalo, then 23, was averaging more than a point per game for Helsinki, and decided to take a chance and sign him as an undrafted free agent.
It was a gamble well worth the risk.
Sinisalo proved to be a solid second line winger who was also adept on the power play. And although he constantly battled injuries in his career, he did break the 30-goal and 75-point plateaus twice.
He ranks 17th all-time in franchise points with 408 and his 199 goals are 14th most in Flyers history.
With the Flyers in flux after the 1989-90 season, missing the playoffs for just the third time in franchise history, The Flyers let Sinisalo walk as a free agent at age 32.
He played 46 games for the Minnesota North Stars and then 10 more with the Los Angeles Kings before deciding to finish his career back in the Finnish league playing parts of three seasons with Ilves Tampere and Kiekko-Espoo.
After spending a few years away from the sport, Sinisalo was offered a European scouting opportunity with the San Jose Sharks. He did it for one season before being contacted by the Flyers for a similar position.
Sinisalo has been one of four European scouts for the Flyers since 2004-05. I spoke to him again recently. At the time, he was in Helsinki, Finland getting ready to go watch a game.
Here is a transcript of the interview:
What are you doing right now?
“I’m on my tour of Europe. Right now I’m in Finland, but I just got back from Sweden and I’m going to Slovakia next week, so I’m on the road all the time which is good because I get to see a lot of hockey. I need to see a lot of players, which I will. It’s basically just watching players every night.”
What are the challenges of being a scout?
“I think it takes a little bit of time to get used to. I watch some of the older players for free agents but the young guys you need to see them many, many times to make sure they have those qualities that you would expect from them to play for the Flyers. Basically you start with the National Teams and then you go see them in the leagues. We have four scouts here in Europe and we have it pretty well covered, we just have to make sure we pick the right guys… and good ones.”
Are you in constant communication with the other scouts?
“We talk all the time. We know where everybody’s going and what everybody’s doing and we talk constantly with the office with [Director of Hockey Operations] Chris Pryor and all the North American scouts. We’re a really good team and work really well together.”
Do you all scout the same players?
“We crossover a lot. Everybody has to see the same players because we have to make decisions together. I come home and see some games in North America and see the U.S. National teams and the Canadian team too, so I have an idea of what’s going on and I can better compare guys from Europe to the guys from North America.”
How long are you in Europe?
“My home is in Voorhees, N.J. I come here in August to go to the Ivan Hlinka tournament to see the eight national teams. You keep your eye on those guys and go se them in their leagues, but at the same time, you see some other guys who weren’t on the national team and get an idea of what’s going on everywhere.
I’ll stay here for four months and then I’ll come home and see some games in North America. Then I’ll come back to Europe some time in January and we have a tournament in February and then World Championships in in April and May, so it’s pretty much hockey every night.”
When you are in Finland, do you have a chance to visit family and friends?
“Whenever I’m in Helsinki I get to see a lot of friends. It’s nice to come over here for a little while.”
Did you ever think when you were a player that you would get into scouting?
“When I played I never really thought about getting into scouting, but when my career was ending, I started thinking about what I wanted to do. San Jose gave me a chance to do some scouting, and then the Flyers hired me to scout for them. It was great because it’s such a great organization and we have such a great group of scouts, so it’s super to work for this organization and with all of these guys.”
You see hundreds of games in a year, but what do you like to do with your free time?
“The summertime is the time with the family, but when I’m here in Europe, I do a lot of biking until the snow comes, then I do a lot of cross country skiing. I still skate twice a week in Finland with a group of older Finnish players who get some ice. But when you’re on the road you’re always working out or doing something athletic.”
What do you remember about your playing days with the Flyers?
“My first year was 1981-82 and I got to play with the older guys like Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber and Reggie Leach. Brian Propp was a young guy with me. It was a great experience to get to know them and play with them. It was unbelievable. They taught you what it was like to play hockey in the NHL. After that we had some pretty good teams and went to the Finals twice. I have a lot of good memories. Actually, they’re all only good memories. The only bad memories I have were the injuries I had, but back then it was such a fun time to be a Flyer.”
What was it like playing in Philadelphia?
“The fans in Philadelphia are the best, not just in the U.S., not just in North America, but in the world, and I mean that. We weren’t always playing good, but it didn’t matter because they were always behind us 100 percent. When we played at the Spectrum, every game, even in the regular season, it was like having another player on the ice. Plus the organization was always behind me as a player. When I got there I noticed right away that it was a first class organization and they always treated players well and took care of their families. “
Do you tell players in Europe what it’s like to play in Philadelphia, in case they are ever given the opportunity?
“I think everybody knows that if you play for the Flyers, it’s a big deal. You don’t even have to say anything to these guys. They know the reputation that it is a great organization with great ownership. I would bet that everybody, deep down, wants to be a Flyer at some point in their career.”
What’s next for you? Do you have any other plans to do something besides being a scout?
"I really like scouting. I don’t know how long I’m going to do it, but hopefully it’s many, many more years for the Flyers. I have no plans to move up. I’m really happy doing what I’m doing and as long as I’m healthy and in good shape I hope to do this for the Flyers for as long as I can.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – The last thing the Phantoms needed to run into Saturday was a hot goalie.
Enter Keith Kinkaid.
After a week filled with frustration from a pair of losses to St. John’s and Binghamton, the Phantoms were hoping to stop the bleeding against the last place Albany Devils.
And while for much of the night the Phantoms were the better team on the ice, only one thing mattered, and that was that Kinkaid was pretty special in goal.
The Devils goalie made 44 saves, several that were incredible – especially in the first period – and Albany sneaked out of Glens Falls with a 3-2 victory over the Phantoms, sending Adirondack to their third loss in a row, marking a season-worst skid.
“He made some 10-bell saves in the firs period,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “Some really outstanding saves. We had our looks in the offensive zone and we gave ourselves a chance, but we’re not scoring right now. It’s not like they were shutting us down. We got 40-some shots in the game but their goaltender was outstanding. When you go on the road, sometimes to win games you need your goalie to be the first star of the game.”
And Kinkaid was all that and more. Heck, he made enough “how-did-he-do-that” saves to make David Copperfield blush.
He pulled a rabbit out of a hat to stone Eric Wellwood on a first period breakaway. He made a save on Tye McGinn that would have been akin to sawing in half the Flyers’ Ice Girls who were performing at the Glens Falls Civic Center this weekend, only to have them put back together minutes later.
And then his save on Brayden Schenn – that was basically making the Statue of Liberty, disappear from New York Harbor and then reappear in a photograph atop Mount Rushmore. With the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot waving to the camera holding signs that said “Wish You Were Here.”
Yeah, it was that unbelievable.
“It’s been a tough week for me,” Schenn said. “I’ve had a few chances that I haven’t been able to capitalize on. He made a great save. I thought he was down and out.”
He wasn’t. Instead he was lunging all over the crease – sometimes with a stick and sometimes without – doing everything he could to deny the Phantoms – and it worked.
And after Kinkaid dazzled in his opening act, it looked like the Phantoms were going to head into the first intermission scoreless, but the defense sagged in the final seconds, allowing Bobby Butler to fire a shot that hit Cal Heeter on his shoulder.
The puck dropped to the ice in front of Heeter, but he couldn’t cover it before the diminutive Joe Whitney poked it past him with three seconds left in the period, sending the Phantoms to the locker room without a first intermission lead for the nineteenth time in 20 games.
The second period didn’t start much better as 31 seconds into the period Jacob Josefson was credited with a goal that he kicked into the net.
Murray argued the call and asked for a replay, but wasn’t given the satisfaction by the referees.
“That puck was kicked in and it’s an illegal goal,” Murray said. “It’s allowed. That’s the way it is in the AHL. It’s not reviewable – that’s what the referee said. I don’t understand that one.”
But it’s indicative of the bad breaks that have befallen the Phantoms (9-11-0, 18 points) of late.
Adirondack answered with a power play goal by Erik Gustafsson that was made possible by a brilliant screen by McGinn – proving that as well as Kinkaid was playing in net, he couldn’t stop pucks that he couldn’t see.
But early in the third period, another bad break went against the Phantoms as a wrap around attempt by Mattias Tedenby rolled along Heeter’s pad and skipped over his skate and into the net to make it 3-1.
McGinn was able to get a power play marker in the final minutes, banking a shot off of Kinkaid from behind the net, but the Phantoms, once again, couldn’t find the equalizer.
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“[It’s tough] on the young guys,” Murray said. “Because they don’t know how to deal with the frustration. You have to work through it. You have to battle through with hard work and intensity and stick with it and at the end of the day, you become a better player and a better team when you get through to the other side.”
Getting there is not easy though, and it will be incumbent upon the leaders of the team to help keep things spirited and optimistic both in the locker room and on the ice.
“You look around the room and do what you can,” said alternate captain Brandon Manning, who played much better Saturday after a subpar outing 24 hours earlier. “It starts with guys like us to make sure the morale is there and the energy is there because the next game is as important as the last one.”
The Phantoms have five days off before that next game next Friday in Rochester and they should be getting some reinforcements. They played Saturday without Zac Rinaldo, who missed the game after blocking a shot with his foot Friday.
He was hurting when he tried to skate Saturday morning, but x-rays were negative and he should be back by Friday. Also, Marc-Andre Bourdon missed the game because he was ill.
“It’s an important time for young players on our team to realize that there are not a lot of things wrong,” Murray said. “We’re out-shooting teams by a wide margin and getting good territorial play and good opportunities. There’s not a lot of things that need to be changed or worked at. We just need to stay with the program and things will turn around for us.”
Murray is right. But a quarter of the season is now gone, and the Phantoms certainly aren’t where they envisioned they’d be at this point.
“It wasn’t a very good week for us,” Schenn said. “We played pretty well tonight and just ran into a hot goalie. But the previous two games weren’t too great. Bouncing back is going to be key for us. If we keep on slipping, obviously we’re going to have some big problems. We need to climb back into the playoff race. Every game matters.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – In the movie “The Truman Show,” when a storm rolls in, the sprinklers over Truman’s head also turn on and then follow him around until eventually all the sprinklers are on and he is both glum and wet.
One can only imagine that’s what it feels like in the Phantoms locker room after every first period.
Nineteen times now the Phantoms have retreated to their locker room for the first intermission of an AHL hockey game and only once did they go in there with a lead.
One in 19. It seems like we all had better odds to win the Powerball this past week.
O.K., admittedly that’s an exaggeration. But the frustration for the Phantoms is very real. With one exception, they have not been able to plan to protect a lead after the opening stanzas in any game this season.
Friday night was the same old story. The red hot Binghamton Senators scored four times in the first period, and although the Phantoms fought valiantly to eventually tie the score, they ran out of gas and eventually succumbed to the Sens 7-4.
“Statistically it’s proven,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. “Historically teams that come out of the first period with the lead win 80 percent of the time. It’s a big chore [to come back].
“We gave up two goals on faceoffs, one where we were beat one-on-one and a shorthanded goal. You have to dig in big time to get back into it. We did… but at the end of the day we didn’t get the job done.”
Especially Harry Zolnierczyk who scored twice, including the tying goal in the second period on a great individual effort to pot a shorthanded tally.
But just tying the game forced the Phantoms to expend so much energy, that they were spent late in the second period, and fell behind again, this time for good on a flukey goal by Mark Stone that just trickled over the goal line past Cal Heeter, who played well in net in relief of Scott Munroe who had an off night, allowing four goals on seven shots in just 17:02.
“When they take the lead right away, it’s deflating at first,” Zolnierczyk said. “But then you have to put it into an extra gear to get back on top. We did that in the second period, but then we let something break down and gave them an easy one. It was tough.”
To their credit, these Phantoms never do give up the ghost too soon. They scratch and claw right to the bitter end. And while that resolve will pay dividends in the long term, for the short term, they just can’t erase that cartoonish rain cloud from above their heads.
Bingo jumped on top two minutes into the game when Pat Cannone caught Brandon Manning flat-footed and blew past him and beat Munroe on a breakaway.
A few minutes later, an ill-timed whiff on a slap shot by Sean Couturier led to a two-on-none, shorthanded breakaway for the Senators that ended with Andre Benoit tipping a Hugh Jessiman pass past Munroe – and suddenly it was 2-0.
“It’s not the start we want,” Couturier said. “We found a way to battle back and had chances, but we didn’t capitalize and in the end that first period cost us big time.”
It didn’t have to though.
Rob Bordson drew the Phantoms back within the goal when he scored his third goal in four games thanks to a fortunate bounce of the glass right to him in the slot, but Mike Hoffman made it 3-1 Sens with a power play goal, tipping in a blast by Andre Benoit. Hoffman cleanly won a faceoff from Couturier, which allowed the goal to be scored within six seconds from the start of the man advantage. However, Murray was also upset with Erik Gustafsson not tying up Hoffman’s stick in front.
“That assignment is getting missed right there,” Murray said. “Anytime you get a redirection from a forward. It’s the defenseman’s job to tie up sticks right away.
“But you got to at least get a 50/50 battle on the faceoff. You can’t lose clean faceoffs in your own end like that – especially on a power play. Maybe that’s a little youth coming into play there where you are trying to beat a guy clean instead of tying up the stick and allowing your defenseman or a forward come in and find a puck. We have to take another lesson from that one.”
Zolnierczyk’s first goal, a gritty goal in the slot, cut it to one again, but another blast from the point off a draw, this one also by Benoit, beat Munroe, who was screened by his own defenseman, to make it 4-2.
That was it for Munroe, as Heeter came in and stemmed the tide.
The Phantoms responded in the second period, as Marc-Andre Bourdon scored his first goal of the season on the power play taking a great cross-ice pass from Garrett Roe and snapping it past Ottawa goalie Ben Bishop for 4-3.
Then Zolnierczyk tied it with a highlight real dash from one end of the ice to the other coming out of the penalty box.
“Ben Holmstrom was trying to clear it out of the zone and I just happened to be coming from the box and was building up speed,” Zolnierczyk said. “I knew there was only two guys behind me so I was going to take it wide right from the get go (to get around them) and then went to the backhand in front and beat the goalie.”
It was Zolnierczyk’s seventh goal of the season, which is second-most on the Phantoms behind Brayden Schenn .
However, another mistake by Manning, this time in the neutral zone, led to an offensive rush by the Senators and Stone was able to get enough of a tip on a pass from David Dziurzynski to sneak it past Heeter for what would be the game-winner.
The Phantoms were able to fire 17 of their season high 49 shots at Bishop in the third period, but he was equal to all of them, none bigger then on a sliding pad stop on Couturier that would have again tied the game.
Derek Grant iced the game with an empty netter with 1:01 to play, and Jacob Silfverberg made the score look lopsided with goal nine seconds later to close out the game.
The Phantoms (9-10-0, 18 points) dropped their second straight after winning three in a row last week and will look to turn things around Saturday when they close out their six-game homestand against Albany.
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Pride. Sacrifice. Hard work. It almost sounds like that commercial for the Marines, doesn’t it?
While hockey players aren’t putting their lives on the line for their country, there is a hint of similarity though when you take those concepts and put them into a shorthanded situation.
And while the Phantoms have been inconsistent through their first 18 games, compiling the same amount of wins as losses, there has been one constant that has anchored the squad – it’s penalty kill.
The Phantoms have been shorthanded 90 times so far this season, but have allowed just 13 power play goals. That’s a killing percentage of 85.6 percent, good enough for eighth best in the league.
They were even better before allowing two power play goals in a 10-second span Wednesday. But even then, one of the goals came while two-men short.
Their success in this area has come from a collection of players who like to play in the mold of their coaches – head coach Terry Murray, who is a defensive guru, and assistant coach Kjell Samuelsson, who handles the penalty kill for the Phantoms.
“There’s a whole lot of things that go into penalty killing,” Murray said. “You need good people. You need character. You need guys who want to work hard and are willing to sacrifice their bodies by blocking shots and who play heavy and hard at the right time.
“The hockey awareness that our group has is very good.”
That group is small, but it’s a well-respected group by Murray, Samuelsson and the rest of the team.
The four forwards usually called on to kill those penalties include a first pairing of captain Ben Holmstrom and defensive forward Rob Bordson followed by a dangerous second group consisting of Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.
Murray explained that even though a guy like Couturier is considered a top penalty killer when playing in the NHL, that he is on the second grouping because he wants to roll with those guys immediately after a kill is complete to try and build off the momentum of the kill with his best offensive players on the ice.
It’s been a sound strategy so far.
“We work pretty well together out on the ice, but to be honest, it’s more in the detail,” Holmstrom said. “We do a lot of video work on the penalty kill. You have to take a lot of pride in the job too. That’s how you get to be successful.”
Bordson, who has become a real eye-opener for the Phantoms with his defensive tenacity both at even strength and on the penalty kill, said it’s something he has always loved to do and that it was something he learned to embrace through his coaches from childhood age all the way through the current season in the AHL.
“What I was always taught was to outwork the other team’s power play,” he said. “Usually the other team’s power play is made up of the most skilled guys so if you go out there with the right attitude and the proper work ethic and take away passing lanes and make good clears – you can frustrate skill guys because you force them to work harder.
“There are a lot of little things too. Quick shifts, blocking shots, knowing tendencies. You have to pay attention to detail on video. I love it. I love shutting the other team’s top line down for two minutes and then skate back to the bench knowing you’ve done a good job.”
Which the Phantoms have done this season.
In games when the Phantoms have won the special teams battle (outscored their opponents on special teams) the Phantoms are undefeated this season (4-0). They’ve won five more times when they’ve limited the opponent to one power play goal or fewer and ended up even in the overall special teams battle.
Conversely, when they have lost that battle, they are winless (0-4).
Considering the power play has only clicked 14.6 percent of the time and ranks in the bottom third of the league, even more pressure is put on the penalty kill to win those close battles.
“We’ve had some games where we’ve gone 7-for-7 on the penalty kill and then we win by a goal… that’s huge,” Bordson said. “Special teams is a big part of the sport nowadays. You almost have score at least one on the power play and shut the other team down entirely to win games because even-strength goals are so hard to come by. Our penalty killers have done a good job with that so far.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37