Monday, December 31, 2012

Sound Tigers 4, Phantoms 3 (SO) 12/31

“We got a point out of (Monday’s game), but we have to start looking to get two points. We’re pretty far back in the standings and one point’s not going to cut it. I guess you have to look at it like we gave one period away and it could have been worse.” -- Phantoms defenseman Jeff Dimmen.

I think that's a pretty good way to sum up this 4-3 shootout loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Monday. They got off to a slow start, then their defense stepped up with two big goals to help them tie it. They wind up getting a point in a game they probably had no business winning once it was 3-0.

"You get the looks that you want to have," Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. "I thought we had a third period that was a good third period. We had an opportunity to win the game. There were four or five real quality scoring chances, also in the overtime, and that's all you're looking for. To be able to keep going and get the looks that will give you the chance to win it. I think (Eric) Wellwood went in (in the shootout), he might of hit (Bridgeport goalie Kevin Poulin) in the helmet. That was just the way it went. It was a good effort to come back and tie the game up. We'll take that."

They're 13-16-1-1, and no Eastern Conference team has fewer points than Adirondack's 28. Dimmen, who kickstarted the comeback when he joined the rush at the 9:48 mark of the second and wristed a shot in, is right in that they need to win games like this, but it comes down to their start and finishing.

They give up a goal on the first shot of the game and then can't finish any of their quality chances in the third period, but Murray and defenseman Brandon Manning said they were giving up too many scoring opportunities in the first place. Correct that first and their own scoring chances will come.

"I'd always rather go to the other side of the game, the checking part," Murray said. "I'd like to be better on that side to start with. I think whenever you're a good checking team, lots of opportunities will come in the other side of the puck. In the early part of the game, we were a little bit off. We gave up too many chances. They were pressing hard, they pinched hard. They had some extended time in our zone with their cycle and forechecks. I'd like to be able to grab a hold of that puck a little faster than what we did and be able to settle thing and hopefully have a breakout or just get a face-off."

When you don't do that and you allow a team extended time in your zone, you're asking for trouble.

That's partly how Bridgeport was able to build that 3-0 lead, which Dimmen, Sean Couturier and Manning completely erased in a span of 8:25 in the second period. That was after Murray pulled Munroe in favor of Cal Heeter, though that wasn't for anything that the veteran goalie had done.

"We weren't there for him tonight," Manning said. "There's been so many games where he's been there for us. Unfortunately tonight we just couldn't get one more to help our goalies out."

Added Murray: "You get down by three and you need to change momentum. I believe in the momentum part of it. I thought Heeter came in, he made a couple very big stops. Made one stop there that was from side-to-side. It was an excellent save and he kept everybody energized on the bench."

What's the key to providing that spark?

"You just have to make sure you come out there and you don't make any real mistakes," Heeter said. "We're already down 3-0, so I don't want to say there's no pressure, but you just go out there and you try and do your best. It's the same as if you're starting the game. It's tough coming off the bench. You haven't seen a puck in a while, so you just try and make that first save, get into the game quick and move from there."

Poulin did an admirable job doing that same thing for the Sound Tigers once he came on at the start of the third. The Connecticut Post's Michael Fornabaio caught up with Scott Pellerin, who explained the decision to make the switch there. Poulin finished with 17 saves, allowing one shootout goal.

Heeter also finished with 17 saves, but fell to 4-9-1. Nino Niederreiter, David Ullstrom and Jon Landry scored in the shootout and Jason Akeson's toe-drag wasn't enough to answer those. It winds up as another one-goal game, and Adirondack's 2.48-goals-per-game offense wasn't enough to win.

“We need to help our goalies out,” Manning said. “We’ve won a lot of one-goal games this year. We finally put up a few tonight, but we need to find a way to score goals, that’s for sure.”

They're off tomorrow for the New Year. Hope you all celebrate safely. I'll be back Wednesday.

Until next time,

Pre-Game vs. Bridgeport 12/31

Greetings from the Glens Falls Civic Center, where the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (16-12-1-2) and 21 guys dressed an awful lot like Lloyd Christmas from "Dumb and Dumber" the Adirondack Phantoms (13-16-1) are warming up for their last game in 2012.

Scott Munroe vs. Anders Nilsson as the Phantoms look to bounce from back-to-back losses with a win over the last team they defeated. Bridgeport is in their road whites, Adirondack is wearing some funky orange, pinstriped tuxedo-inspired jerseys that I snapped some photos of before the game.

Then there's this NSFW photo from Mike Testwuide, who looks to be a scratch based on line rushes. Bridgeport's late scratch looks to be defenseman Dallas Jackson.

F: Persson-Cizikas-McDonald
D: Wishart-Donovan
G: Nilsson

F: McGinn-Schenn-Akeson
D: Konan-Syvret
G: Munroe

Referees: Chris Brown, Trent Knorr. Linesmen: Mike Emanatian, Marty Demers.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Penalty problems 12/30

An ultra-rare, yet brief Sunday practice for the Adirondack Phantoms today as they prepare for their New Year's Eve matinee tilt with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers tomorrow. If you haven't already seen them, here's a mock-up of the tuxedo jerseys the Phantoms will be wearing for that game, which is set for 3 p.m.

Very Lloyd Christmas, no?

Moving on, the Phantoms are looking to cut back on the number of penalties they've taken this season. They've got 666 through 30 games, an average of 22.2 per night, but I combed through box scores to come up with a breakdown of the penalties they've committed this season. Take a look:

34 - Fighting (major)
30 - Hooking
29 - Roughing
23 - Slashing
20 - Interference
18 - Tripping
12 - Cross-checking
12 - Misconduct (assorted)
7 - Unsportsmanlike conduct
7 - Delay of game
7 - Holding
6 - Charging (minor)
5 - Elbowing (minor)
4 - High-Sticking
3 - Closing hand on puck
3 - Too many men
2 - Boarding
2 - Goaltender intereference
1 - Charging (major)
1 - Elbowing (major)
1 - Delay of game - Face-off violation
1 - Holding the stick
1- Kneeing
1 - Diving
1 - Instigating

Fighting is the most common offense, but right after that is hooking with 30. Then you've got other stick fouls like slashing and tripping right there in your top six. There are a couple reasons for that -- officials have been trying to eliminate hooking since the last lockout -- so they're going to call it when they see it. Coach Terry Murray wasn't shocked to hear those are the ones his team is committing.

He's kept track of penalties over the years and stick fouls like slashing and hooking are right up there.

"Slashing is probably the No. 1 over time that I look at it," the coach said. "It's hard today with the composite sticks, too. A stick breaks, it could be compromised already in a play earlier. Now you just touch it and it breaks. ... They're subjective, but I'm not trying to make any excuses for it, we still need to clean that up. We need a focus on our play without the puck. You have to have your feet moving in the game today, you have to have proper positioning and angling."

If you don't, you get called for it. Adirondack has relied on its penalty kill a lot this season, the Phantoms are right near the top of the AHL list in total shorthanded opportunities with 152. They've killed off 84.9 percent of them, but that's still a good amount of time they're on the kill each game.

“Our power play has struggled and if we keep giving up chances on the penalty kill our penalty kill will eventually break down," defenseman Danny Syvret said.

More from Danny Syvret and Rob Bordson in the print story here. I thought Bordson was a good person to talk to because Murray has praised his ability to use his stick as a tool, yet he's only been whistled for four penalties all season. He's found a way to defend using it and not get penalized.

"You just have to have a good, active stick," the center said. "Keep it on the ice, try and take away passing lanes and just stick on the puck. Coaches always tell us on the forecheck, try and get your stick on the ice and just break up the play a little bit. Hopefully we can address the situation and stay out of the box for the most part."

"For the most part" is an important part there, because there are times when the Phantoms are going to have to take penalties.

If someone like, say, Cory Conacher beats you off the wall and is barreling toward the net with no one in between him and the goaltender, you're expected to haul him down and then hope for the best on the penalty kill. There are times and places for penalties, but the Phantoms are trying to cut down the ones they commit at inopportune times, like in the attacking zone or on their own power plays.

"We have to stop putting ourselves in those penalty kill situations so much," Bordson said. "It ruins the flow and not everyone kills penalty, so not everyone's in the game. You have to play the game even-strength and try to draw penalties and get ourselves on the power play."

The power play hasn't been all that great either, hovering at right around 15 percent. The really good ones are up around 20 percent, and with Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Matt Ford, Syvret and others, the Phantoms certainly have the firepower that's capable of getting them to that number.

"At the end of the day, I think it just has to do with puck retrievals and the want around the net," Syvret said. "Not every goal on the power play can be a tic-tac-toe, through-the-seam, one-timer goal. There are a lot of goals that are just ugly looking on the power play, but they're still going in. We haven't been able to get those ... I don't know if our guys are fatigued, but there are times when our intensity isn't up to par with the penalty killing. I think, at the end of the day, that will obviously hurt our power-play percentage."

We'll see how it works out in the Bridgeport game and beyond. Probably no Garrett Roe for that one, as Murray says the center is day-to-day with an upper-body injury he suffered Friday. He didn't play Saturday night and he didn't practice Sunday, and it's rare for a player to return for a game without a practice. I also spotted Erik Gustafsson (ankle) walking around the Civic Center on crutches, so I'd be surprised if he's able to get a skate on for the game. That's what's been keeping him out, Murray said, as the defenseman just isn't able to get a skate on his foot without feeling some sort of discomfort.

More tomorrow afternoon.

Until next time,

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Pirates 2, Phantoms 1 12/29

There was a point in the not-so-distant past when the Adirondack Phantoms were the least penalized team in the American Hockey League. Two months later, they're now the fifth-most penalized team in the league, racking up 666 minutes through 30 games. That's a little more than 22 per game, but that also takes into account things like fights and misconducts which don't leave your team shorthanded.

Unfortunately, they're still pretty high up there with total times shorthanded. They've been at least one man down 152 times this season, which is now the sixth-highest total in the league. At press time they ranked fifth, but San Antonio has since surpassed them. The Phantoms are forcing their penalty killers, on average, to kill off five power plays a game and tonight they needed them to kill off nine.

They got seven, but the Portland Pirates scored on two in the second period to earn a 2-1 victory.

When you run into situations like this, you're using a lot of the same players to kill penalties. It makes it harder for coaches to get everyone into the game and sometimes it alters the flow of the game. Two of Adirondack's top penalty killers, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, also play the power play, and the Phantoms had eight of their own. I would love to see the time on ice from this game.

One of the goals was a pretty unfortunate turn of events. They're already down for their first of two too many men minors, which is never a good thing to have, and then Matt Konan goes off for a minor, so you give Portland a 75-second five-on-three at the end of the second period. Then Oliver Lauridsen breaks his stick, so you're down to a five-on-two-and-a-half. Michael Stone gets the puck at the blue line and pinches to fire a dart from the right-wing circle past Munroe and it's 2-0 Portland.

That stood as the game-winner after Jason Akeson got a five-on-three goal late in the third period, but it was too little too late from the power play. Their eight chances bumped them up to an AHL-best 170 this season. They've only scored on 26 of them, which gives them a 21st-best 15.3 percent clip.

Brandon Gormley also scored for Portland, which got 24 saves from Mark Visentin. Back-to-back times and the ninth time in 17 losses the opposing goaltender has been the game's No. 1 star. The amount of time spent killing penalties and Portland's shot blocking made it hard for them to test him.

You wonder what might have been if they got that power play rolling a little earlier in the night, but instead they lose back-to-back games and fall to 13-16-1. They're right back down to the bottom of the conference with 27 points. Hamilton has 25, keeping the Phantoms out of the outright cellar.

At the other end of the list, Toronto will have the best record in the Western Conference on Monday, which means Marlies coach Dallas Eakins will coach in the AHL All-Star Classic. Binghamton's Luke Richardson and Syracuse's Jon Cooper are battling for the other spots, the AHL notes.

Around the division: Sean Backman scored twice as Bridgeport beat Manchester 4-1. Chad Kolarik scored on the power play and shorthanded as the Whale doubled up Springfield 4-2. Harri Pesonen, Bobby Butler and Jacob Josefson each with two-point nights to lead Albany past Hershey 3-2.

Trenton got off to a great start and then faltered in the third, falling to Reading 3-2. Andrew Johnston returned from his reported concussion earlier this week, but he's been scoreless. Matt Mangene's got five assists in 11 games. Marcel Noebels is leading all rookies with 30 points in 31 games.

They're practicing tomorrow afternoon and then Bridgeport's in town Monday for a matinee. A division game and a pretty good chance for the Phantoms to get things right back on track here.


Until next time,

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christian Hanson's return 12/28

As Providence's Christian Hanson sped down the right wing and centered the puck to Chris Bourque for the victory-securing empty-net goal Friday, he did so in the shadow of the Adirondack Red Wings Calder Cup championship banners that are hanging at the south end of the Glens Falls Civic Center.

His father, Dave Hanson, helped Adirondack win one of those banners in the 1980-81 season, the franchise's first-ever American Hockey League title. The elder Hanson retired three years later and took a couple of jobs in the Glens Falls area, and Christian Hanson was born in the city in 1986.

The younger Hanson spent the first nine or 10 years of his life in Queensbury before the family moved to the Pittsburgh area for Dave Hanson's new job. Christian Hanson has gone on to play 42 NHL games over three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he still has fond memories of his hometown and undoubtedly added another with a 4-2 win over the host Phantoms Friday night.

The fourth-year pro had two assists in the game, his first two professional points on the Civic Center ice. He'd been scoreless in two prior visits to Glens Falls during stints in Toronto and Hershey. He also played against the Phantoms in the Outdoor Classic held at Citizens Bank Park last season.

"I love Glens Falls," Christian Hanson said. "I love the Glens Falls Civic Center. It's where I learned to play hockey. My Dad has a great history here, he won a Calder Cup here so just to be able to come and play on the same ice that my Dad played on and just to spend some time in the area where I grew up is something special."

Dave Hanson spent two seasons with the Adirondack Red Wings and returned to the area to take a job with the U.S. Olympic Committee, managing Gore Mountain's Ski Center in North Creek. He then became general manger of the Capital District Islanders, which became the Albany River Rats.

Now, he runs Robert Morris University's hockey rink in Pittsburgh.

Hanson's father is probably more well known for his role as Jack Hanson in the 1977 hockey film "Slap Shot," partially filmed at the Onongada County War Memorial in Syracuse. The elder Hanson still makes appearances wearing his Coke-bottle-thick glasses and putting on the foil before games.

No foil for Christian Hanson, but he did help the Bruins jump out to a 2-0 lead. He got a pass from Carter Camper and hustled past both teams' benches before centering the puck to Lane MacDermid, who banged it past Adirondack goaltender Cal Heeter at the 6:15 mark of the second period.

"Our game plan every day is to establish our forecheck early, get pucks in deep and try to wear the other team's defensemen down," Christian Hanson said. "I think we were able to do that today."

Adirondack made it a game late, getting a goal from Eric Wellwood, but couldn't find the equalizer. Then, Christian Hanson's set-up on Bourque's goal in the final minute secured the win for the Bruins.

"That's something we talk about," he said. "We need to find that killer instinct to put teams away, but you have to take your hat off to this team. They're a highly skilled team. They have a lot of good players and they don't quit. They did the same thing to us in our barn a couple weeks ago and they actually ended up tying it."

Providence 4, Adirondack 2 12/28

So when Brayden Schenn collects a puck in the neutral zone and makes Niklas Svedberg looks silly with a crafty backhand move midway through the second period, there's a good chance you're thinking all is well for the Adirondack Phantoms. That's a play that can really energize a team.

"That’s a critical time in the game," Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. "That’s when you want to come back with a great big shift to make sure you can build off the emotion of that goal."

Murray sends out the line of Harry Zolnierczyk, Zac Rinaldo and Garrett Roe for that shift. The Bruins get the puck deep in the zone. All three of them skate out of the zone and into neutral ice. Adirondack can't clear the puck. It goes to Carter Camper, who gets it to Jordan Caron. It's in the net.

Just like that, 25 seconds later, Adirondack is back facing a two-goal deficit at 3-1. They lost 4-2.

"We were just carless, actually, with the puck," Murray said. "We had all three forwards out of the zone, into the neutral zone and the puck is back in our end. They make a play and it's in the net. We just have to get refocused here. We have to be a lot better."

In the third period, they were. They fired 18 shots at Svedberg, but he stopped all but Eric Wellwood's power-play snipe from the right-wing circle. He finished with 43 saves, earning No. 1 star honors. That's the eighth time in 16 Adirondack losses the opposing goaltender has earned that honor.

There have been some nights where that stat has impacted the outcome. Tonight wasn't one of them.

"That's beside the point to me," Murray said. "That's not the reason it ended up with a (4-2) score tonight. We came out and played 20 minutes out of the 60 and that was the third period. That's not good enough."

The extended break probably played a part in that, Murray said, though Wellwood disagreed. Thanks to travel delays, this was his first time skating in six days. He scored a goal, his third in fourth games.

"It's no excuse," Wellwood said. "I don't think that's a factor. I think both teams are playing the same first game. I don't think that's a disadvantage for anybody."

Surrendering 15 shots in the first, though, did put the Phantoms at a disadvantage. So did surrendering the first goal and then allowing another to start the second, which put them down 2-0.

"That's not the way we play," Murray said. "We just have to clean it up. Now that we've got a game under our belt, I'm hoping that we can have a real good, solid effort tomorrow night (at Portland)."

That game is in Lewiston, Maine, in case you were making the trip. It's one of several the Pirates are playing away from the Cumberland County Civic Center this season due to ongoing renovations.

In the only other division action tonight, Albany fell on a late goal by Binghamton's Jakob Silfverberg. David Dzuirzynski got ejected early for checking Joe Whitney from behind. 

More after the game tomorrow,

Pre-Game vs. Providence 12/28

Greetings from the Glens Falls Civic Center, where Glens Falls native Christian Hanson and the Providence Bruins (15-10-0-2) and the Adirondack Phantoms (13-14-1) are on the ice for warm-ups.

It's each team's first game back from the Christmas Break. Providence was supposed to go in Portland last night, but the winter storm resulted in that game getting postponed. It also postponed several of the Phantoms' flights, but everyone is finally back in town and they look ready to go for tonight.

They're looking to stretch their three-game win streak, but they're not exactly riding any momentum.

Cal Heeter and Niklas Svedberg between the pipes. Full lines are below, but first some links:

Did you know that Providence's Bobby Robins had a scare with cancer a couple years back? I didn't, but it's one of the notes in this feature story that ran on the AHL site a couple days ago.

Remember that Patrick Maroon saga that unfolded a couple seasons ago that resulted in his trade to Anaheim? Makes seeing a story like this one out of Syracuse borderline unfathomable. The Post-Standard's Lindsay Kramer also talked with former Albany River Rats forward Mike Angelidis, who survived that horrific bus crash on the Massachusetts Turnpike in 2009.

The Harrisburg Patriot News caught up with former Phantom Jon Kalinski.

The Bruins have one to scratch.

F: Bourque-MacKinnon-Tardif
D: Cross-Bartkowski/Button
G: Svedberg

F: McGinn-Schenn-Akeson
D: Konan-Syvret
G: Heeter

Referee: Jean-Philippe Sylvain. Linesmen: Jim Harper, Frank Murphy.

More after the game.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Phantoms return 12/27

Welcome back, everyone. Hope you all had a great holiday break. Flew by, didn't it?

Moving on, most of the Adirondack Phantoms were back on the ice this morning after four days off for Christmas. Many of the players took the opportunity to head home to see their families, and this Day-After-Tomorrow-caliber storm that's walloped to Northeast resulted in a couple of players not making it back to Glens Falls on time for Thursday's practice. Rob Bordson, Mike Testwuide, Brayden Schenn, Jeff Dimmen, Matt Ford and Eric Wellwood were all absent, as were the injured Erik Gustafsson and Ben Holmstrom and the still-technically-classified-as-ill Marc-Andre Bourdon.

Coach Terry Murray said he didn't anticipate any of those healthy players wouldn't be back in time for the Providence game tomorrow night, so he should have them all at his disposal. Gustafsson is still nursing a high-ankle injury after blocking a shot and can't comfortably fit a skate on, so he's out.

Also out: any of the momentum associated with the Phantoms' three-game win streak, Murray said. Story on that in tomorrow's paper, and how being in last place last week served as a wake-up call.

Here's a snippet:

"The momentum is stopped right now," Murray said. "When you get that many days away from the game or practice, you get a break emotionally and mentally – you’re still regrouping yourself and coming back to the fact that now we’re going to start to play games again. It’s not a big concern, but the three games we won now are in the past. Now we have to get focused on starting it over again."

This is a pretty big stretch of the schedule they've got coming up. They play 13 games in 30 days before the All-Star Break. Eight of those games are Northeast Division contests with Bridgeport, Connecticut and the archrival Albany Devils. At this point in the season, every one is important.

"We’ve had team meetings on this, that you have to make sure that you’re coming out ready to play with 100 percent focus every night," Murray said, adding this had been problematic earlier in the year. "We have to basically get it fixed right away. And we’re starting. I really like the way things have gone in the past few games. We just have to come out ready and play well here at home."

Added winger Shane Harper: "We were really concentrating on that. Terry was really telling us our starts needed to be better – which they definitely needed to be – and I think we were going into the game better prepared, just more thinking that our start needed to be better. When you’re thinking about that and preparing like that before the game, we executed and that’s what we need to keep doing. It was definitely one of the top priorities going into the game. We really did think about it."

I asked Murray about the shot counts in the past two games, wins at Syracuse in Bridgeport. On both nights, the Phantoms took multi-goal leads, but the games ultimately came down to the wire. The Crunch and Sound Tigers grossly outshot the Phantoms, with Syracuse rallying to tie the game 3-3 before ultimately losing in a shootout. Here's Murray on that:

"Those games are much easier whenever you’re down," Murray said. "You kick the barn door open and let the horses go at that time. You go play. You really don’t have any stress in your game, any pressure in your game, your attitude is ‘What the heck? Let’s go after it. We just have to get a goal here and maybe we can get a second one quickly.’ That’s the easy part of the game to play for any team. The hardest part is to win when you’re supposed to win. When you’re up 3-0 or you have a one-goal lead, to be able to shut that game down is a skill. That’s something that we’re talking about, we’re learning, we're getting better at and I like the fact that we’re able to do it most nights."

A lot of that responsibility falls on the captains, Murray said, as they need get the team fired up in the locker room after warm-ups and before Dan Miner starts announcing the starting line-ups. I asked Murray about potentially naming a third letter-wearer, a captain, now that Holmstrom's return to the ice during the regular season seems like a remote possibility thanks to his knee surgery.

"I've given it a lot of thought," Murray said. "I've actually talked to our training staff about it today. I'm not going to rush into it, though. I'm just going to hold off on this right now. I really feel its important to have a captain. With Ben's situation, it's going to be important for me and I think for the team to have someone in the locker room that has a 'C' on their sweater and that'll come. I'm not going to push that along right now. Take my time and talk about it, think about it some more."

He added he's going to talk to management again before coming to a decision on a player, but is leaning toward bringing a forward into the letter-wearing fold. That does not preclude the option of promoting one of the current alternates - Brandon Manning and Danny Syvret - to captain and then naming a new forward as an alternate. I think that may be the most likely scenario, but we will see.

"I definitely want to have someone in there pretty soon," Murray said. "We'll just let it take its course."

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wellwood-Couturier-Ford 12/22

The line of Eric Wellwood, Sean Couturier and Matthew Ford had a fantastic Saturday for the Adirondack Phantoms, who survived a late scare to beat the host Bridgeport Sound Tigers 3-2.

Each of them scored a goal -- Ford got his first -- and Couturier added two assists to post his eighth multi-point game of the year. He's back up to a point-per-game pace now with 26 through 26 games.

"I think we're finding some good chemistry with each other," Couturier said. "We're finding each other well out there. Things are going our way and hopefully things keep going well."

Couturier scored on a bizarre play to get Adirondack's wheels turning early in the first period. At the tail end of a Bridgeport power play, he stole the puck from a defender at the blue line and sped down the right wing. Brandon DeFazio slid to knock it away from him, but Couturier tracked it down in the corner. Then, in one quick motion, he spun and fired it toward the slot. He said he was looking for Brayden Schenn, but instead it wound up deflecting in off Bridgeport' Aaron Ness for a 1-0 lead.

"It's not an unusual play," Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. "You're going to see those kinds of decisions made all of the time. You're just hoping something good happens, whether the puck goes in the net or somebody's driving through and there's something loose in front of the crease. It's always the right decision to make a play to go to the net and this time it happened to find a way in."

In the second period, Ford redirected Couturier's shot from the point through goalie Anders Nilsson's legs. He had a pretty emphatic celebration, but he was happy to finally get one after going without in his first 16 games. Murray hoped this is what he needed to finally get back into his old form.

"I thought that was a really good shift for us," Ford said. "Wellwood was buzzing around and Coots just a simple shot on net. ... Coots can move the puck really well, create a lot of opportunities."

That's what happened on the third goal. The center got a pass from Jeff Dimmen and took it behind the net, centering it to Wellwood who had basically an empty net to shoot at and buried it.  He had one goal in his first 21 games, but has now scored two in his past three. He could be heating up too.

But then again, the same can be said of the entire Phantoms team. They've now won three in a row, which matches a season high. They're also getting bounces to go their way: tonight they scored three goals on 18 shots, while Bridgeport had two on just 36. Credit to Scott Munroe, who played well against his former team. All told, it's a pretty good way for a team to enter the holiday break.

"The guys came focused," Murray said. "It's very easy at this time of the year to have concentration that might be other places -- what are you going to be doing in two days and travel I have tomorrow and all that. We couldn't allow even four percent off on our focus. We had to be right on to play the right way and everybody did a great job with it."

However, is the timing of the break a bad thing? They'll basically forget about hockey for the next few days while they spend time with their families, then reconvene and take on Providence Friday.

“We saw last week or two weeks ago that we were last in our conference,” Couturier said. “We knew if we wanted to make the playoffs that we had to make a push from now on. We’ve been playing some pretty desperate hockey lately and we’ve put a couple wins on the board. That’ll put us right back in the race.”

Regarding Ben Holmstrom's knee injury, which will keep him out four-to-six months, Murray said he'll reconsider naming a new captain because of the length of the recovery time. "I think we need one," he said. He'll talk it over with the coaching staff. I'll ask again after the holiday break.

Check out tomorrow's paper for the game report and a holiday feature on some of the Phantoms, including Munroe. This will be his first Christmas as a father.

Finally, a non-hockey bit of news. You'll recall how the Sound Tigers wore the names of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims on the back of their jerseys tonight? Well, they also displayed the names of the fallen teachers and faculty on the scoreboard the entire night next to a green ribbon. I saw Murray and  assistant coaches Riley Cote and Kjell Samuelsson also wore the ribbons.

One of the routes you can take from Glens Falls to Bridgeport goes straight through Newtown. It's the way I went and I got a little choked up just being there. Some of the Phantoms staffers also made the trip down and went the same way.

They left this stuffed Dax at the Town Hall with the following note:  "The Adirondack Phantoms send their condolences to the victims, their families and the Newtown community."

Until next time,

Pre-Game vs. Bridgeport 12/22

Greetings from Webster Bank Arena, where the Adirondack Phantoms (12-14-1) and Bridgeport Sound Tigers (13-11-1-2) have hit the ice for warm-ups. Bridgeport is paying tribute to the victims of the tragedy at nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School by wearing the victims' names in lieu of their own on the back of their black jerseys. I've made the appropriate notations in the line combinations below, with a huge thanks to friend of the blog Michael Fornabaio of the Connecticut Post.

Scott Munroe in against his former team. Anders Nilsson starts for the Sound Tigers. It looks like the only line-up change from last night's win is Shane Harper in for Tyler Brown on the fourth line.

F: Niederreiter (Kowalski)-Cizikas (Pozner)-McDonald (McDonnell)
Persson (Engel)-Sundstrom (Hubbard)-Ullstrom (Rekos)
Combs (Gay)-Costello (Pinto)-DeFazio (Wyatt)
Gallant (Wheeler) -Watkins (Richman)-Riley (Lewis)
D: Donovan (Previdi)-Wishart (Mattioli)
Ness (Hsu)-McIver (Bacon)
Hill (Barden)-Landry (Hockley)
G: Nilsson (Parker)
Poulin (Marquez-Greene)

F: Wellwood-Couturier-Ford
D: Syvret-Konan
G: Munroe

Heeter Referee – Tim Mayer. Linesmen – Jim Briggs, Derek Wahl.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Heeting up 12/21

It wasn't all that long ago when the Phantoms were grossly out-shot in a road game and Scott Munroe almost single-handedly got them a standings point.

There's a lot of parallels between that game, an overtime loss at Providence, and tonight's game at Syracuse. This time, though, the Phantoms won -- and they can thank rookie goaltender Cal Heeter for their 4-3 shootout victory.

He made 32 saves over the final 45 minutes of action, including 29 combined between the second and third periods. The Phantoms had just nine shots on goal during those two periods, which is a good way to allow a high-octane team like the Crunch to storm back from a 3-0 deficit and tie the game 3-3.

You can't fault Heeter on any of the goals, though. Richard Panik scored on a power play after Ondrej Palat set him up with a great pass, the defense left the red-hot Alex Killorn wide open in front of the net and he got off a quick shot and then Tyler Johnson scored on a second-or-third-chance rebound.

I thought an interesting storyline in this one was how Heeter made two big glove saves on Cory Conacher in the third period. Then, Conacher switched it up and went blocker side in the shootout.

Heeter saw it the whole way and kicked it away. That wound up being your ballgame, as Garrett Roe, Brayden Schenn, Jason Akeson and Danny Syvret had scored on their shots to help the Phantoms win both the shootout and the game 4-3. Akeson had himself a day, scoring twice in Adirondack's best first period of the season. Harry Zolnierczyk scored 71 seconds into the game and Akeson scored on a power play just over a minute later to put Adirondack up 2-0 before the game was three minutes old.

I wrote earlier this week about how Murray wanted Akeson, he of the 10 assists and zero goals, to be a little more selfish and shoot the puck a little more. That goal was a pretty good example of that in action. He took a pass from Schenn and walked along the goal line. Akeson probably could have tried to force a pass to Syvret, who was cutting to the far post, but he kept it himself and beat Tokarski.

Then Schenn made a beautiful pass to Akeson later in the period. He stole the puck from J.P. Cote at the blue line and just barreled down the left wing. Evan Oberg tried to slide and block Schenn's pass, but he fed it past Oberg and goalie Dustin Tokarski right to Akeson at the far post. A quick one-timer later and the Phantoms were up 3-0. Hard to imagine this game ending in a shootout at that point.

But there were signs the Crunch were threatening. They rolled off eight consecutive shots at one point in the first period. You had to figure it was only a matter of time before they broke through. They did -- a couple of times -- but Heeter came up with a lot more big stops than any team could reasonably expect their goaltender to make and still walk away with a victory. Yet that's exactly what they'll do.

This is the fourth time they've won back-to-back games all season. First since their win streak last month, when they did it twice in a row (the first two, then the last two). They'll have a chance to make it three in a row tomorrow at Bridgeport, which would match their season-high win streak.

I'll be there, so check for a pre-game blog post in the evening. Post-game will follow.

It will be interesting to see how that one develops, since Adirondack has a pretty lengthy bus ride overnight and Bridgeport was idle tonight. The first period is probably going to be big there, but as we saw tonight it's by no means any indicator of guaranteed success. This turned into a wild one.

Another note: Brayden Schenn's two assists on Akeson's goals gave him 29 points. He's tied with Johnson and Hershey's Jeff Taffe for fourth in the AHL. Springfield's Cam Atkinson has 30, while Oklahoma City's dynamic Edmonton duo of Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle each have 38. And the Phantoms are now a ridiculous 10-2-1 when he scores a point and 2-12 when he is held without.

This was Adirondack's 13th one-goal game of the season, about half of the 27 games they've played. They're now 7-5-1 in them. It was their third straight, fifth in six, and eighth in 12.

Division: Kris Newbury had three points and Cam Talbot made 39 saves as Connecticut thrashed Manchester 5-2. They probably were still a little sour from that 9-2 loss a couple weeks ago. Igor Bobkov made 35 saves to lead the old Syracuse Crunch -- now Norfolk -- over Albany 2-1.

Until next time,

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holmstrom on the shelf 12/20

Adirondack Phantoms coach Terry Murray had said the team wouldn't know the extent of Ben Holmstrom's right knee injury until the swelling subsided and the captain underwent surgery.

That procedure was today, and the news was likely not what Murray or the Phantoms wanted to hear.

The Philadelphia Flyers announced Holmstrom had his ACL reconstructed in that right knee, a procedure that carries a four-to-six month recovery time. The Phantoms are scheduled to play their last game April 21, so the best case scenario is that Holmstrom would return for that game and a playoff run.

If it winds up being closer to a six-month recovery time, the captain is probably done for the season.

Holmstrom originally injured the ACL in the second period of a Dec. 8 game against the Syracuse Crunch. He dumped a puck in, felt something and needed to be helped off the ice, the Phantoms said. 

The third-year pro had recorded eight points and posted a plus-three rating in 22 games with the Phantoms, but was a fixture on the team's power play and penalty killing units and was one of the team's top defensive fowards. He is the only forward on the team with a positive plus-minus rating.

Defenseman Oliver Lauridsen is a plus-seven, and there's a story in tomorrow's paper about him.

Murray had said he would consider naming another alternate captain -- likely a forward -- if it was determined that Holmstrom would miss an extended period of time.

Since that's now the case, we'll see if anyone is wearing a letter Friday or Saturday night.

Also Thursday, the National Hockey League cancelled another round of games -- this time through Jan. 14. The league has now cancelled 625 games, more than half its regular-season schedule.

EDIT: Saturday's opponent, Bridgeport, has announced another way it is going to honor the victims of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The team is wearing black jerseys for the next month, and each one of them will bear the name of one of the child victims in lieu of the player's.

Tom McVie and Don Sweeney are the honorary captains for the AHL All-Star Game. Word is Providence's Trent Whitfield will be one of the actual playing captains, Mark Diver reports.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Phantoms 3, IceCaps 2 12/19

Of all the players to score the go-ahead goal for the Phantoms in the third period Wednesday night, it's probably a good thing that it was center Brayden Schenn.  He sniped a shot from the left-wing circle over Eddie Pasquale's glove and the Phantoms held on the beat the St. John's IceCaps 3-2 at the Civic Center. When Schenn has a point, the Phantoms are now 9-2-1. When he doesn't, they're 2-12.

That's still a pretty significant statistic, but one of the main reasons that Schenn was in a position to score that goal was two players who hadn't scored more than a month broke out of scoring droughts. Defenseman Brandon Manning snapped a 17-game drought with a power play goal early in the first period and winger Eric Wellwood erased an 11-game scoreless skid midway through the second.

"It's nice when everyone chips in," Schenn said. "It takes a team to win and we had everyone contribute tonight. Everyone stepped in and played well."

It was also good for the Phantoms to play as well as they did in the first period. Manning's goal from the left-wing circle gave them their sixth 1-0 lead of the season. The Phantoms keep underestimating how many times they've actually done this -- Manning thought it was only the third time they've scored first -- but that's a pretty good illustrator for just how infrequently it has occurred. The last time they did it was the last game against St. John's, which the Phantoms lost to begin a 1-6-1 side.

That game, they didn't play with the lead that well. They gave up three straight and then had to fight their way back into it, ultimately falling short. Tonight, they responded well and traded goals throughout the night. That resulted in the team scoring three go-ahead goals, which has a different impact on a team's psyche from them having to score one, two or three equalizers.

“The way we’ve gotten down in games – one or two goals – that’s made a huge difference just as far as our confidence … It’s easier to get guys into the game when you’re up a goal and you can roll the lines,” Manning said. “It makes it a lot easier on everybody.”

The Phantoms also led at the end of the first period for just the second time all season.

"It is an important stat and it proved to be true again today that getting a lead at the end of the first period -- the percentages do come your way," coach Terry Murray said. "They tied it up late in the second period and I thought we responded very well with a big push in the third. Guys were determined to get it back." More on that in the game story.

Now some other notes: Zack FitzGerald, who returned to the line-up after Shane Harper and Zac Rinaldo came down with the flu, was named the game's third star. That's a bit of an unconventional choice, but I tend to agree with it. He fought Ryan Schnell on his first shift and I thought he did a pretty good job at getting energy going right off the bat. Manning's goal came less than two minutes later. I'll post a video of the fight when I can find it, but he had Schnell at his mercy at the end of it.

EDIT: Here's the video:

I saw a Tweet from a Philadelphia-based reporter this morning that said something about the Flyers being concerned that Marc-Andre Bourdon, who has a history with concussions, has another one.

I asked Murray about that after the game tonight and this is his response: "It's not what I would call a concussion. When he left here, he was not showing signs of that. I don't even know what the hell it is. He's having signs of a little bit of not able to focus in a real tight area. Out there he's good, in here he's not so good. We don't believe that that's tied together, but that's the issue right now. Before he left here, he went to see an opthamologist." He later added he didn't know what was going on in Philadelphia, so take those comments for what they're worth.

The Phantoms have played 12 one-goal games this season. Seven of them have come in their past 10 games. They're 6-5-1 in one-goal games this year. Manning says those are the ones they have to win.

In other Northeast Division action, Matt Donovan and Casey Cizikas each had two goals as Bridgeport bested Albany 4-3. On the farm, Matt Mangene had an assist and Marcel Noebels had a goal as Trenton beat Elmira 5-4.

I probably won't have a chance to catch practice tomorrow because I have to cover a high school hockey game that night. But I'll have a feature on Oliver Lauridsen running in Friday's paper that will serve as a preview for the Syracuse game, so be on the lookout for that.

Speaking of that, has anyone heard if the world is supposed to end before puck drop? Not sure if it's worth spending $6.99 for the AHL Live feed if there's not going to be a game that night. I guess I'll have to wait and see. If we're all still here, I'll have a blog post up after that game. I'll also be in Bridgeport for the game Saturday night, apocalypse withstanding.

Until next time,

Pre-Game vs. St. John's 12/19

Greetings from the Glens Falls Civic Center, where the St. John's IceCaps (13-14-1) and Adirondack Phantoms (10-14-1) are on the ice for warm-ups. The IceCaps lead the season series two games to one and won the last meeting back in November, which touched off Adirondack's current 1-6-1 slide.

We'll get to lines and links in a moment, but first I wanted to pass along this video interview from this morning. Voice of the Phantoms Bob Rotruck caught up with Glens Falls' native son Shawn Weller, who had reportedly not traveled with the IceCaps on their road trip, at morning skate this morning.

Not traveling with the team, we learn, doesn't necessarily mean not traveling. Since he's injured, he got to come back to Glens Falls last Thursday and he's home through the holidays. So maybe you'll see him at the game tonight shaking hands or kissing babies or something like that in the stands.

No Zac Rinaldo or Shane Harper in the line-up tonight. They've got the flu, per the team. That drops the Phantoms down to 11 healthy forwards and seven defensemen. One of them, utility man Zack FitzGerald, returns to Adirondack's line-up as a forward. The Flyers also reassigned center Andrew Johnston, who skated this morning after missing time with a concussion, to the Phantoms, but The Trentonian's Mike Ashmore seems to believe that's a paper transaction to make room for Stephen Schultz on the team's injured reserve list. The ECHL has some pretty strict roster rules and there are no limits in the American Hockey League, so it makes sense for Johnston to spend some time here.

He is not playing, though. Full lines for both teams are below.

F: Jaffray-Gagnon-Machacek
D: Redmond-Meech
G: Pasquale

F: McGinn-Schenn-Akeson
D: Manning-Eddy
G: Munroe

Referee: Terry Koharski, Geoff Miller. Linesmen: Mike Emanatian, Steeve Lemay.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On the line-up 12/18

First thing's first: Adirondack Phantoms coach Terry Murray said this morning it was "highly unlikely" defenseman Erik Gustafsson would play in Wednesday's game against the St. John's IceCaps, which is a little bit different than what the coach originally said after he scratched the Swede on Saturday.

It seems like Gustafsson just needs a little more time to recover from those blocked shots. He was still limping around after today's practice, in which he did not participate, but the Philadelphia Flyers' inside reporter notes that x-rays came back negative. That seems like it's a pretty encouraging sign.

But for the time being, it seems Gustafsson will join captain Ben Holmstrom (knee) and Marc-Andre Bourdon (illness) as the injured or ill scratches for the conclusion of Adirondack's 10-of-12 home stretch at Glens Falls Civic Center.

His absence gave the Phantoms seven defensemen in practice today and they seemed to rotate the pairings pretty routinely. Murray does not announce his starting goaltenders ahead of time, but I figured I would ask him about whether he felt comfortable saying which defenseman would be the healthy scratch. He said that had yet to be decided and he still needed to discuss it with assistant coaches Kjell Samuelsson and Riley Cote before he writes the line-up on the board tomorrow.

Someone, though, figures to be a healthy scratch. And informing a player they won't be playing is one of the toughest aspects of being a professional hockey head coach, Murray said.

"Players, they work hard all summer long and you go through the training camp and now you get down to the first game of the season and you might have 25 guys in your group as we did this year, because of the lockout especially," Murray said. "You have a real hard job to tell a player that he’s not playing tonight. Most times, when you have a player who’s playing at this level, they’ve been one of the best players on their team wherever they’ve come from. Junior, college – whatever the situation might be – maybe on another team in the American Hockey League last year, even some players that have played some games in the NHL. It’s very hard. I don’t want to say it’s just part of the business, but you want to be very thoughtful and considerate about how you do approach the player and what kind of conversation you’re going to talk to him about as to what the reasons are.”

When you have that conversation, though, it can really pay off once a player gets back in the line-up. Look at winger Mike Testwuide. He was scratched for four straight games and six of seven before he was inserted in the line-up - as a center - in Saturday's game. He responded by scoring once, probably scoring another and using his size and strength well within Murray's desired system.

Based on Tuesday's lines, which I've written below, the Phantoms have one forward to scratch out of Testwuide, Tyler Brown, Rob Bordson and Shane Harper, but I'll be shocked if it's Testwuide. Murray wants to see players who were sitting on the sidelines truly using the first game back as an opportunity to show the coaching staff and organization you're working to be a better player. Testwuide did that.

He could even see some more ice time with Holmstrom, another right wing, still out of the line-up. He's scheduled to undergo knee surgery Thursday. The amount of time Holmstrom will miss will depend on the extent of his injury, Murray said, and that won't be known until the procedure.

"We’ve all been around long enough – even the young guys in the locker room – you go through this as part of the game, part of the season," Murray said. "Players are going to get sick, they’re going to get injured. They’re going to be in and out of the lineup as a result of it. The people who have been waiting on the sidelines, working hard, getting a lot of extra skating – it’s an opportunity for them to step up and play and get some important minutes in the games. They look forward to playing.”

I asked Murray if he anticipates giving any of his other players a letter in Holmstrom's absence. No one will get the captain's "C," Murray said, but a forward could be given an alternate's "A."

“I’ll consider that," he continued. "I think when you have two alternates, you can get through a month or so and be OK. The only reason I would consider it is because both defensemen (Brandon Manning and Danny Syvret) are As right now and I might want to have a forward as an alternate also.”

So I wouldn't expect to see a third player wearing a letter until after Christmas.



I'll be back before the game tomorrow. Links first: Albany's Bobby Butler, who scored four goals and five points in a game last Wednesday, is your American Hockey League Player of the Week. Oklahoma City's Jordan Eberle, who scored four goals and five points in a game last Saturday, is not.

The New York Hockey Journal caught up with Worcester defenseman Nick Petrecki, who was born in Schenectady and raised in Clifton Park. And the Bridgeport (Conn.) Sound Tigers, Saturday's opponent, will honor Sandy Hook Elementary School victims with uniform patches and stickers.

Until next time,

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hot goalies? 12/17

In the middle his post-practice remarks this morning, Adirondack Phantoms coach Terry Murray mentioned an interesting statistic that I hadn't noticed, but felt compelled to share with you.

The Phantoms have lost 15 games this year. In those losses, the opposing goaltender has been the No. 1 star seven times. I'm no mathematician, but that seems like an absurdly high number of times.

It also begs an important question, which Murray went on to ask in the same breath.

"Now is that bad shooting or is that great goaltending? You can look at it a lot of different ways," Murray said. "But that's a fact -- he has been named the star of the game in an incredible number."

Let's take a look at the "bad shooting" theory first. Here are a list of the American Hockey League teams, sorted by shooting percentage. You're going to have to scroll a while to get to the Phantoms.

Rank  Team        Goals/Shots  Shooting Percentage
1.    Springfield    87/753      11.55   percent
2.    Syracuse       95/829      11.459  percent
3.    Toronto        85/742      11.455  percent
4.    Oklahoma City  86/751      11.451  percent
5.    Hershey        73/657      11.11   percent
6.    Houston        82/752      10.90   percent
7.    Rochester      82/757      10.83   percent
8.    Grand Rapids   74/717      10.32   percent
9.    Connecticut    74/720      10.27   percent
10.   San Antonio    71/700      10.14   percent
11.   Lake Erie      82/818      10.02   percent
12.   Rockford       88/884       9.95   percent
13.   Charlotte      90/908       9.91   percent
14.   Binghamton     70/723       9.6818 percent
15.   Bridgeport     79/816       9.6813 percent
16.   Milwaukee      73/755       9.66   percent
17.   Portland       82/878       9.33   percent
18.   Abbotsford     66/714       9.24   percent
19.   Chicago        65/705       9.21   percent
20.   Worcester      72/791       9.10   percent
21.   Manchester     75/844       8.88   percent
T-22. WBS Penguins   69/778       8.86   percent
T-22. Norfolk        69/778       8.86   percent
24.   Peoria         63/726       8.67   percent
25.   Texas          62/764       8.11   percent
26.   Albany         55/697       7.89   percent
27.   St. John’s     66/841       7.84   percent
28.   Hamilton       55/725       7.58   percent
29.   Adirondack     61/806       7.56   percent
30.   Providence     61/843       7.23   percent
There aren't many teams in the AHL with more than 800 shots. Adirondack is one of them, yet ranks second-to-last in shooting percentage. On average, opposing goalies are stopping 92.44 percent of shots thrown their way. That number would put any one goalie sixth in the AHL in save percentage.

It's really tough to think so many goalies are playing that well against Adirondack on a routine basis.

But then look at the first-star performances the goaltenders have registered:

Oct. 14 -- Curtis McElhinney, at Springfield, 31-save shutout in 4-0 win.
Oct. 19 -- Eddie Pasquale, at St. John's, 31-save effort in 2-1 triumph.
Nov. 2 -- Dustin Tokarski, Syracuse, 23 saves as Crunch win 4-1.
Nov. 10 -- Jeff Frazee, at Albany, 22 saves as Devils squeak out 2-1 win.
Nov. 28 -- Eddie Pasquale, St. John's, 31 saves in a 3-2 IceCaps win.
Dec. 1 -- Keith Kinkaid, Albany, 44 saves to backstop Albany to 3-2 victory.
Dec. 14 -- Riku Helenius, Syracuse, 21-save shutout as Crunch win 3-0.

I saw five of those games -- the last five -- and I really think the goaltenders played pretty well in each of them. Kinkaid was unbelievable at the beginning of the month -- it touched off a personal hot streak for him -- and Helenius made some timely saves early in Friday night's game, to name two.

I think it's probably a little bit of a combination of bad shot selections and great goaltending. The bottom line is the Phantoms need to find a way to break through wall here and get some goals on the board. Murray has talked about trying to get higher-quality chances in better situations and areas.

"We have some players who have some pretty good numbers on their resume over the years," Murray said. "It's pretty surprising to me that I look at numbers and stats and I'm not seeing them right now. You look at your key guys, obviously, and they're out there in a lot of minutes -- playing all special teams situations -- even breaking it down further, a lot of those guys are getting the chances that you want to see them get. We're either unlucky or the opposing goaltender has been incredible."

Another statistic that's incredible in its own way -- the Phantoms are undefeated when holding a lead after one period of play. The bad news is that's only happened one time in 25 games. That's not a lot.

They've also only scored the first goal five times. When asked about it, Murray said "I don't think that's accurate. Is it that high?" He said that was "absolutely" a cause for concern, but he cares more about the lead after one period of play. Teams who lead after one period most often win the games.

"We haven't responded well enough," Murray said. "We're finding a way to not get it done. When I look at our games and break them down over those five games, we're getting the chances that we want -- the numbers. We're just not finding the scoring part of it. It's a concern."

Not surprisingly, the Phantoms are currently last in the AHL. Here's Jason Akeson on the situation.

“We’re going to come out here Wednesday and we’re going to show everyone what we’ve got,” he said. “I know everyone in there’s a little anxious and a little upset about the situation that we’re in right now. No one was really expecting us to be that low in the standings, but it is what it is. We’re going to have to step up our game and get on a little streak here.”

Personnel note: Gustafsson is day-to-day. "We'll see where he's at tomorrow for practice," Murray said. Marc-Andre Bourdon, who has been out for more than two weeks with an illness, also missed practice today. I asked Murray what the deal was there, as I always do, and this was his response: "Time to move on by all those guys. They're out of the line-up. We need to just focus on our team."

They're back on the ice tomorrow. Expect an update in the afternoon. In case you missed in on Twitter, Glens Falls native Shawn Weller has a broken finger, The Telegram reported, and did not accompany the IceCaps on the road trip. If you were hoping to see him, it seems you're out of luck.

Until next time,

Akeson's first AHL fight 12/17

I'll have a feature on Jason Akeson in Wednesday's Saratogian, so be sure to check it out, but in the meantime I wanted to pass along some tidbits from a conversation I had with the second-year-pro winger after today's practice.

That fight he had with Syracuse's Matt Taormina in the second period of Friday's game was his first fight in the AHL. I meant to ask him about it afterward, but I was on deadline and didn't really have a chance to until today.

It's not its first ever fight -- he's had some in juniors and one earlier this season in the ECHL -- but he had just 28 penalty minutes in 86 AHL games. And then all of a sudden here comes Matt Taormina charging at him, seeking revenge for a hit Akeson threw on Mark Barberio, and Akeson never flinched.

Here's the video, if you're interested:

"I just kind of hit the guy there," Akeson said. "Fell down and I saw a guy coming at me. First reaction was just drop the gloves and throw some punches."

Interestingly, though, a lot of times the No. 1 piece of advice players are told in those situations is just to get in as close as you can to an opponent and just hang on until the linesmen come in to break it up. Akeson instead starts throwing some uppercuts and catches Taormina with a couple of them.

“You’re always learning from guys watching the guys fight over the years,” Akeson said. “You learn different ways to fight and you get little pointers from guys here and there. Everyone pretty much knows how to defend themselves if it comes down to it. Instinct kind of takes over.”

I didn't realize this at first, but that was also Taormina's first AHL fight. He's a college product, out of Providence, but a lot of those guys seem to drop the gloves at least once over the course of a three-plus-year career in pro hockey. Sometimes, as you can see above, the situation dictates a need for it.

I asked defenseman/forward Zack FitzGerald, who has been in well over 100 fights during his hockey career and twice led the AHL in penalty minutes, what he made of Akeson's first foray into fisticuffs.
“I loved everything about it," FitzGerald said. "He hit that guy hard. He caught that guy kind of looking away, it was a big hit. It caused a ruckus there. He kind of snapped and threw some uppercuts in there. I was loving it, loving everything about it.”

Having a guy come at you is not an easy spot to be in, FitzGerald said.

"I don’t think a lot of guys enjoy being in that spot, but he handled it really well," he said. "He didn’t really hesitate, he just realized what he had to do and was chucking them."

I had a couple other questions about fighting, but I asked him what his best advice would be for a player who is in a similar situation on the ice. I've seen some enforcers say the best thing for a guy to do is just throw the most ridiculous, wild punch you can muster and hope it lands. FitzGerald said that would probably be one of the worst pieces of advice he could possibly give a teammate.

"I would definitely try to play defense," he said. "Everybody’s strong and if you throw a wild one and you get in a bad spot and I’m coming to fight you, I know where I’m going to punch you and I’m not afraid of that wild punch. When I’m fighting, I’ll take a punch to give one. A lot of guys will do that too, but I think if you’re a guy that doesn’t want to fight or wants to know how to do it and not get hurt, your best bet is to pull in close and play defense. Get a good grip and throw it when you’re comfortable.”

FitzGerald learned that the hard way.

His first fight was against AHL heavyweight Pete Vandermeer, a man who is nicknamed "Pistol."

“He’s a very tough man," he said. "I’ll always remember. He kind of hit me and then he speared me and I was very livid about the spear. I was calling him out and then we were fighting and I could hear his punches going over my head. I could hear them. So I was like ‘OK, this is what it’s like.’”

Each fight is unique, though, so it's not like there's any sort of blueprint a player can follow.

“When things are happening like that, the adrenaline’s pumping," FitzGerald said. "You don’t really even have time to think. It’s about how your body’s going to react and the instinct. Sometimes it’s kill or be killed.”

This has nothing to do with the Phantoms, but all the fighting talk reminded me of this classic video from an OHL game. You've heard of fight or flight? Well, this is the flight. To be fair, though, the man looked pretty crazy and I'm pretty sure I would have reacted in a similar way to the guy at the end.

I'll have another update later tonight following my appearance on the Phantoms Power Hour radio show. Then the team is back on the ice tomorrow, so also be on the lookout for another update then.

Until next time,

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Monarchs 3, Phantoms 2 12/15

About an hour and a half after Slava Voynov's shot from the right point found its way into the back of the net to cap Manchester's comeback, Gabriel Dumont buried an empty-netter to secure a 6-4 win for his Hamilton Bulldogs. Together, the events brought a dubious honor for the Adirondack Phantoms.

At 10-14-1 and 21 points, they have the statistically worst record in the American Hockey League.

The cellar is not the idyllic place to be at any time. It's only a third of the way through the season and there's a lot of time to make up ground, but by the same token it's a third of the way through the year. At some point, they have to start stringing together some positive results. Terry Murray was pleased with the effort his team displayed in this one, save for the one breakdown at the end of the game.

Now, on to that breakdown:

Tyler Brown, who had a goal and an assist in the second period, blew a tire as he tried to advance the puck out of Adirondack's zone and it resulted in a turnover at the blue line. Then, the puck deflected off Brown and Mike Testwuide happened to be skating past Cal Heeter at the time of the shot, so the goalie never really had a chance to pick up the shot until it was too late. And that's your ballgame.

That's disappointing, because the fourth line actually had one of its better games of the season. Murray talks about them scoring ugly goals, but Testwuide scored on a top-shelf NHL shot from the left-wing circle. That was a pretty goal. And then they got the textbook ugly one on the power play when Brown redirected Danny Syvret's shot in. Testwuide thinks he shoved it in at the post.

Testwuide, who was a healthy scratch for four straight games and six of seven, said there's always extra motivation to have a good game once you're finally back in the lineup. Remember when he scored in his season debut against Rochester? It's been a recurring thing for him.

"You dream about that," he said. "Coming in the line-up, you think about that non-stop. 'When I get in the line-up, I have to do something. I have to to make an impression. I have to do the things that coach is telling me to do -- be strong on the pucks and recover pucks in the corner -- maybe chip in a few goals here or there.' It really feels good and I just have to keep going. Hopefully I stay in there."

Incidentally, Testwuide said this was the first game he played at center. Ever. In his life. I thought he did an admirable job -- heck, he basically scored twice -- but he said it's not something he's geared to do on a recurring basis. "I like the new looks. I like having the puck on my stick. Centermen have the puck a little bit more, but I'm not going to pump my tires. I'm a right winger, for sure."

You're probably wondering why Testwuide and Brown were on the power play. Friday, Murray wasn't happy with the way the Phantoms tried to make an ill-conceived pretty pass at the blue line that resulted in a shorthanded goal for Syracuse. The coach said he didn't want to use specific power play units because there were a lot of power play regulars out of the line-up -- Bourdon, Erik Gustafsson (more on him below) and Ben Holmstrom were all out injured -- so he said it was better to just stick with the lines he used five-on-five.

"We talked about it. I told them to go out and play with that same kind of mentality," Murray said. "Play five-on-five hockey, even though you're on the power play. Don't look to set up anything special. Just go play and get pucks to the net."

It worked. They got a goal.

But both Murray and Heeter thought this was an improvement over Friday night's game. They did better on puck retrievals. They moved their feet more. It's tough for them to not get a point out of this one, but that's happened a couple of times this season. It can't be a demoralizing thing for them.

"We need to make sure we keep that consistency level up and play well every night," Heeter said.
"We have a game here Wednesday so we get a couple days of work in, come back and hopefully bring that same level of energy."

Personnel update: Oliver Lauridsen was in for Gustafsson, who blocked a shot yesterday. Murray's comments on Gustafsson: "He's hurting, obviously, to not play. I anticipate he'll be ready to go for Wednesday. He blocked a bunch of shots and he's got some bones bruised and stuff like that. I anticipate he'll be up and running again soon."

Zac Rinaldo probably knew this game was on television. He dropped the glove with Richard Clune 53 seconds into the game and tried to fire the boys up. The equipment manager wound up having to wash some blood off of Rinaldo's nameplate. I asked him about the fight afterwards and said it looked like he was trying to set the tone: "There's a time and a place."

They're back on the ice Monday. Expect an update then.

Until next time,

Pre-Game vs. Manchester 12/15

Greetings from the Glens Falls Civic Center, where the Adirondack Phantoms (10-13-1) host the Manchester Monarchs (11-11-2-1) at the top of the hour. Puck drop will actually be closer to 7:08, I'm told, as the game will be broadcast on Comcast in the Philadelphia area. Check your local listings.

The Phantoms enter the game on a 1-5-1 slide. They go with Cal Heeter between the pipes. Manchester, Brayden Schenn's former club, will counter with Peter Mannino. Zack FitzGerald took warmups for the Phantoms, but it looks like he'll be the scratch. Oliver Lauridsen is in for Erik Gustafsson, who was limping after blocking a shot Friday. It's Gustafsson's 24th birthday. Some gift.

The Monarchs are a team that doesn't allow many goals. They've averaged 2.6 against per night through their first third of the season. And the Phantoms are a team that doesn't score many goals, averaging 2.46 per night. We'll see if that trends holds up tonight.

I didn't catch Manchester's lines, but I'll update them during the first period. Adirondack kept only one line intact from Friday night's 3-0 shutout loss to Syracuse. That was the top line with Tye McGinn, Jason Akeson and Schenn, who had a hat trick against the Monarchs last month.

F: King-Vey-Kozun
D: Bodnarchuk-Rodney
G: Mannino

F: McGinn-Schenn-Akeson
D: Konan-Syvret
G: Heeter

Referee: Ryan Murphy. Linesmen: Steeve Lemay, Frank Murphy.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Syracuse 3, Adirondack 0 12/14

When the Adirondack Phantoms have had a bad loss this season, players usually have not had a lot of things to say. Good or bad. They've been pretty terse. That wasn't the case tonight, as the Phantoms turned in one of their worst performances of the season in a 3-0 loss to the Syracuse Crunch.

It was their first shutout loss since the second game of the season, when they lost 4-0 to Springfield. Riku Helenius made 21 saves and forced the team to call an audible regarding its annual Teddy Bear Toss promotion. Fans had to toss the animals on the ice during a promotional time out in the third.

Phantoms coach Terry Murray wasn't thrilled with the shutout, but he was even less thrilled about the number of turnovers his team had. I know it sounds like I'm beating a dead horse with this, but it's the same problems that keep coming back to haunt the Phantoms. They allow the game's first goal. They turn the puck over too many times. They deviate from the system. They don't score enough goals.

Here's Murray talking about the turnovers, specifically the one that led to Syracuse's second goal -- when the Phantoms turned it over as they tried to break into the offensive zone on a power play:

“It was a really bad play,” Murray said. “What are you trying to do? Little drop passes inside of the offensive blue line? We tried another one later on with a little fade-away, jump-shot saucer pass inside the offensive blue line and the period ended – thank goodness. Those are the plays we decide to make as individuals and we get burned on it every time that we’ve done it this year. That’s where we have to (start) breaking these habits. These plays that we’re trying, they didn’t work anywhere. I don’t care where you played. We’ve got to put it in our back pocket and leave it there.”

There were other issues tonight. They went 0-for-8 on the power play. They had four shots in the third period. They scored zero goals. But it all comes back to turning the puck over too many times.

"Turnovers were very noticeable -- and at the worst places," winger Harry Zolnierczyk said. "At our blue line, at their blue line. Everything to stop the flow of the game on our end. We turned it over and caused something to come back the other way. Those turnovers are coming from basically a lack of effort and it was pretty obvious that we had a huge lack of effort from the team."

Added Murray: “If we would only stay with the game plan and stop with the crazy turnovers. Both ends of the ice, both blue lines, we’re turning the puck over, giving them an opportunity to do too much with the puck. Too many problems for our team because of that."

They've lost six of their last seven. They have another go at it when they face Manchester tomorrow. What's it going to take for this team to get on a high and stay there?

"It's tough, especially when not much is going good for you," defenseman and alternate captain Brandon Manning said. "You know you have to dig down inside yourself and find something that's positive, whether it's something you used to do or something that's going to happen. That can come up to an individual and it's also up to the leadership group and some of the guys with more experience in here that just need to help guys through that who haven't been there before."

Frustration crept in for the Phantoms later in the game and they took a rush of penalties in the third period. They were down to four defensemen after Manning and Matt Konan got 10-minute misconducts in the final 10 minutes of the game. Radko Gudas scored with six minutes to go to ice it and then Erik Gustafsson limped off the ice with two minutes to go after blocking a shot.

"Our energy got lower after the second goal," Murray said. "It really dropped off big-time. And then the frustration set in after that and now it becomes a situation where you're starting to bring the referee in and blaming him for situations when he's 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're never going to get even with the officiating."

I think the last time the team had a loss like this was also at the hands of Syracuse -- and Binghamton, for that matter -- on back-to-back nights last month. But that really seemed to motivate them and they returned home for a three-game win streak. Maybe this is what they needed to turn it around.

A couple of other notes: Zac Rinaldo got into his first fight of the season, coming to the aid of defenseman Cullen Eddy. Rinaldo had a couple of big hits on that shift and the Crunch seemed to go after Eddy because of it, so Rinaldo doubled back and started trading blows with Keith Aulie, who has a good seven inches and 50 pounds on him. It was a pretty decisive win for Aulie, who got Rinaldo's jersey over his head early, but Rinaldo hung in there and kept throwing some bombs.

Flyers star center Claude Giroux was in the house, visiting his pal Jason Akeson. I saw him signing some autographs for fans who recognized him. Did not have a chance to catch up with him.

I asked Murray if he knew any of timetable associated with Ben Holmstrom's return to the line-up, since the team didn't release one when they announced he was going to undergo knee surgery. "I don't know. It's going to be a while. It's going to be several weeks, obviously." Take that for what it's worth.

Around the division: Albany stretched its win streak to five games with a 4-3 win in Connecticut. Jamie Tardif, last seen helping the Bruins beat the Phantoms, helps the Bruins double up Springfield. A hat trick places him in a tie for third in the AHL with 13 goals. Casey Cizikas scores in overtime as Bridgeport downs Norfolk 4-3. On the farm, Matt Mangene had an assist as Trenton topped Wheeling 4-2.

I'll be back before the Manchester game with lines and links.

Until next time,