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.

Lines:

Wellwood-Couturier-Akeson
McGinn-Schenn-Ford
Zolnierczyk-Roe-Rinaldo
Brown/Bordson/Testwuide/Harper

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,
MC

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