Phantoms return 12/27
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."