Thursday, January 31, 2013

All's well with Wellwood 1/31

Associated Press
Earlier this month, at the end of the National Hockey League lockout, Adirondack Phantoms winger Eric Wellwood said it was "a big relief" to be invited to Philadelphia Flyers' camp.

He won a spot on Philadelphia's opening night roster, beating out winger Tye McGinn for one of the final positions, and played about nine minutes in each of the Flyers' first four games.

Then Zac Rinaldo went down with an injury in the Flyers' second game of the season, and the Flyers called up McGinn to replace Rinaldo.

Later, Danny Briere, who missed those four games with a wrist injury, returned to the Flyers' line-up. Someone had to be sent to the American Hockey League to keep the Flyers at a 23-man roster. Instead of sending down McGinn, the call-up, the Flyers sent Wellwood back to the Phantoms.

Did that surprise Wellwood?

"Yes and no," he said after practicing with the Phantoms Thursday, the team's first post-all-star break skate. "I looked at the numbers and obviously somebody had to go down. I didn't solidify myself as an NHLer yet. You always have a chance to go down. You keep that in the back of your mind and prepapre for it emotionally, because when it happens it could be a shock if you're not ready for it."

But there's only so much preparing one can do, and Wellwood admitted he was initially shocked.

"I wasn't expecting it," Wellwood said. "Not that I think I deserve to stay or anything like that. I'm not entitled to anything, but it was a shock at the beginning. But I've already dealt with it. Took my day to deal with it and I'm ready to play hockey now."

The timing of the demotion actually worked out for the better, he said. He got four days off for the All-Star break, which he split between Philadelphia and Glens Falls, and it helped him cope with the news. He's now going to go from playing nine or so minutes a night to an expanded role in the AHL.

"Obviously you want to be up there and you don't care if you're playing one minute or 20 minutes," Wellwood said, "but it's good to play and I think it's good for me in the long run."

Phantoms coach Terry Murray agreed.

"He's one of the players that went up during the end of the lockout for the training camp and now he stays and plays games. That's a real feather in his cap that the organization thinks very highly of him," Murray said. "Numbers do come into play now and coming back with us, I saw a good attitude today. He worked hard, he's working at his game and this is just another opportunity for him to continue to play in probably more critical situations, important situations than what he saw with the Flyers and grow his game. Next time he's going to be a better player for the Flyers. He's going to be more comfortable there and hopefully the next time he goes up he will not come back."

Wellwood said the Flyers told him they were happy his play and that he was being sent down because it was a numbers game. "I don't know if they were being nice or not, but obviously as a player you always want to improve," he continued. "You don't need somebody to tell you you need to improve or you need to do some certain basic skills to get better. You just know that as a player."

In the AHL, he hopes the added ice time helps him find his offense. He had just nine points in 29 games with the Flyers and went scoreless in his four games with the Flyers. Though he said his future in the NHL is probably playing on the third or fourth lines as an energy guy, he hopes he can return to the level of production he had last year. Thursday, he practiced with Jon Sim and Andrew Johnston.

"I would like to get my offense," Wellwood said. "If you can produce, I think that helps you. Obviously I want to improve on everything. I couldn't tell you one specific thing. I think my checking part of the game is pretty good, obviously being down (in Philadelphia) last year and some of this year, I'd play against some of the top lines in the NHL. Obviously, that's not my main focus."

More before the Norfolk game tomorrow.
-- MC

That's Jon Sim's music 1/31

Photo Courtesy: Philadelphia Flyers
There was a new face on the Glens Falls Civic Center ice for Adirondack Phantoms practice Thursday morning, but it was one that was familiar to the team's coaching staff.

The Phantoms signed veteran winger Jon Sim to a professional try-out contract, and he will be eligible to play in the team's 7 p.m. home game Friday vs. Norfolk.

Sim, a gritty 35-year-old with 469 games of NHL experience, has ties to all three Phantoms coaches.

He won a Calder Cup with assistant coach Riley Cote in 2005, when the two both played for the Philadelphia Phantoms. Kjell Samuelsson was their assistant coach.

Then, when Sim graduated to the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06, Terry Murray was his assistant coach.

“I know what they want,” Sim said after he wrapped up his first Phantoms practice Thursday. “I’m just looking forward to getting out there and playing.”

What the Phantoms want is not all that difficult to figure out. They have 99 goals, the fewest in the Eastern Conference, and Sim has racked up 184 points in 194 career AHL games. Thirteen came in 22 games this year with the San Antonio Rampage, which he joined on a try-out basis in December.

“He’s hard on pucks and he’s really good in front of the net," Cote said. "He has good hand-eye coordination and he’s good with deflections. We need that. We need more scoring, obviously, and he’s a guy that competes. He gets underneath the skin of opponents. He plays the game hard.”

Sim, who won a German Elite League championship last season with Berlin, spent the first two months of this season at home in Nova Scotia. The NHL lockout made it difficult for him to find work. But the Rampage signed him to a try-out contract last month and he got off to a quick start, scoring four goals in his first six games. The Rampage wanted to keep him, he said, but the Flyers made a better offer. The familiarity with the coaching staff helped him make his decision, he said.

“What I like is the fact that he’s been a part of the Flyers before,” Murray said. “He knows what the expectations are and we know him, his role. I think he’s going to be a great add to our hockey club.”

In adddition to the scoring punch that Sim packs, Murray said he likes the winger's ability to bring a veteran presence to the locker room. He has played for Dallas, Nashville, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Florida, Atlanta and the New York Islanders in the NHL, recording 139 points. He spent Thursday's practice on Adirondack's top power play unit, and should hold down that position well.

“He’s got very good hands and a very good stick around the net,” Murray said. “That’s why he’s in the front of the net area on the power play. Any loose pucks that are there, he’s got a real nose for it and he can pounce on those loose pucks and get second and third opportunities.”

In talking with both Murray and Cote, it seemed like Sim is exactly the kind of player this team had been missing. He's not just a veteran with experience, but he also plays the game exactly the way the Phantoms want their prospects to play. Cote said it was surprising that Sim was still available at this point in the season, that San Antonio or any other team had not locked him down with a contract.

"He goes to the greasy areas," Cote said. "Maybe these young guys can really see ... what it takes to score goals. You have to get involved. You have to go to the greasy areas and you have to be willing to sacrifice a little bit. Those are the guys that score the goals you see around the NHL or any league, really. The common denominator is guys going to the net hard, sticks on the ice and finding loose pucks. He brings that. He'll drive the net, he'll knock the net off the moorings and run into the goalie now and then. He finds greasy goals. That's what goalscorers do. He's shown that at the American League level and he's put up decent numbers at the NHL level. He'll bring that, for sure."

More on Sim in Friday's paper. Also spoke with Eric Wellwood today. More on that in a few minutes.

Until next time,

Monday, January 28, 2013

AHL all-star game 1/28

Brandon Manning's all-star locker.
Adirondack Phantoms defenseman Brandon Manning did not get on the scoresheet in Monday night's American Hockey League all-star game, but he was still a footnote in all-star history.

Manning quarterbacked the first power play in an AHL all-star game since 2005 after Peoria's Mark Cundari was called for tripping in the third period. It didn't convert, and the West took the game 7-6.

After the game, Manning said the players weren't really treating it like a real power play. They weren't setting up in front and trying to tip in pucks or bat in rebounds. Heck, for the first few seconds of the power play, the Grand Rapids Griffins mascot was throwing T-shirts from one side of the arena over the playing surface and into the other half of the stands. Manning suggested that in future all-star games it might be more beneficial for a penalty shot to be awarded if a penalty is called.

I don't think I'd object to that, but penalties are so rare that it wouldn't really matter anyway. Before Cundari hauled down Derek Meech, the last player to be called for a penalty in an all-star game was Binghamton's Jason Spezza back in 2005. It may be a while before that ever happens again.

The game was filled with some other unusual occurances.

Bridgeport's Matt Donovan threw a hit on San Antonio's Drew Shore. The two were teammates at Denver. All in good fun. And then there was a pretty controversial goal in the second period. Curtis McElhinney came out to play the puck in the left-wing corner, and Lake Erie's Andrew Agozzino tied him up there. Toronto's Ryan Hamilton hunted down the loose puck and put it into the empty net.

Hamilton scored the final three goals for the Western Conference, completing his hat trick with 11.2 seconds to go. It snapped a 6-6 tie and stood as the game-winner, so he was easily the game's MVP.

I'd argue the highlight of the night wasn't anything that was done on the ice. Eastern Conference coach Jon Cooper of the Syracuse Crunch was live-tweeting the event. Pure gold. After Hamilton's controversial goal, for example, Cooper tweeted "Sketchy goal by the West. Didn't know we were playing prison rules!" Check the rest of his stuff out here.

Highlights from AHL president David Andrews' state of the league address below. Pretty interesting stuff in there about Glens Falls' viability as an AHL market beyond the Phantoms. Scroll down to the next post if you're on the main page, or click here if you came here via the link on Twitter.

Here's the print story on the state of the league, and here's our all-star game notebook.

That will do it for me from Providence. The Phantoms are back practicing Thursday. Look for the next blog update then, unless news breaks in the meantime. In which case, you know where to turn.

Until next time,

State of the AHL 1/28

American Hockey League President David Andrews met with the media this morning to deliver his annual state of the league address. You can read all about what Andrews had to say in tomorrow's paper, but there were a few interesting things that I wanted to pass along this afternoon.

Andrews said he considered Glens Falls to be an AHL market and believed the city could support another AHL team once the Adirondack Phantoms move to Allentown, Pa.

“I think the response of the fans there has been very positive,” Andrews said. “It’s a difficult market from the perspective of being as small as it is and not having the kind of corporate base that we have in other cities to draw in from a sponsorship perspective, but it’s one of our historic cities. It’s a building that works for us. It’s in a location that works for us from a travel point of view. I do think there’s a chance that we could still be there.”

The Phantoms have announced they plan to play another season at the Civic Center before moving to Allentown in 2014, but the owners have agreed to relocate if the city can attract another long-term hockey tenant by April 1. But Andrews said there were only "two or three" leases expiring at the end of this season and he doesn't envision that many AHL teams will be relocating this summer.

“We don’t see a whole lot of movement happening and I think the Phantoms will most likely be back there next year,” he said. “I have been in conversation with the mayor and we have committed to him that we will work with them to try and keep AHL hockey in Glens Falls beyond that.”

In other news, a consultant is studying the feasibility of the AHL developing a “western presence,” to get more AHL teams closer to some of the National Hockey League’s Western Conference clubs. The report, which will determine if such expansion is practical, is expected back by early March.

The NHL lockout drove up the AHL’s box office numbers and web traffic, Andrews said. The AHL website had 7.6 million visitors through early January, the end of the lockout, up from 4 million over the same period last year. Ticket revenue was also up 13 percent. They got some new fans.

Now that the lockout has been resolved and a new collective bargaining agreement has been drafted, some changes are coming to the league. Notably, Andrews said AHL players will now be subject to performance-enhancing drug tests, though he did not lay out a timetable for when those may begin.

“That, I think, is a very positive step,” Andrews said. “Our players want it.”

There are a couple other things in the new CBA that Andrews thinks will be good for the AHL.

The four-recall rule, which limited NHL teams to four recalls from the trade deadline through the end of the season, has been eliminated.

He also liked what I'm calling the "Wade Redden Rule," that every dollar a player makes over $900,000 will be billed against the NHL team's salary cap even if the player is sent to the minor leagues. Redden was making $6.5 million while playing for the Connecticut Whale, but had no salary cap hit under the terms of the old CBA. Now, that contract would have a $5.6 million cap hit.

"I think that was fair," Andrews said. "I think it's good for our league. It doesn't hurt us. We still get good players in the league and I think ... our players probably would have been better off in some ways if that number was even lower because the more one-way contracts that come down that are sort of NHL mistakes, I guess, where the guy is making huge money and he's coming down to the American League because he has to play somewhere takes away a job for an American League guy that's a prospect. I guess the NHL club would be less likely to send some of those guys down if it counted against their cap."

Andrews also said a video replay system that was implemented before the start of the 2012-13 season has been used 111 times, and 80 percent of original calls have been confirmed. The hybrid icing rule that was tested earlier this season was well-received, Andrews added, and the vote to end the test to keep the icing rule consistent between the NHL and AHL wasn't unanimous. Some wanted to keep it.

I'll try and find out how the Phantoms voted on that this afternoon. I'll have another blog update after tonight's all-star game and there will be a notebook on that in tomorrow's paper as well.

Until next time,

Sunday, January 27, 2013

AHL Skills Competition 1/27

Greetings from Providence, everybody.

Lots of interesting conversations with all-stars from both the Eastern and Western conferences today. Check for those in tomorrow's paper. For the main print story, I chatted with Brandon Manning. Did you know that he's the only undrafted defenseman on the Eastern Conference All-Star team?

There's also a roundup of the skills competition. Talked with Bobby Butler, Albany's representative. He and Manning are staring directly across the locker room at each other, which is really funny considering the number of times they've seen each other since Jan. 18. It's all in good fun, though.

Here's a blurb on Manning that didn't make it into the notebook. In the breakaway relay, he went to the backhand on Barry Brust, but the Abbotsford Heat goalie turned him aside. I asked Manning if that would be his normal shootout move, since he has never been used in one in his pro career.

"I don't think so," Manning said. "I think I'm more of a shooter. I tried to do something a little different."

Manning said he wasn't disappointed he didn't get a chance to take a shot in the hardest shot contest. He's seen each of the participants shoot the puck and knew each of them had a cannon, so he liked the Eastern Conference's chances with him cheering from along the boards.

"It's probably better than going out there and embarrassing yourself and clocking in at 80-something," he said. Which begs the question -- why not just wind up on his breakaway attempt? The radar guns are turned off at that point, and he probably could've surprised Brust with just a straight slap shot.

"That really never went through my head," Manning said. "I do have a few moves, but I wasn't thinking too much before that."

Highlight of the night was probably the fastest skater event. Houston's Jason Zucker broke an AHL record, then Portland's Chris Summers broke it again all of two minutes later. Also a really thrilling finish, with the West scoring twice in the final round of the breakaway relay and then Justin Peters gloving Trent Whitfield on the last shot that would have tied the score 12-12. The West won 12-11.

Butler, the AHL All-Star Classic MVP in 2011, probably summed up the spirit of the event the best.

"It's two days of fun," he said. "Good time, eat some pizza and hang out."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Albany 5, Adirondack 2 1/26

Before we get into the post-game analysis of the Adirondack Phantoms 5-2 loss to Albany Saturday afternoon, a couple items of note.

First, as you can see from the photo at right, Tye McGinn scored his first NHL goal in the Philadelphia Flyers' 7-1 rout of Florida. He also added his first NHL assist.

Secondly, Eric Wellwood was sent back to the Phantoms to open up a roster spot for Danny Briere, who returned from a wrist injury. I think the fact that Wellwood was sent down over McGinn illustrates just how effective McGinn has been in the NHL. If you need more proof, refer to the photo above right.

Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum, The Trentonian's Mike Ashmore writes that Cal Heeter could be in some hot water after an incident that got him ejected from Trenton's loss to Wheeling Saturday night. After the Nailers' Matt Germain got a puck past him, Heeter shot the puck off the glass and into the stands, earning a game misconduct in his Titans debut. Ashmore noted that a similar incident netted a former Trenton Devil a 12-game suspension in the 2010-11 ECHL season.

"I got scored on and sort of lost my cool," Heeter told The Trentonian. “That’s my fault, I’ve got to take responsibility for that, I need to be more level-headed. I turned around and fired the puck and it took off on me. That’s my first experience with that rule, so I guess that’s a game and they kick you out.”


Now onto the game at hand.

The breakdowns that ultimately doomed the Phantoms Friday night in Glens Falls again doomed them Saturday afternoon in Albany. Except instead of taking place late in the game, they were right there in the first period. Steve Zalewski was given a lot of time in front and he deflected a point-shot right past goalie Scott Munroe's glove. Then, Bobby Butler is standing right in front of the crease and he just pokes a loose puck right past Scott Munroe. Harri Pesonen also batted in a rebound.

"The low coverage was not good," Phantoms coach Terry Murray said. "We got beat from boards to the front of the net. They had people in position on the first goal - the point shot - then just beat us to the net off of other plays. Our reads were not good and we were not ready to play."

Defenseman Erik Gustafsson was on the ice for all three Phantoms goals in the first period. He and Brandon Manning both finished -3 for the second straight night. Manning was pretty candid after yesterday's loss, saying the two of them had to be better, but Gustafsson took it to a new level today.

He said it was good to get back out there and get two games under his belt after missing six weeks with an ankle injury, but wasn't exactly thrilled with his performance.

"It was fun to play, but I played like sh-," Gustafsson said, catching himself before he uttered the second syllable. "I played terrible. So that's not good."

There's an old axiom that says that more machines break down because of rust than overuse, and Gustafsson said he was still feeling some rust out there.

"Timing is not really there," Gustafsson said. "There's some other few things, other small things that I didn't do right, but overall just playing bad. I don't know. I just have to be better than that."

The Devils, who are 6-1-0-1 against the Phantoms and 11-13-1-7 against the rest of the American Hockey League, clinched the Time Warner Cable Cup with the win. With four games left in the season series, the most points the Phantoms can get is 12. The Devils already have 13, but the Phantoms were more focused on the overall standings, and the impact these back-to-back losses have.

"It’s too close right now (in the) fight for the playoffs," center Marcel Noebels said. "Albany is six points ahead of us (in the standings). We can’t lose to the same team twice on the same weekend."

Noebels and Danny Syvret scored power play goals to twice cut Adirondack's deficit down to two, but the Phantoms could never bounce back from that dismal start. Albany was up 3-0 before the game was 15 minutes old, then Pesonen scored to make it 4-2 and Darcy Zajac added an empty-netter.

"We lost way too many one-on-one battles in our own zone," Noebels said. "We got beat to the net twice or three times and that cost us goals. The same goals happened twice in a row."

They'll get four days off for the All-Star break, but it's not exactly coming at a great time. Thanks to their three-game losing streak, there's now just one team in the entire AHL with fewer points than their 37. The Phantoms know exactly the magnitude of the task waiting for them when they get back.

“Now we’re just delaying the obvious,” Phantoms winger Harry Zolnierczyk said. “We have to get out of this hole. Obviously we’ll have to take this break and use it to our advantage and regroup and be ready when we come back, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us here.”

I'll be at the All-Star skills competition and game Sunday and Monday in Providence, so check for some blog updates throughout the next couple days.

Until next time,

Pre-Game vs. Albany 1/26

Greetings from Times Union Center, where the Adirondack Phantoms (17-20-2-1) and Albany Devils (16-14-1-8) are on the ice for warm-ups. This is the fourth meeting between the two teams in the past eight days and Albany will be the third city they'll play in during that span. It's also the eighth meeting between the two teams overall, and Albany has a chance to clinch the season series and the Time Warner Cable Cup with a regulation win. The Devils are 5-2-0-1 against the Phantoms this year.

The American Hockey League announced starting line-ups for Monday evening's All-Star game. Adirondack representative Brandon Manning won't start, but Albany's Bobby Butler will. And a defenseman named Michal Jordan will start for the Western Conference. They need to have Ray Clay  announce that guy with "Sirius" blasting in the background. Really interesting story about Dallas Eakins and Luke Richardson's reunion. Former junior hockey teammates, now opposing coaches.

Back here in Albany, there are largely unchanged line-ups from some 19 hours ago in Glens Falls, when the Devils secured a 4-1 win. Keith Kinkaid and Scott Munroe led their teams out onto the ice. Albany goes with the exact same 20, while the Phantoms sub in former Albany Devil Kory Nagy for former Albany River Rat Zack FitzGerald. David Laliberte moves up to the top line. Adirondack has one defenseman to scratch, and it looks like it's going to be Jeff Dimmen again based on line rushes.

EDIT: Philadelphia Flyers insider Anthony SanFilippo writes Eric Wellwood is on his way back.

F: Laliberte-Noebels-Akeson
D: Gustafsson-Manning
G: Munroe

F: Whitney-Zalewski-Butler
Hoeffel-D. Zajac-Sestito
McKelvie-K. Zajac-Sislo
D: Leach-Burlon
G: Kinkaid

Referees: David Banfield, Ryan Fraser. Linesmen: Derek Wahl, Frank Murphy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Albany 4, Adirondack 1 1/25

Joe Whitney must be a big fan of Dr. Raymond Stantz, because he's been bustin' ghosts all season.

The Albany Devils forward continued his torrid pace against the Adirondack Phantoms, scoring two goals to lead the Devils to a 4-1 victory Friday at the Civic Center. Whitney now has five goals and seven points in five games against the Phantoms, and is the leading scorer in the teams' season series.

His second goal, 10:46 into the third period, came about four minutes after Adirondack winger Harry Zolnierczyk hit the post on a penalty shot that would have tied the score 2-2. Zolnierczyk had goalie Keith Kinkaid prone on his stomach and slid the puck past his right skate, but it hit the near-side post.

After the game, Zolnierczyk looked pretty dejected. He said he used the exact move he wanted to do and he did beat the goaltender, but then he slid the puck right off the base of the goalpost. That was pretty much the ballgame -- hard to bounce back from that kind of a momentum swing -- and then Albany's Kelly Zajac added another insurance goal with 7:00 to go to close out the scoring.

"I don't think we executed as well as we did in the first," Zolnierczyk said. "That's something we have to take on our own, but I think our D-zone was our biggest issue. They spread us out pretty big and we left some big gaps for them to take advantage of."

Erik Gustafsson, back from his ankle injury, and his defensive partner and AHL All-Star replacement Brandon Manning each finished minus-three. They were on the ice for those last two Albany goals, which Phantoms coach Terry Murray attributed to blown coverage and defensive breakdowns.

“For myself and Gus, we have to be a lot better there,” Manning said. “It’s the first game back for Gus and you can see he was struggling out there, but I have to step up and pick him up out there. It just comes down to little communication and bearing down on pucks. Unfortunately for us, they got a couple and it didn’t really give us much of a chance in the end at all.”
The Phantoms' modus operandi for much of the season has been to have a not-so-great start to the game, then following that up with a strong finish that usually leaves them just short. Tonight they did pretty much the opposite. They held a 12-3 shots advantage after one period and they were doing a good job of entering the offensive zone, but they couldn't replicate that at all in the final 40 minutes.

"You're passing the puck," Murray said of his team's first period puck movement. "When you break the puck out of your zone and you have five people together and you're organized and you're making short passes, then you can do that. But when you start getting into home-run plays that are to stretch players that are isolated, it's going to come right back at you."

The latter is what the Phantoms did in the second and third periods, and that played right to the Devils. Matt Anderson scored 9:28 into the second period to put Albany up 2-0. 

"We're not making plays that we should be," Manning said. "Guys don't know what to do. That just comes down to focus and knowing what you're going to do out there and bearing down. You could tell after the first period it wasn't really there. We didn't really generate much from there."

Matt Ford cut it to 2-1 two minutes after Anderson's score with a power play goal, but then Whitney and Zajac scored off the aforementioned breakdowns in the third. Murray credited the Devils' ability to cycle the puck and said "they took it to us" when it came to those plays.

“They just kept coming at us in the second and the third and we couldn’t handle them,” the coach said. “Too many breakdowns low in our zone.”

I don't think anyone will argue that the Phantoms also just plain need to get more pucks in the back of the net. Ford's goal was the kind of gritty goal you'd hope to see from a power play -- a deflection from right in front of the net -- but other than that they had no even strength goals.

The team's power play is not very strong -- it ranks 18th in the AHL at 16 percent -- but it's scored 34 goals. The Phantoms, collectively have 97. No Eastern Conference team has fewer than that, and only Abbotsford (94) and Hamilton (85) in the west have scored less. If your power play is in the bottom half of the 30-team league and it still represents 35 percent of your total goals, that's not that great.

If you look at Binghamton, which Phantoms coach Terry Murray has previously referred to as the most talented team the Phantoms have played, their power play is 20th in the AHL at 15.6 percent and has 28 goals. But the Senators as a team have scored 127 goals and currently sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. Their percentage of power play goals to total goals is closer to 22 percent.

Adirondack also just hasn't had a great shooting percentage.

They have 1256 shots through 40 games, but just 97 of them have gone in. That's 7.7 percent. That means goalies are stopping 92.3 percent of shots the Phantoms throw at them, which would tie for the eighth-best save percentage of any single goaltender in the American Hockey League.

"This is a team that's relied on our power play all year," Manning said. "Tonight, you see there's a lot of five-on-five hockey. We have to find a way to score goals five-on-five. You're not going to win many games when you're scoring only one or two goals. We have to bail out our goalies. There's been games where they've been there for us, but you have to find a way to score goals or else you're not going to win hockey games."

More tomorrow afternoon from Albany. I've heard they've already sold 8,000 tickets for that one.
-- MC

Pre-Game vs. Albany 1/25

Tonight's preview post is up early, but that's because there have been several developments today.

First, remember how TSN reported yesterday that Philadelphia had placed Trenton goalie Niko Hovinen on waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract? Well, it won't come to that because the Edmonton Oilers claimed the goaltender off waivers. Things never worked out for him in the Philadelphia organization, but maybe a change of scenery will do the goaltender well.

Secondly, multiple reports out of Philadelphia indicate Phantoms defenseman Andreas Lilja is heading to the Flyers. Andrej Meszaros left last night's win over the Rangers with an injury. When I first read Meszaros was hurt, I thought "Wouldn't it be something if they called up Brandon Manning and the AHL had to replace the replacement for the All-Star game?" Looks like it won't come to that. The good thing about the new collective bargaining agreement is there's no re-entry waivers, so Lilja can join the Flyers and not have to worry about another team claiming him for half-salary.

Also this morning pair of Phantoms held court with the media in their new cities. Cal Heeter spoke with The Trentonian's Mike Ashmore and said he was honestly surprised that he was sent to the ECHL. Meanwhile, original Adirondack Phantoms forward David Laliberte is back in Glens Falls.

First, Heeter, who assigned to Trenton after Hovinen was waived. From Ashmore's Inside the Trenton Titans blog:
"I wouldn’t say I’m happy that this is the position I’m in, but I understand why I’m here," he said. "From what I was told, it wasn’t due to playing performance or anything, it was just due to logistics.  They want to get (goalie Brian) Boucher a lot of games up there in Adirondack, so they didn’t want me just sitting on the bench and not getting a lot of playing time and experience in games.  So they sent me down here so I can keep playing, get a lot of games and continue to improve and work on my game."
Phantoms coach Terry Murray and Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren both have said the three-goalie dynamic the Phantoms had been using over the past week was not ideal, so this is the apparent resolution to it. Boucher and Scott Munroe will be the tandem in Adirondack, though last week Murray seemed pretty keen on the Boucher-Heeter tandem, but few things help development like playing time. So Heeter will get some more of that in in the ECHL, platooning with Devils farmhand Scott Wedgewood, and Trenton is closer to Philadelphia (and the Flyers' goalie coaches) than Glens Falls is. As for how long Heeter will be there, Ashmore  Tweeted a quote from the goalie: "If it's a week (here), OK. If it's a month, sure. If it's the rest of the season, what are you going to do about it?"

Next, the Phantoms caught up with Laliberte this morning.

He had 46 points in Adirondack's first season back in 2009-10, and was traded to Anaheim in the Patrick Maroon deal in November 2010. He is coming off an ACL injury he suffered while playing in Germany last season and had an eight-month recovery period. He signed an ECHL deal with Trenton and posted two points in five games before signing an AHL contract with the Phantoms yesterday.

Based on Laliberte's comments, it seems that eventual AHL jump was the plan from the beginning.

"My agent talked a bit with (Flyers Director of Player Development) Ian Laperriere and we had a good discussion with him," Laliberte said. "He told us 'Go to Trenton, play a couple games.' At the same time, I only had an East Coast deal, so I couldn't go anywhere else. But I think Philly was interested in (me) coming here to the American League. I know pretty much the coaches here and a lot of players here and it's good to be back in Glens Falls too."

As for the knee, Laliberte said it's 100 percent.

"It's probably even stronger than the other one," he said. "No problem with that."

Laliberte said he met with Murray to get a handle on the Phantoms' system, which has changed a little since his first tour of duty in Glens Falls. With a game tonight, he doesn't have much time to learn it.

"It's a little bit different than we used to play, but hockey's hockey," Laliberte said. "It's going to maybe take me a couple games to get to know the system very well and play the way the coach wants to do it, but I'll try my best and try to do it tonight."

Will update this post later tonight with the line combinations and defensive pairings for both teams.

EDIT: And here they are. Keith Kinkaid and Brian Boucher out of the tunnels first. Based on pre-game line rushes, it looks like Erik Gustafsson and Matt Konan could both be returning to the line-up. Jeff Dimmen was the extra defenseman on first run-through, but it will come to a late scratch.

F: Whitney-Zalewski-Butler
Sestito-D. Zajac-Hoeffel
Sislo-K. Zajac-McKelvie
D: Kelly-Gelinas
G: Kinkaid

F: Mangene-Noebels-Akeson
D: Gustafsson-Manning
G: Boucher

Referee: Trevor Hanson. Linesmen: Mike Emanatian, Frank Murphy.

More after the game.

-- MC

Thursday, January 24, 2013

You're the man now, Manndog 1/24

Because of the timing of Brandon Manning's call-up to the Philadelphia Flyers last March, his father did not have a chance to see his son make his NHL debut in person. By the time Manning found out and relayed the news home to his parents in British Columbia, they would have missed the game even if they had caught a flight. The Mannings had to settle for watching the game on TV.

But Manning's father won't have the same problem when it comes to seeing his son make his debut in the American Hockey League All-Star Classic.

His father has been in Glens Falls for the past week on a pre-planned visit to see Manning play some games for the Adirondack Phantoms. He was scheduled to fly back home Sunday morning, but that changed when Manning found out he would be replacing the injured Erik Gustafsson in the Eastern Conference All-Star line-up for Sunday and Monday's events in Providence, R.I. 

"He's trying to work on some flights," said Manning, who has 11 points in 37 games for Adirondack this year. "I'm pretty sure it'll be worth it to flip some strings and stick around a couple extra days."

This family visit has gone a lot better for Manning than the one he got during his rookie season. His mother and sister came to see him around the start of 2012,  but Manning was a healthy scratch for four straight games. That included the AHL Outdoor Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.

"That was pretty disappointing," he said.

Manning's parents did eventually have a chance to see him play in the NHL when the Flyers visited Toronto a few days after his NHL debut. But this weekend's All-Star Game will be the first for Manning at any level of hockey at or above juniors, so he and his father are both pretty excited.

"I think it’ll make it that much better just to be able to share that couple days with him," Manning said.

Phantoms coach Terry Murray said Manning was deserving of the nomination. He had a rough couple months to start the season -- including being dead last in the AHL in plus-minus at one point -- but has bounced back with some of the finest hockey of his young pro career in the past month or so.

"I went through a couple phases there," Manning said. "Definitely a rough month before Christmas where probably for the first time in my career I lost my confidence, lost my way a little bit. Luckily for me they stuck with it with me and helped me move forward. I've been able to find my game here and I think it's helped the team out a little bit. Day by day, I'm just trying to get better and get back to kind of what I was doing last year. So far it's kind of working out. I think this is just another step, a confidence boost in myself in pushing the Phantoms toward the playoffs this year."

Five of Manning's 11 points have come in Adirondack's past eight games. That's about right on par with the nine points he posted in his final 12 AHL games last season, after his four-game NHL stint. Yes, there are Phantoms -- even a Phantoms defenseman -- with more points than Manning this season, but Murray said he was "happy" to see Manning get the nomination after his bounce-back.

"I’m seeing more involvement," Murray said. "He has the puck on his stick longer. He’s making better decisions with the puck. He’s jumping into the offensive zone. He’s scored a couple big goals recently. All of it just tied together, he’s getting to where you need him to be as an alternate and one of the leaders on the team."

The skills competition (7 p.m. Sunday) and game (7 p.m. Monday) are both being broadcast live locally on Time Warner Cable Sports.

If Murray was calling the shots for the AHL Skills Competition Sunday, he'd put Manning in the hardest shot and accuracy shooting contests and also give him a chance in the fastest skater event. Manning said he definitely wants to have his shot clocked, so that was pretty high on the preference list he submitted to the league. But he's not sure how he would do in some of the other events.

"It’s pretty fun to show off," Manning said of his shot. "Some of those skating ones or the puck-carrying ones might be a little dangerous for national TV though."

Gustafsson had 14 points in 24 games, but injured his ankle while blocking a shot in a Dec. 14 loss to Syracuse. He had resumed skating this week, but was "not feeling so good" Thursday, Murray said.

"He can’t play," Murray said, though he did not consider the development a major setback on what has been Gustafsson's six-week road to recovery. "If he could go, he’d be going (Friday against Albany). That’s not an option now."

The hope is that Gustafsson, an AHL All-Star in 2011, will be able to use the four-day All-Star break to rest and be 100 percent when the Phantoms return from the break and resume practicing next Thursday.

More before tomorrow's game.

Changes all around 1/24

Associated Press/Matt Slocum
If you were watching tonight's Philadelphia Flyers game, you saw Tye McGinn get into his first NHL fight — a decisive victory over Kris Newbury.

But McGinn also collided with New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan, and the Associated Press snapped this photo of the hit. Caption contest? Go.

Some of Thursday's biggest news came from Philadelphia, where general manager Paul Holmgren announced winger Scott Hartnell will likely miss four-to-eight weeks with a broken metatarsal.

That would probably help McGinn's chances of sticking in the NHL for the time being, but then the Flyers went out and announced plans to sign former Adirondack Red Wings forward Mike Knuble.

When Brayden Schenn returns from his one-game suspension and Knuble joins the team, Philadelphia will be back to scratching two forwards per game.

Then when Zac Rinaldo recovers from his thigh injury, the Flyers are probably going to have a decision. It remains to be seen how things will work out in the end, but right now McGinn definitely has not looked out of place.


The Phantoms and Flyers also made an assortment of Adirondack-related transactions today.

After winger Mike Testwuide left Wednesday's overtime loss with an injury, the Phantoms turned back the clock and brought back David Laliberte, an original Adirondack Phantoms forward, on an American Hockey League contract. They also signed center Kory Nagy to a professional try-out deal.

Both players had been playing with the ECHL's Trenton Titans. Goaltender Niko Hovinen had also been there, but TSN reported the Flyers put the 6-foot-7 Finland native on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. That opened not only the door for signing Knuble, but also gave the organization an extra goaltending spot in the ECHL. And they filled it quickly, sending Cal Heeter to the Titans. That means the Phantoms will go with a Brian Boucher-Scott Munroe tandem.

Let's do this in a news-views format.

News: Laliberte
Views: The 26-year-old has put up pretty solid offensive numbers in his Phantoms seasons and put up 30 points for a German team named Wolfsburg Grizzly Adams last year, but did not exactly tear up the ECHL after joining Trenton. He had two points in five games and missed time after receiving a cortisone shot in his surgically repaired knee. Still, if he can channel the 46-point season he had for the Phantoms back in 2009-10, he could really be a nice pick-up. He also brings veteran leadership.

News: Nagy
Views: He's on a professional try-out, which are generally more short-term deals than the full-fledged AHL contracts like the one Laliberte signed. He had 15 points in 36 points with Trenton, but was mostly used in a defensive role. The former Albany Devil, who had been on an ECHL-only deal in Trenton, can probably slot right in on the team's energy line now that Testwuide is out with an injury.

News: Hovinen
Views: Releasing Hovinen not only opened up a goalie spot in Trenton, but also gave the Flyers an extra contract that they will use to sign Knuble. But things just didn't seem to pan out for him, as he lost the training camp battle for a spot in Adirondack to Heeter and then reportedly struggled in Trenton. I'll let Mike Ashmore, who covers the Titans for our Journal Register Company sister paper The Trentonian, handle this one. He's seen Hovinen much more often than I have:
The 24-year-old netminder became the odd man out once the Flyers re-acquired Brian Boucher, but he had fallen out of favor well before then.
Hovinen had earned a reputation as being “lazy” and “aloof” according to several sources — and many point to the game in which he was pulled and subsequently called out in the media by Titans head coach Vince Williams as the beginning of the end.
News: Heeter
Views: Boucher needs starts to work his way back into game shape and it wouldn't do Heeter much good to sit on the bench. The timing is a little curious, given the fact that last week Phantoms coach Murray said the Phantoms would go with a Boucher-Heeter tandem and Heeter would be the odd man out. But Trenton plays three-in-three this weekend and already took its All-Star break. The Phantoms have two games this week and then go on a four-day All-Star break. Heeter will get some work in.

Speaking of the All-Star break, Phantoms defenseman Brandon Manning was named an American Hockey League All-Star Thursday. He will replace defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who will miss the event with an ankle injury. Talked to Manning and Murray about that this afternoon and I'll have some more on that in a blog post that will be up later tonight. It's also in print tomorrow along with a feature on Jason Akeson, whose mother is in remission from a rare form of cancer. Tomorrow is Pink in the Rink night, with a special pink jersey auction benefiting the C.R. Wood Cancer Center.

Until next time,

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Whale 6, Phantoms 5 (OT) 1/23

It has been a long time since the Phantoms last won a game in Hartford.

Brandon Segal scored with 57 seconds left in overtime as the Connecticut Whale thwarted the Adirondack Phantoms’ comeback and skated away with a 6-5 victory Wednesday night at XL Center.

Adirondack rallied from a 5-1 deficit with four consecutive goals – including two in the final two minutes of regulation – but ultimately could not break a seven-year streak of losses in Hartford.

The Phantoms franchise has not won at the XL Center since a 3-2 shootout victory on Dec. 10, 2005.

The Phantoms were then based in Philadelphia, the Whale was called the Hartford Wolf Pack and the United Hockey League’s Adirondack Frostbite had a goalie named Derek Gustafson on their roster. He is not to be confused with current Phantoms defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who had yet to enroll in college.

Segal’s overtime winner was his second tiebreaker of Wednesday night.

Mashinter and Adirondack’s Danny Syvret traded goals in the first period, but Segal snapped the 1-1 tie before first intermission with a power play goal that got past Adirondack goaltender Cal Heeter. It marked the first of four straight Whale goals, as Connecticut went on to build a 5-1 lead midway through the game.

Brandon Mashinter, Jason Wilson, Kelsey Tessier and Micheal Haley (power play) also scored for Connecticut, with Haley’s goal capping the Whale’s three-goal second period 10:33 into the frame.

But the Phantoms stormed back with four special teams goals of their own to force overtime.

Harry Zolnierczyk scored less than two minutes after Haley’s goal and Rob Bordson got a shorthanded marker early in the third period as the Phantoms cut the deficit to 5-3.

They pulled goaltender Brian Boucher, who relieved Heeter after Tessier scored the Whale’s fourth goal, for an extra attacker late in the third period and got a power-play tally from Jason Akeson with 1:45 left. With Boucher still on the bench, rookie Marcel Noebels found the equalizer with 21 seconds to go.

Noebels’ fourth goal in his past five games gave the Phantoms (17-19-2-1) a standings point, but defenseman Brandon Manning fired a shot high and wide in overtime. Moments later, at the other end of the ice, Segal skated in from the backdoor and chipped the puck past Boucher to end the game.

Connecticut, which received 34 saves from rookie goalie Jason Missiaen, improved to 18-20-3-1.

Heeter finished with 16 saves. Boucher stopped 11-of-13 shots in relief and took the loss.

The Phantoms host Albany at 7 p.m. Friday, then visit the Devils at 2 p.m. Saturday.

More after practice tomorrow.

Rising stars 1/23

The American Hockey League has announced some changes to the rosters for its upcoming All-Star Classic, but defenseman Erik Gustafsson is still the only Adirondack Phantoms player listed on the Eastern Conference roster.

Gustafsson, who was also named an AHL All-Star in 2011, posted 14 points in 24 games for the Phantoms this season. But he has been out of the line-up since Dec. 14, when he blocked a shot and injured his ankle in a game against Syracuse. The defenseman resumed skating this week and has said he hopes to participate in the event, set for Sunday and Monday in Providence, R.I. If he can not play, the league will name another Phantom in his place.

Some of the replacement players were announced Wednesday.

Norfolk Admirals forward Emerson Etem, Binghamton Senators defenseman Eric Gryba, Syracuse Crunch defenseman Radko Gudas, Worcester Sharks forward Bracken Kearns, St. John’s IceCaps defenseman Derek Meech, Providence Bruins forward Jamie Tardif and Hershey Bears forward Jeff Taffe have been added to the Eastern Conference team. Hamilton Bulldogs forward Gabriel Dumont, Toronto Marlies forward Matt Frattin and Chicago Wolves defenseman Brad Hunt have joined the Western Conference squad.

They will replace 10 players who are either currently on NHL rosters or have recently missed time with injures, making them unavailable. They are Binghamton’s Andre Benoit, Portland’s Alexandre Bolduc, Providence’s Chris Bourque, Norfolk’s Peter Holland, Worcester’s Tim Kennedy and Hershey’s Tomas Kundratek in the Eastern Conference and St. John’s Zach Redmond and Hamilton’s Brendan Gallagher, Toronto’s Mike Kostka and Chicago’s Brett Sterling in the Western Conference.

The updated AHL All-Star rosters are below. In other news, Brayden Schenn was suspended one game for charging New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov on Tuesday night.


Robin Lehner, Binghamton Senators
Curtis McElhinney, Springfield Falcons
Niklas Svedberg, Providence Bruins

Mark Barberio, Syracuse Crunch
Matt Donovan, Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Tim Erixon, Springfield Falcons
Eric Gryba, Binghamton Senators
Radko Gudas, Syracuse Crunch
Erik Gustafsson, Adirondack Phantoms
Derek Meech, St. John's IceCaps
David Rundblad, Portland Pirates

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, Springfield Falcons
Beau Bennett, W-B/Scranton Penguins
Bobby Butler, Albany Devils
Emerson Etem, Norfolk Admirals
Tyler Johnson, Syracuse Crunch
Bracken Kearns, Worcester Sharks
Chad Kolarik, Connecticut Whale
Nino Niederreiter, Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Richard Panik, Syracuse Crunch
Jeff Taffe, Hershey Bears
Jamie Tardif, Providence Bruins
Tyler Toffoli, Manchester Monarchs
Trent Whitfield, Providence Bruins ("C")


Barry Brust, Abbotsford Heat
Petr Mrazek, Grand Rapids Griffins
Justin Peters, Charlotte Checkers

Victor Bartley, Milwaukee Admirals
Chad Billins, Grand Rapids Griffins
Adam Clendening, Rockford IceHogs
Mark Cundari, Peoria Rivermen
Brad Hunt, Chicago Wolves
Michal Jordan, Charlotte Checkers
Brayden McNabb, Rochester Americans
Jamie Oleksiak, Texas Stars

Andrew Agozzino, Lake Erie Monsters
Mark Arcobello, Oklahoma City Barons
Gabriel Dumont, Hamilton Bulldogs
Matt Fraser, Texas Stars
Matt Frattin, Toronto Marlies
Ryan Hamilton, Toronto Marlies
Quintin Laing, Abbotsford Heat ("C")
Gustav Nyquist, Grand Rapids Griffins
Kevin Porter, Rochester Americans
Martin St. Pierre, Rockford IceHogs
Mike Sgarbossa, Lake Erie Monsters
Drew Shore, San Antonio Rampage
Jason Zucker, Houston Aeros

More after tonight's game in Connecticut.
-- MC

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday is news day 1/22

 Tye McGinn warms up for the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo: Mike Ashmore / The Trentonian)

First thing's first: Winger Tye McGinn is currently making his National Hockey League debut for the Philadelphia Flyers. Mike Ashmore, who does a fantastic job covering the Trenton Titans and other hockey for our Journal Register Company sister paper, The Trentonian, caught up with him today.

Locally, there was plenty of news to pass along from Adirondack Phantoms practice Tuesday morning. For the print edition, that feature on Ian Slater is finally running. Lots of other stuff happened last week. Brian Boucher arrived McGinn was briefly sent back for the weekend, and Erik Gustafsson was named an All-Star.

The Phantoms had lost four in a row before Slater made his AHL debut. With him in the line-up, the Phantoms are 4-2. Coincidence? Maybe, but you can't argue he's a spark plug.

“I want other players to see that," Phantoms coach Terry Murray said of Slater's work ethic after a recent practice. "That’s important. As a hockey player, you’re supposed to work hard. That’s what we do. We work hard. We want that to be very contagious. It’s always great to have a role model setting an example so that other players just jump on the coat tails and follow.”

OK. Now onto today's news.


There are 10 different letters on the back of Harry Zolnierczyk's uniform.

Saturday night at Worcester, there was yet another letter on the front of it.

With alternate captain Brandon Manning feeling the effects of the flu bug, Murray designated Zolnierczyk an alternate for the Phantoms' game at the Worcester Sharks. The second-year pro winger wore an "A" on the front of his jersey and took the ceremonial face-off before the game.

But when Manning returned to the line-up Sunday in Atlantic City, Zolnierczyk kept the letter. Murray said Tuesday the plan is to use Zolnierczyk, Manning and Danny Syvret as three alternates in the absence of regular captain Ben Holmstrom, who hasn't played since Dec. 8 due to an ACL injury.

Murray has discussed the possibility of naming a new captain in Holmstrom's absence. Last week, Murray said he believed hockey teams needed a captain, but that player "has to be the right person." He is looking for a player with the right leadership skills, and is taking his time before a decision.

"I haven't made my mind up on whether there's going to be a (captain) or not," Murray said Tuesday afternoon. "I have used three 'As' before and I'm going to give it a look and see how it works."

Should he decide to name a captain, Murray said promoting one of the current alternates "would be the normal process," though he was "pretty comfortable" with the arrangement in Atlantic City. He likes having a forward in the mix to communicate with officials and also prepare the team pre-game.

"To me, a big part of the captaincy there are the people who are going to bring the emotion, bring the effort, bring the energy to the game (and) to the practice," Murray said. "You need to be a vocal person. In a lot of situations, you need to be vocal. And not only that, you need to have the ability to go up to a teammate and challenge them to be better -- to change something that's happening here tonight. 'That's not good enough, that's not how we play. We need you to do this.' Not everybody can do that. That's a very difficult thing to challenge another teammate, to push him to the next level or just get him to a better level in that evening. When I watch Harry's personality over the first half of the year, I'm seeing a guy that's got a good relationship with all of the players in there. I see a guy who has got some (NHL) games under his belt from last year. That's recognized by the organization. I think me pushing Harry a little bit now to be more of that kind of person I'm talking about, I think he understands it very clearly and he's readily going to accept the role."

Zolnierczyk wore letters throughout his minor hockey career, then was named captain at Brown during his senior season. He wasn't sure Tuesday if it was a permanent thing or not, but Murray later said Zolnierczyk will wear the "A" tomorrow at Connecticut and keep the letter for the near future.

"I like to take on the responsibility," Zolnierczyk said. "I definitely think that I'd fit that role. I've worn a letter before in my past. Just embrace the role and bring my leadership to this team. Whether I have a letter or not, it's not going to change who I am or the way I play my game, but it's an honor to have a letter on your jersey at the pro level."


Finally had the chance to catch up with Phantoms defenseman Andreas Lilja about the report that he was considering heading overseas to play in his native Sweden. The 37-year-old said he received calls from several overseas teams after he cleared NHL waivers, but he has a family in New Jersey. That makes it a little more difficult -- if not impossible -- for him to just pack up and go overseas.

"I don't think I'm ready to take that jump," Lilja said after the Phantoms practiced Tuesday at the Civic Center. "I still want to play in the NHL. Either way, I want to finish the year off here I think."

Lilja skated with the Phantoms in mid-December while rehabbing from off-season hip surgery, but was never formally added to the team's roster at the time. In the past month, he's been skating on his own and with Philadelphia's lockout gang at the team's training facility in Voorhees, N.J.

He said he felt "really rusty" in Friday's game, his first in nine months.

"I wasn't surprised at all," he said. "When you're coming back after that long of a wait, you know it's going to be tough. I wasn't surprised, I was ready for whatever they were going to throw at me. I know this is a good league. You can't just go in with one skate and think you're going to dominate. I wasn't surprised at all, I just tried to go in there and do my job. The first and second period, I wasn't in it at all. I was trying, but it's hard to get into the game shape, the game rhythm, to find your timing — especially as a defenseman. But I think in the third I woke up. I started to get used to it."

Saturday and Sunday it was "back to usual," Lilja said, and he finished the weekend with two assists.

"To be honest," he said, "I felt the best on Sunday. I don't know what that means, but I feel in good shape."


With McGinn in the NHL -- and starting the game on a power play unit with fellow Phantoms power play fixtures Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier --  Tyler Brown took McGinn's spot in front of the net on the top power play unit.

"He's got good size and that's really what I'm looking for in the front of the net -- a player who's willing to hang in there when the shots are coming from the one-timers off the tips of the circle or the middle of the ice." Murray said. "That's a skill in itself. You have to train your mind to do that. And also he's got the size where he can find the goalie's head and screen the goaltender. It's an opportunity for him."


Defenseman Matt Konan participated for a half-practice, wearing a no-contact jersey. That was planned, Murray said, and he's hopeful Konan will be able to return in the home-and-home against Albany this weekend. Konan was hurt when he collided with the boards during practice on Jan. 2.

Center Garrett Roe is probably two and a half to three weeks away from returning from an upper-body injury he suffered the injury on a hit he took while killing a penalty Jan. 12 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Murray said.

Gustafsson, who suffered an ankle injury while blocking a shot Dec. 14, skated before practice, Murray said, though he did not participate during the drills. Gustafsson was selected as Adirondack's representative for the All-Star game, and a decision on his status will need to be made this week.

Murray said he has been in contact with the American Hockey League about this. "If he's not able to get into the game, then we have to notify them quickly and get an alternate."


Murray, when asked about pugilist Zack FitzGerald's contribution to the Phantoms, offered a gem.

"It's a role that nobody wants to play," Murray said. "There are guys that are willing to jump in on our hockey club -- I don't mean that -- but it's a very hard role when you walk out of the door every morning and you go to the game. Maybe somebody's going to punch you in the face. That's not much fun. But he accepts it, he knows it, he understands it and he does it very well."


Former RPI goalie and Phantoms standout Neil Little, now a scout with the Philadelphia Flyers, was at practice helping out Adirondack's three goaltenders. He'll be here for the week, Murray said. I talked with little briefly after practice, so look for the highlights of that on the blog tomorrow.

Then we'll have the post-game blog up after the Whale game.

Until next time,

Monday, January 21, 2013

McGinn headed to Philadelphia 1/21

After a successful training camp stint with the Philadelphia Flyers last week, Adirondack Phantoms winger Tye McGinn cemented himself as the top candidate to earn a National Hockey League call-up in the event of an injury.

But McGinn was probably a little surprised at just how quickly that call came.

The second-year pro was formally recalled to the Flyers Monday afternoon, some 24 hours after former Phantoms forward Zac Rinaldo left the Flyers' loss to Buffalo after colliding with Sabres defenseman Robyn Regher and five days after the Flyers made McGinn their first (and only) forward cut from camp.

The collision in Sunday's game resulted in Regehr's skate cutting Rinaldo above the winger's knee, Flyers' inside reporter Anthony SanFilippo wrote on the Flyers' website, and Rinaldo needed 20 stitches to close the wound.

The Flyers are scheduled to visit the New Jersey Devils Tuesday. They do have two healthy forwards in reserve in Jody Shelley and former Phantom Tom Sestito, but it would be surprising if the Flyers called up McGinn just to have him sit. They really like McGinn's willingness to pay the price in front of the net to screen goaltenders, redirect pucks and smash home rebounds to score blue-collar goals.

If McGinn does play Tuesday, it will be his NHL debut.

Hints of a McGinn call-up began trickling in shortly after McGinn scored the game-winning goal in Adirondack's 3-2 shootout victory over the Albany Devils Sunday evening in Atlantic City. 

Phantoms defenseman Oliver Lauridsen and forward Jason Akeson and former Adirondack center Luke Pither all Tweeted congratulatory messages to McGinn, who also scored Friday and Saturday night. McGinn's older brother, Colorado Avalanche winger Jamie McGinn, posted a message as well.

But the transaction wasn't official until Rinaldo visited the doctor Monday morning and the Flyers learned he would not be able to play with the stitches in his leg, SanFillipo wrote on the team's site.

Rinaldo is expected to miss at least a week, according to SanFilippo's report.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ben Holmstrom update 1/20

Adirondack Phantoms captain Ben Holmstrom underwent knee surgery Dec. 20 to reconstruct the ACL that he tore in a shootout win earlier that month.

Exactly one month after that procedure, Holmstrom watched the Phantoms win another shootout. The winger was in attendance Sunday evening as the Phantoms handed the Albany Devils a 3-2 shootout loss in Atlantic City, N.J., not all that far from Voorhees, where Holmstrom is rehabbing his right knee.

"It's coming along well," Holmstrom told Adirondack's play-by-play man, Bob Rotruck, during the radio broadcast's intermission report. "It's a slow process, but so far everything is good as can be expected."

Holmstrom injured his knee during Adirondack's Dec. 8 shootout win against Syracuse. He shot the puck down the ice during a second-period penalty kill, but immediately knew something was wrong.

"I kind of stopped and had all my weight on my right leg and something just popped," Holmstrom told Rotruck on the intermission report. "It was kind of a weird thing, I guess. It didn't feel right right away and I got off the ice. Obviously it turned out to be, you know, worst-case scenario."

There was a was a two-week period when Holmstrom and the Philadelphia Flyers organization hoped that would not be the case. The knee swelled, and that needed to subside before doctors could do the procedure and fully know the extent of the injury. There was hope the ACL had not been torn and that the only damage was to the knee's meniscus, but the procedure determined that was not the case.

"It was kind of an up-and-down process there waiting," Holmstrom said on the intermission report. "First you thought it was as bad as it can be. Then you got a little bit of good news hoping for the best. As it turned out, it was a lot longer than you'd like. That's the way it goes."

The injury carries a four-to-six month recovery time, the Flyers announced at the time of the procedure. One month into that rehabilitation process, Holmstrom is back walking and exercising.

"I do bike and cardio and I do the stair machine," Holmstrom told Rotruck on the intermission report. "Now we're starting to focus on trying to strengthen all the muscles around it. The first few weeks initially, you're trying to get all your range of motion back in your knee and then you hit a certain point where you have to start trying to get the strength back everywhere." 
Adirondack's last scheduled game is April 21, four months and one day after Holmstrom's procedure. If his knee heals quickly, it is possible he could return before the end of the season or a potential Adirondack playoff run. While the captain said on the intermission report that no date for his return has been set, he also would not definitively say he considered himself as being out for the season.

It all depends on how he progresses during the coming weeks and months, Holmstrom said.

"If it was up to me, I'd try to play tomorrow," Holmstrom said to Rotruck during the broadcast. "That's not really what the doctors are recommending right now."

Holmstrom, at the time of his injury, had recorded eight points in 22 games and was a fixture on both Adirondack's power play and penalty kill units. Phantoms coach Terry Murray has not yet named a new captain in Holmstrom's absence.

Second-year pro winger Harry Zolnierczyk, who was designated an alternate captain when alternate Brandon Manning missed Saturday's game at Worcester with flu-like symptoms, kept an "A" on his jersey when the defenseman returned to the line-up Sunday.

The other alternate, veteran blueliner Danny Syvret, scored a key shootout goal to clinch the victory.

On the farm, The Trentonian's Mike Ashmore caught up with prospect goaltender Niko Hovinen, who said a Finnish report that he was headed to back to his homeland was news to him.

Phantoms 3, Devils 2 (SO) 1/20

Here's a stat that I found particularly interesting after Sunday evening's 3-2 Adirondack Phantoms shootout victory over the Albany Devils.

In Danny Syvret's first seven seasons in the American Hockey League, the defenseman was used in all of five shootouts, going 0-for-5 in those attempts.

This season, he's been used in three shootouts and has three game-clinchers.

That includes today. With the Phantoms leading 2-1 in the top of the fifth and final round, Syvret took the puck from the center dot, skated in on goalie Keith Kinkaid and rifled home a shot from between the circles. Ballgame.

It doesn't technically count as the game-winner because the Phantoms won the shootout 3-1, so Tye McGinn's goal in the third round gets that distinction, but it did end the game and give the Phantoms their second win against Albany in six tries this season. The Devils had won the past three meetings.

What was different today? For starters, the Phantoms got pucks to the net throughout the game, not just in the final 20 minutes. They had 12 shots in the first period, which is more than they had through 40 minutes Friday night. And they took a lead on a play that wasn't even going to be a shot.

Jason Akeson sped down the right wing and centered to McGinn, but the puck hit Albany defenseman Alexander Urbom and bounced behind Kinkaid for a power play goal late in the first.

Akeson had himself a game, adding an assist and a shootout tally. Did you know that he leads all Phantoms and Devils with six points in the season series between the two teams? That's pretty impressive, considering he missed three meetings when he began the season in the ECHL.

In addition to marking the halfway point of the 12-game rivalry series, Sunday's game also marked the halfway point of the 78-game regular season. The Phantoms concluded the first half with back-to-back wins and a 17-19-1-1 record, six points out of a very-much-attainable playoff spot.

We've talked about other players needing to step up their game in the second half of the season if the Phantoms are serious about making that playoff push. One of those guys got a jump on it Sunday.

Marcel Noebels also scored in regulation for the Phantoms, giving him three goals in his past four games. This time, late in the third period, Akeson sped down the other wing and his centering feed found its way past defensemen and Noebels banged it home during a four-on-four.

Albany erased one goal deficits by basically mirroring the manner in which the Phantoms scored.

First, Phil DeSimone scored on a power-play in the second period after Syvret and Rob Bordson got caught on the ice for the entire 61-second duration of Oliver Lauridsen's slashing minor. That made it 1-1. Jay Leach scored on a four-on-four with 2:21 left in the third period to force the shootout on a bad-angle shot from near the goal line. The AHLLive feed was awful today and I didn't get a good look at how that in, but if it was one that Cal Heeter wanted back the goalie more than made up for it.

He stopped all five Albany shots he faced in overtime and then 3-of-4 in the shootout. Matt Anderson beat him with a great shot over his glove, but he turned aside DeSimone, Mike Sislo and Steve Zalewski.  Interestingly, each of Heeter's past three wins have come in either overtime or a shootout. Albany, meanwhile, fell to 0-8 in shootouts, which is the worst in the American Hockey League.

Akeson and McGinn's shootout goals were on nifty forehand-backhand moves. Really showed what McGinn can do with his hands when he gets the opportunity. Speaking of an opportunity for McGinn, winger Zac Rinaldo left today's Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 loss in Buffalo with what club general manager Paul Holmgren said was a lower-body injury, according to the Flyers' official Twitter feed.

NBC analyst Pierre McGuire said on the network's telecast of the game Rinaldo was cut with a skate.

After tonight's game, check out some of the messages that started popping up on Twitter.

Former teammate Luke Pither, a current teammate in Lauridsen, and then his brother Jamie McGinn. Seems like Tye McGinn could be on his way to Philadelphia, though no official roster move has been announced. The Flyers aren't practicing tomorrow and neither are the Phantoms, so they really don't have to make any official transaction until Tuesday. That may allow them to save on some cap space.

I suppose it may also depend on the severity of the Rinaldo injury. Yes, Philadelphia has two reserve forwards in Tom Sestito and Jody Shelley. But if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck...

The Phantoms had captain Ben Holmstrom, who was rehabbing his knee in Voorhees, N.J., on today's intermission report. I'll have some highlights from that in a blog post that will be up later tonight. You'll remember he tied last year's Outdoor Classic against the Hershey Bears before Shane Harper won it in overtime. Well, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Riley Holzapfel played the role of Holmstrom and Paul Thompson pulled a Harper in this afternoon's Outdoor Classic victory at Hersheypark Stadium.

Until next time,

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Phantoms 2, Sharks 1 1/19

They got into penalty trouble, which wore down their penalty killers, and the opposition made them pay for it by scoring a power-play goal that proved to have a significant outcome on the game.

How many times have we said that about the Adirondack Phantoms this season?

Tonight, though, it was the Worcester Sharks that didn't do themselves any favors by taking penalties. Adirondack had seven straight power plays over the final 40 minutes -- including four in a span of about eight minutes in the second period -- and Tye McGinn scored the game-winner on one of them.

With the score tied 1-1 and former Phantoms forward Jon Matsumoto off serving a slashing minor midway through the second period, Danny Syvret launched a shot from the right point. Worcester goalie Alex Stalock made the initial stop, but McGinn banged in the rebound from the slot at 11:23.

That 2-1 score held through the end of the game thanks in large part to some spectacular goaltending from NHL veteran Brian Boucher, who was assigned to the Phantoms on Thursday. He made 28 saves in his first appearance since April 2012 -- and 14 of them came in an impressive third period.

The Phantoms were outshot 14-4 over the final 20 minutes, but Boucher turned aside all those shots. The most impressive stop came with 2:23 to go in the third period, when John McCarthy faked out a defenseman and got himself a breakaway. Boucher calmly stuck his pad out to preserve the win.

I think McGinn and Boucher are going to make nice call-ups for the Flyers, should the need arise.

After scoring 12 goals in 63 games as a rookie, McGinn already has 11 in 32 games as  this season. Five of them came on the power play and he's really committed to playing that big-body role in front of the net. He also has goals in back-to-back games since returning from Philadelphia's training camp.

Boucher is everything you would want in a No. 3 goaltender. The Flyers know what they have in him.

Someone else who is renewing a case for a call-up? Winger Harry Zolnierczyk, who buzzed his way around the ice. Can think of at least three times tonight when he turned on the jets and just blew past defenders. Didn't score, but he did chase down a dump in to set up Cullen Eddy's opening tally.

There was a point early in the season where I would have put Zolnierczyk above some guys that are currently with the Flyers on the organization's depth chart, but his offense tailed off markedly since the start of December. Had eight points in 19 games to start the season, then just one in his next 16.

But he's now back in more of a scoring role on Adirondack's top two lines. He has one assist in each of Adirondack's games this weekend. Tonight, he wore an alternate captain's "A" in the absence of alternate Brandon Manning, who was scratched with what was announced as "flu-like symptoms."

I am not sure if Zolnierczyk's "A" will translate to a permanent thing or not. When Manning returns, he will almost assuredly get a letter back. But Murray has said he would like a forward to join the letter-wearing ranks. I think Zolnierczyk would have to be near the top of the list of candidates there.

Brodie Reid had Worcester's goal, which came off an Adirondack turnover in their own end. They rimmed the puck along the boards, but the Sharks cut it off. Seconds later, they work it to the slot and Reid bangs it in. But there's nothing that says momentum-killer like seven straight penalty kills.

Three fights in this one: Matt Pelech, who plays a very physical game, leveled Eddy in the right-wing corner. Ian Slater leapt to Eddy's defense and held his own despite giving up at least five inches to Pelech. Then Bracken Kearns hit Matt Ford hard and Eddy came to his defense, so Eddy finished one assist shy of a Gordie Howe hat trick. Zack FitzGerald and Pelech went in the second period after Pelech hit Bordson hard. Lots of guys sticking up for each other against a hard-nosed Sharks team.

Schenectady-born and Clifton Park-raised defenseman Nick Petrecki did not play for Worcester. He was one of several players called up to the San Jose Sharks after the NHL lockout’s resolution.

Speaking of several players getting called up to the NHL, a former Phantom recorded an assist today.

Speaking of former Phantoms, Carter Hutton did not have himself a good day. He, teammate Alec Richards and the Rockford IceHogs were the victims of a 11-6 mudhole stomping at the hands (feet?) of the Grand Rapids Griffins. But Hutton did apparently win a goalie fight with Petr Mrazek as part of a donnybrook that broke out in that one at the 11:58 mark of the second period. Thirteen players were ejected at that one moment -- five Griffins and eight IceHogs, including Hutton.

Will be sure to pass along some video when it pops up on YouTube. EDIT: Here it is.

Closer to home, Bridgeport beats Binghamton. Jason Missiaen has 32 saves as Connecticut downs Portland 4-1. Paul Dainton makes 35 saves, then goes 4-of-5 in the shootout as Springfield tops tomorrow's opponent, Albany, 2-1. In goals that are not agate-friendly, that match-up gives us: 1, Springfield, Drazenovic 12 (Erixon, Audy-Marchessault), 7:10 (pp). Back out west, an interesting report out of Oklahoma City. NewsOK says former NHL All-Star Jonathan Cheechoo attended the Barons game. I suppose that's one way to replace Jordan Eberle and company.

More after the game tomorrow. If you were planning on heading to Albany, don't, as the game is in Atlantic City. If you were planning on heading to Atlantic City, always bet on black.

-- MC

Friday, January 18, 2013

Devils 4, Phantoms 3 1/18

Props to Saratogian photographer Ed Burke for this shot of Jason Akeson's first-period goal.

Let's begin with the obvious in Adirondack's 4-3 loss to the Albany Devils.

With 1.4 seconds to go in tonight's game, Albany goaltender Keith Kinkaid was prone in the crease and the Adirondack Phantoms chipped the puck over him and into the back of the net. Referee Geno Binda immediately signaled a washout, or no-goal, as the net had been dislodged from its moorings.

Crazy end to a period in which the Phantoms really seemed to turn on the afterburners and outshot the Devils 21-4. One of their best. After the game, Phantoms coach Terry Murray argued the equalizing goal should have counted regardless because Kinkaid had pushed the net off. Here's a direct quote from him: "We got close. I even think that goal at the end was a legal goal. Even though their goalie knocked the net off, I don't think it really matters if the net's on the mooring in those situations."

I checked the AHL rule book about this and I think I found a couple relevant passages.
"63.6 Awarded Goal - In the event that the goal post is displaced, either deliberately or accidentally, by a defending player, prior to the puck crossing the goal line between the normal position of the goalposts, the Referee may award a goal."
 OK, so maybe he's onto something and the Phantoms got gypped. However, the next paragraph: 
"In order to award a goal in this situation, the goal post must have been displaced by the actions a defending player, the puck must have been shot (or the player must be in the act of shooting) at the goal prior to the goal post being displaced, and it must be determined that the puck would have entered the net between the normal position of the goal posts."
Emphases mine, and I'm not so sure the Phantoms had shot the puck before the net was dislodged. I'm not even sure the Phantoms were in the act of shooting the puck. And while there is a provision in the rules (63.2) for a penalty if a defender does deliberately shove the net off, no Devil was given one.

No excuses, though. The game was not lost on that play. If anything, it was lost in the first 40 minutes when the Phantoms had a grand total of nine shots on Kinkaid. Albany peppered Cal Heeter with 31.

"If you keep playing like that -- unless your goaltender is extremely hot that night and shuts them down himself -- it's very hard to get out of it," Murray said. "Heeter played well. He made some big stops. He gave us a chance. We just have to play better. That's all. You have to play the game with emotion and intensity and compete and that's where it got to in the third period."

Yes, the Phantoms were up 2-1 at one point. Albany made a couple of mistakes and the Phantoms capitalized on them, Jason Akeson poked a bouncing puck past Kinkaid and Marcel Noebels banged in a backhander after the Phantoms dug a puck out from behind the net. But they made far too many mistakes of their own -- namely turnovers, which has been one of their biggest problems all season.

“They had 31 shots after two periods,” Murray said of the Devils. “I think 18 of them probably came off our sticks with the passing or turnovers. We’re just not managing pucks at all. They ended up just hemming us in. We couldn’t do a thing that was right.”

Joe Whitney had a really good game for the Devils, setting up a Matt Anderson goal and then scoring two of his own. Jason Akeson countered with a three-point game of his own, busting out of a slump.

He had 10 points in his first nine games since getting called up from ECHL Trenton, then just three in his next 12. With tonight's showing, he is now in sole possession of the scoring lead among players on the Adirondack roster with 16 points. Tye McGinn also scored in his return to the AHL.

“When you only have nine or so shots after 40 minutes, something’s wrong," McGinn said. "We came into the dressing room and we addressed that. We weren't putting the puck to the net in the first 40.”

By the time the Phantoms started doing that, it was too late.
“When our backs are against the wall, we’re a pretty good team,” winger Mike Testwuide said. “When we’re desperate and working hard, we’re a pretty good team. But early in games, we don’t have that.”

Therein lies the problem.

Focused the print story on how Albany used to not be able to buy a win in this building, going 2-10-2-1 in their first 15 visits to the Civic Center.  But they've now won two in a row here in Glens Falls have beaten the Phantoms four out of five times this season.

"So what? They beat us," Murray said. "It doesn't matter in the five, six games. It doesn't matter. They beat us. It's tonight that matters. And we were not good tonight. We got better in the third period. We've played very well against them and lost games. We lost a 2-1 game down there where the puck's bouncing over, in short-side. Those are the way things go sometimes. There's nothing to talk about outside of the fact they've beat us in those games."

Testwuide offered some insight on why Albany has been successful against the Phantoms, but ultimately said tonight's game came down to what Adirondack didn't do more than what Albany did.

"They play a pretty defensive style," he said. "They really smother the puck with a bunch of guys. Tonight we came out pretty slow and they took advantage of our slow start. We built too big of a deficit and then we couldn't come back."

They made it interesting, though.

"The third period was Phantoms Hockey," Testwuide said. "That's what we do. We get on the pucks, we pressure everything. We play hard. The first two periods, we didn't come with a good enough effort tonight."

-- Didn't have the chance to take to Andreas Lilja after the game to address the report that came out of Sweden I referred to in my pre-game post. I probably won't have another chance to ask him about it until the team is back on the ice for practice Tuesday. He's here and he's playing for the time being. His assist on Marcel Noebels' goal was Lilja's first AHL point since the 2001-02 season.

-- Not playing -- at least not for the final two periods tonight -- was defenseman Brandon Manning, who Murray said is "sick." He played the first period, but then didn't come out for the second. Zack FitzGerald, who had been skating at left wing, then dropped back to defense. If Manning can't play tomorrow or Sunday, the Phantoms always have the opportunity of putting Blake Kessel back in.

-- Brian Boucher did not play, as was planned. Scott Munroe was the back-up. We'll see if that changes tomorrow night when they visit Schenectady-born, Clifton Park-raised Nick Petrecki's Worcester Sharks or travel to Atlantic City Sunday to play these same Devils.

More after the game tomorrow.
-- MC