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.


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