Alderson, Cousins reunited 4/12
They have gone from being two of the oldest players in their locker room to two of the youngest.
Their demeanor around each other, however, has not changed. The two forwards, the best of friends, were near inseparable in their final season of junior hockey. They played on the same line. They lived in the same house. And now, they are embarking on their pro careers together.
“Those two guys have great chemistry,” Phantoms coach Terry Murray said earlier this week. “When you speak to them in meetings individually, they always compliment each other and the kind of chemistry and feel they had for each other. That’s an important part of the game.”
Cousins and Alderson have taken slightly different paths to the American Hockey League.
Cousins, 19, is a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, their third-round choice in 2011. He has been a perennial point producer in the Ontario Hockey League, and has grown his totals from 68 in his draft year to 88 last season to 103 this year, the 10th-highest total in all Canadian major juniors.
Alderson, 21, was an undrafted free agent that had never really emerged as a top-tier scoring threat until this season, his overage year, when he produced 28-36-64 in 67 games with the Greyhounds. That about equaled the 69 points he scored in his two prior seasons combined.
The Flyers signed him to an entry-level contract in March, and he joined the Phantoms when his junior season ended earlier last week. Alderson made his professional debut while Cousins stayed back in Sault Ste. Marie to answer to a sexual assault charge, which was ultimately withdrawn.
“It was tough mentally,” he said. “Obviously, it was a long eight months for me – and my family as well – but at the same time, you have to block all that stuff out and go out and play hockey. When I stepped on the ice, nothing else mattered other than just playing hockey and playing my game.”
Now that they have both settled in, Murray has reunited the two Greyhounds on the same line: Cousins stands at center, with Rob Bordson to his left and Alderson manning the right wing.
“It gives me a little bit of familiarity out there,” Alderson said of the line earlier this week. “We worked well together in junior. Hopefully it will translate over here the next couple of games.”
Their individual styles of play are conducive for the other to be successful.
Alderson stands at 6-foot-4, and is the more physical of the two players. He crashed and banged to create room for the 5-foot-11 Cousins to work his magic in the offensive zone. Cousins was a visionary with the puck, and recorded 76 assists. That was second in the OHL, 16 above the No. 3.
Alderson reaped the benefits of that, scoring a career-high 28 goals. He thought the game like a shooter, and liked to drive wide down the wing. As he did that, Cousins would go to the center of ice and draw defenders with him before dropping it off to Alderson for a shot. Another popular play saw Cousins turn up in the slot and hit Alderson as the trailer, creating more quality chances.
“I don’t want to pump his tires (i.e. inflate his ego), but he’s a big body,” Cousins said. “He creates space for me and he knows where to be on the ice. I know where to find him and I know when he wants the puck. We complement each other well. He sees the ice well. He’s a smart player.”
Here’s the interesting part: The Phantoms don’t plan to break the two of their creativity or chemistry.
The Phantoms have their own system, which is different than the one they are used to playing in Sault Ste. Marie, but players have some wiggle room when it comes to play below the face-off dot. From there, it becomes less of a rote, tactical approach and more of an individual using his talent.
“The systems that we play, it kind of fits my style of game,” Cousins said. “I like to create a lot of stuff on the offensive side of the puck. I think our system fits that way. I’m still new to all the systems. … It’ll take a little bit of adjustment for the first part, but hopefully I fit in well.”
So far, so good. Cousins made his season debut in a 4-1 loss to Bridgeport Sunday, and left a good first impression on the coaching staff. He took the body at any available opportunity, and did not appear nervous. He will look to build on that when the Springfield visits Glens Falls Friday night.
“He wanted to have the puck on his stick,” Murray said. “As a young player, to me, that’s not always the case. Sometimes (in) your first game, you’re a little jittery. You want to get it off your stick and move it right away. He wanted it on the breakouts and through the middle of the ice to attack. I like that kind of an attitude. That’s a little bit of that cockiness, inner arrogance that all pro players need to have in order to be successful.”
There is one noticeable change in Cousins’ game, though. The Phantoms emphasize checking – back and fore – and Alderson joked that Cousins had more hits that game than he did all season in Sault Ste. Marie. Asked about Alderson’s comment, Cousins said that it was a conscious effort.
“I think he’s right,” the center said with a laugh. “If you want to play at the next level, you have to play a 200-foot game. You have to play on both sides of the puck. That’s what I’m trying to improve on every day. That’s where I need to get better if I want to play at the next level. I think that was just the first step of improving my 200-foot game.”