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.
A TO Z
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."
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR YOU?
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
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,