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Adirondack players ready to take next step in 2015-16

by Paul Post / Calgary Flames

GLENS FALLS, NY -- Eleven Adirondack Flames have been called up to Calgary to join the parent Flames during their Stanley Cup playoff run.

But highlights they and other players had during their just-concluded AHL season won’t soon be forgotten.

Several prospects, such as AHL All-Star rookie Emile Poirier, made their NHL debut this year while others skated as a pro for the first time.

“When I look back at my year, I made a lot of progress in a lot of areas,” said Poirier, whose 19 goals (23 assists) tied Garnet Hathaway for second-most on the team behind David Wolf (20). “Now I’ve got to keep going. My goal is to make it to the NHL next year. Now that I’ve been there I know what it takes. The shot I got this year is going to help me for next year.”

Like all players, Poirier enjoyed his time at Adirondack, which plays in Glens Falls, NY, three hours south of Montreal, Poirier’s home town.

“People here love hockey,” he said. “It’s a great city. I liked my time here. It was a great community.”

The franchise is headed to Stockton, California, where it will play in a new AHL Pacific Division next year. Another Calgary affiliate, the Adirondack Thunder of the East Coast league, will replace the Flames in Glens Falls.

Forward Taylor Vause, who spent part of this season at Colorado of the ECHL, believes the Thunder will like Glens Falls just as much as he did.

“It’s a good hockey community,” he said. “That’s one thing we found out even though it’s a small-town atmosphere. That’s one of the good things about that type of community. They really welcome you into the city and cheer you on real loud. Whether it was a small or big crowd, they were really into it and always supporting us. We really appreciated that.”

Despite missing the playoffs, Flames attendance averaged 3,642 per game at the 4,800-seat Glens Falls Civic Center, right behind Western Conference regular-season champion Utica (3,720) and more than teams in much larger cities such as Albany (3,323), Springfield (3,273) and Oklahoma City (3,262). If not for several lightly attended mid-week contests, attendance would have been much higher.

“There were a lot of achievements and there’s a lot of work still to be done,” said Brian Petrovek, Adirondack team president. “But I’m pretty pleased with the overall outcome.”

He was especially impressed with the two large crowds that turned out Saturday (5,257) and Sunday (4,537) to see the Flames’ last two games at Adirondack.

“We knew Saturday was going to be good,” Petrovek said. “But to have that kind of support back-to-back was pretty impressive. I know the guys felt it.”

Petrovek hopes to carry that momentum into next season as Adirondack’s front office begins promoting a new team, in a new league, to the Glens Falls market.

“We did it last year,” he said. “We introduced a new brand. We’ll do it again, but now we’ve got the playbook. We know we’ve got to do it better. It’s all opportunities. It’s all there for us for the taking.”

From beginning to end, 40 different skaters and four goaltenders donned Flames uniforms at Adirondack this year, a new kind of challenge for first-year coach Ryan Huska, who joined the Flames organization following a highly-successful junior hockey career.

“You’re dealing with new people coming into your lineup from the East Coast league, and then you’re losing key players at critical times,” he said. “It was a challenge for sure. The other thing sometimes is the number of bodies you have to deal with.

“There’s times when we were upwards of 30 guys and there’s times when we were close to 21 guys. So there was a pretty big fluctuation in that area. It’s something that you had to learn, as we did, and we’ll be better for it next year.”

After starting out slow (1-5-1-0), the Flames shot up through the standings with a record of 17-5-0-1 from Oct. 25 to Dec. 17, pulling to within two points of first place at one point. A dramatic New Year’s Eve overtime win against Toronto was one of the most memorable games of the season.

With 1:52 to play and the Flames trailing, 2-1, Corban Knight’s penalty shot tied things up, sending the game to OT where Bill Arnold’s goal gave Adirondack a sudden-death 3-2 victory. The sell-out, holiday crowd of 4,821 erupted into a roaring frenzy, setting the stage for a post-game, on-ice fireworks display.

That game typified the never-say-die attitude the Flames exhibited all year.

“We were really close, and in all the games,” Vause said. “It seemed like we always had a comeback in us. That shows a lot of character; not the result we wanted, but at the same time we battled hard and showed that no matter what the score was or wherever we were in the standings, we put up a fight.”

A 10-0 win at home on Feb. 10 against then-first place Syracuse (Northeast Division) was another impressive feat.

“There were a lot of highlights, there really were,” Huska said. “There were some good runs when we were playing really good hockey and we were a hard team to play against. When we have time to reflect on it I think our players as well as our staff will realize how nice it was to play here and the type season we had.”

Vause, too, will remember the camaraderie and fun times in the clubhouse led by the likes of Ryan “The Culprit” Culkin, one of the team’s best pranksters.

“He likes to pull a lot of practical jokes in the room,” Vause said, smiling. “He and our strength coach (Mike Thompson) would really go at it. Ryan was always good with the sink. He’d pull a little trick where he’d switch the faucet over to the sprayer. He’d always get our trainer with that one. We knew when it happened, who it was. It always seemed to work.”

Wolf came half a world away, from Germany, to play at Adirondack. North American hockey was an entirely new experience for him, both on and off the ice.

Of course, his personal highlight was his first ever call-up to Calgary.

“It was my dream to reach the NHL,” he said. “I got my chance here. It was an unbelievable moment for me. That’s why I came over here, to make it happen. I did it and I really appreciate the organization, the coaching staff and management, that they gave me the opportunity.”

Now, like every other player, he’s focused on getting better and doing whatever it takes to reach the next level and stay there.

“We had a lot of ups and downs this whole season,” Wolf said. “We had a great group of guys here with a lot of character. We tried to work hard every time we were on the ice. It wasn’t enough this year. I hope for everyone it’s going to be a better year next year.”

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