One season removed from an outstanding three-year college hockey career at Yale University, Flyers goaltending prospect Alex Lyon navigated the adjustment period to pro hockey and enjoyed a solid 2016-17 campaign with the American Hockey League's Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
"I don't think going from a 30-game season to a 70-game season, at least for me, was so much a physical challenge as an emotional one. Early on, I had to taper how much I put into each game. In a 30-game season, every game is like the Stanley Cup playoffs. It would have been exhausting to try to take that approach for a whole year, so you have to stay on an even keel. To me, that was the biggest adjustment," Lyon said.
The 24-year-old appeared in 47 games, posting a 27-14-5 record, .912 save percentage, 2.74 GAA and four shutouts. He also went 6-for-6 against shootout attackers.
Lyon played behind an attack-oriented Phantoms team that led the circuit in scoring during the regular season. He ranked among the AHL leaders in wins (T-4th), shutouts (T-7th) and shootout save percentage (T-1st).
Teammate Anthony Stolarz was also perfect in shootouts, going 4-for-4.
During the portions of the season when Stolarz was on NHL recall to the Flyers, Lyon played on nearly an every-game basis. When both goalies were available, they shared time or head coach Scott Gordon rode the hotter hand.
Unfortunately, neither Stolarz nor Lyon could play in the most important games of the season. Stolarz suffered a lower-body injury that ended his season on the same night that the Phantoms clinched a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs. Lyon suffered a similar fate in the second game of Lehigh Valley's playoff series with the Hershey Bears.
Callup netminder Martin Ouellette (now a member of the Charlotte Checkers) filled in admirably for the remainder of the series. Despite Ouellete's impressive performance, the Phantoms fell in the best-of-five series, three games to two.
Lyon, who recently signed a one-season extension to his contract, is working out over the summer at the Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ. Stolarz is also there.
"It was pretty [lousy] but that's just part of it and it was a good learning experience," Lyon said of his injury and the rehab process. "It was my first ever bad injury. In one sense, the timing worked out well because I didn't miss much summer training."
Now that he has been through one pro campaign, Lyon said his offseason preparations are more finely tuned. He believes he can get off to a better start come October than he did in the first few starts of his rookie campaign before hitting a groove. He is also aware that he will once again be competing with Stolarz for playing time and a potential NHL callup in the event of injury to Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth.
"There's a head and shoulders difference with me this year compared to last year. A lot of it is confidence, because that's very important with whatever you set out to do in life. I have some experience now, and I have that confidence that I can put my best foot forward right from the outset," Lyon said.
"I dislike sharing time, to be totally honest. But, at the same time, I chose the Flyers organization and I knew all along Stolie was a very good goaltender. It's a situation where we kind of push one another and that can be a good thing for your game."
For his part, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall feels comfortable with having a shared-time arrangement both at the AHL and NHL levels.
"In today's game, you have to have to two good goaltenders, whether you're talking about the National Hockey League level or the American League," added Hextall. "We have a favorable situation in Allentown because we have two capable goalies who can step up. We like both of our goalies. Alex maybe hasn't gotten as much fanfare [in Philadelphia] as Stolie but he has done a good job and we have confidence in him."