PHILADELPHIA – Never mind that the Adirondack Phantoms find themselves at the bottom of the standings.
Nevermind that they coughed up a lead in less than two minutes late in the third period to lose 2-1 to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins Friday.
Because for once, moral victories are perfectly O.K.
That’s because the Phantoms played a pretty darn good game Friday, and did so at the Wells Fargo Center, in front of a packed house and all the Flyers management.
And it was a treat for what the veterans call “a young team.”
“There is lots of time for moral victories, absolutely,” said coach Terry Murray. “That’s part of the process of growing up and becoming a good pro player. You have to celebrate the little things. There are lots of good things that happened in this game. We are becoming more of a consistent, young group of players here. We were battling right through the last minute of the game.
“There are a lot of positives we will take out of this. At the end of the day, what we need to understand is that there is a very thin line in this game.”
And ultimately, Murray is right. A lot of players, who never get the chance to play hockey in the NHL, had an opportunity Friday to play in front of a raucous crowd bigger than even the town they grew up in.
Take rookie Ian Slater for instance. Slater’s hometown of Satellite Beach, Fla. has approximately 10,000 residents.
The Wells Fargo Center Friday nearly doubled that.
So, Slater made the best of his experience in front of a hockey-crazed crowd and got himself immersed in a good fight with Penguins chirper Bobby Farnham.
Slater got the better of Farnham and then fed off the roar of the crowd, egging them on to cheer even louder.
““It was unbelievable,” Slater said. “It’s tough to even put in words to play in front of a crowd and fans that are so willing to show up for the farm club like this and it was unbelievable energy. We have some of the best fans. It was an unbelievable experience.”
The Phantoms got on the board first with a power play goal from Marcel Noebels, who scored his sixth goal of the season by banging in the rebound of a Matt Mangene shot for 1-0.
It was a solid first period for the Phantoms, but things slowly started to deteriorate in the second period as the Phantoms allowed themselves to get too spread out, allowing Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to have more space to operate.
Were it not for Phantoms goalie Cal Heeter, who was excellent in net until the final goal of the game – the Pens might have jumped ahead sooner.
“Heeter played great for us all night,” said Brandon Manning. “We need to help our goalies more and it’s hard to win games when you only score one goal. That’s something we need to keep building on and finding. I think in the second period we only had four or five shots on net. We just need to find a way to create more.
“We don’t get to lead after the first very often and when we have I think we’ve been good. If you can go up two or three goals going into the third, it makes a big difference.”
But the Phantoms never could, and a bad clear led to the tying goal by Farnham and a pop fly puck that landed at the feet of Brian Gibbons who squeezed a shot through Heeter that proved to be the game-winner.
“I saw it fairly early,” Heeter said. “That one’s my fault. I was getting over and I should have had my legs squeezed together, but I didn’t, the puck took that hop and it went off my knee and into the net. It was just an unfortunate circumstance.”
Nevertheless, the Phantoms took a lot out of their experience playing in a NHL barn, and aside from the result, felt their time here was well spent.
“I was really happy for the young guys to be able to play in that kind of environment,” Murray said. “It’s tremendous for them, the experience they are now going to take out of this game as far as handling the focus, handling the pressure, handling the responsibility of coming out and playing well.
“I thought we came out and played very good in the first period. We had our feet moving. We got into the second period and we got a little bit too far away from each other to give the support and they started coming through us and got a lot of scoring opportunities. At the end of the day, [Cal] Heeter played well and kept us there and we had a chance in the third period.”
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