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Nodl, Ratchuk Among Phantoms' Young Guns

by Al Alven / Philadelphia Flyers
Though they hail from different continents and play different positions on the ice, Andreas Nodl and Michael Ratchuk have more in common than would be obvious at first glance.

For starters, they are two of the most promising prospects in the Flyers’ organization, taken just three selections apart during the second round of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

They both opted to pursue their NHL dreams by playing in the NCAA, and both left their respective universities to turn pro after their sophomore seasons.
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And now, they find themselves teammates, two of the youngest players on an upstart Philadelphia Phantoms team that is looking to make some waves in the 2008 Calder Cup Playoffs.

“For both Andreas and Mike, it’s another step in their development,” explained Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren.

“We just believe that they are ready to move on, and we like the idea of having them develop under our thumb now as opposed to in college. They will play more games here, and it’s just part of the development process. I think we can help them along a little more quickly now that they’ve decided to leave college.”

Nodl, 21, the first Austrian-born player to be drafted by the Flyers, comes to the pro ranks after two highly-successful seasons at St. Cloud State. The 6-1, 198-pound forward wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the most dangerous offensive players in the WCHA as a freshman, registering 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 40 games in 2006-07.

He nearly duplicated that output as a sophomore, putting up 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 40 games this season.
Andreas Nodl is the first Austrian-born player ever drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers. (Phantoms Photos)

Prior to his tenure at St. Cloud, Nodl produced 77 points (38 goals, 39 assists) in 102 games over two seasons with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. He guided the team to a league championship in 2005-06, prior to be selected by the Flyers with the 39th overall selection of the 2006 draft.

“My two years at St. Cloud were very important for my development,” said Nodl, who is also a former teammate and longtime friend of current Buffalo Sabres rising star Thomas Vanek. “I learned so much there, and was fortunate to have a teacher like [head coach] Bob Motzko to guide me.

“I felt like this was the time to take that next step, and turn pro. I feel that I have the maturity and can compete in the pros.”

Ratchuk, 20, a native of the hockey hotbed of Buffalo, NY, joined the Phantoms after a pair of seasons at Michigan State. As a freshman, the 5-11, 180-pound rearguard played an integral role in leading the Spartans to a national championship.

Over the span of 82 total games with the program, the smooth-skating, offensive-minded defender recorded 37 points (10 goals, 27 assists) and 76 penalty minutes.

He was originally a product of the U.S. National Developmental program, performing in a number of international tournaments with the U-17 and U-18 squads over two seasons before being taken by the Flyers with the 42nd overall pick of the 2006 draft.

“Similar to Andreas, I reached a point in my development at Michigan State where the time seemed right to make the jump,” he explained. “You have to challenge yourself, and I felt that I was ready. Fortunately for me, the Flyers agreed.
Similar to Andreas, I reached a point in my development at Michigan State where the time seemed right to make the jump. You have to challenge yourself, and I felt that I was ready. Fortunately for me, the Flyers agreed. - Michael Ratchuk, on his decision to join the Flyers' organization

“This is an incredibly exciting time for the team, and for many of us younger guys, especially. The game is faster up here, the players are bigger, and the tempo is more intense. It’s amazing to come into a playoff setting like this right out of college. It’s a lot of fun and a great learning experience.”

Nodl and Ratchuk each appeared in three regular season games with the Phantoms, giving them the chance to get their feet wet a bit before diving into the pressure-packed waters of the Calder Cup playoff pool.

Both players also secured an important career milestone prior to the start of the postseason, recording their first professional goals.

Nodl, who has been playing on a line with fellow NCAA products Ryan Potulny (University of Minnesota) and another recently-signed rookie, Jon Kalinski (Minnesota State), lit the lamp in his second game, an eventual 5-2 loss at Hershey last Saturday night, April 12.

“It was an incredible feeling,” he said. “Especially to do it at Hershey, against the Bears, in that atmosphere. The Phantoms and Bears have a great rivalry, I could tell that from the start. It’s good to be a part of that.”

The following night, Ratchuk got on the board in spectacular fashion against Albany. With the Phantoms on the power play while holding a 1-0 lead midway through the first period of the season finale at the Wachovia Spectrum, the young defenseman gathered the puck behind his own net.

What followed was a dazzling, end-to-end rush that saw Ratchuk blaze straight down the middle of the ice and through all four River Rats defenders, before casually backhanding the puck past netminder Justin Peters.

The goal, one of the most impressive scored by the Phantoms all season, brought the home crowd and the bench to its feet, in what was ultimately a 3-2 win.

“I picked it up behind the net and I heard someone, it could have been someone from the bench or from the crowd, just yell ‘go,’” Ratchuk said afterwards. “I just kind of picked it up and went, and everyone sort of parted for me, and I just went through and took a shot and it went in.

“It’s tough to beat that for your first professional goal,” he continued with a laugh. “That’s the way you always dream of it going. It was a great moment, but I’m just glad I was able to help the team, first and foremost.”

Ratchuk has been paired to this point with veteran defenseman Rory Fitzpatrick, a Rochester native.
Michael Ratchuk spent the last two seasons playing at Michigan State. (Phantoms Photos)

“We’re both from New York state, which is kind of neat, but there’s actually another connection,” Ratchuk explained. “Rory played with my older brother, Peter, in the AHL with the Rochester Americans a few years ago. We have a lot in common.”

Peter Ratchuk is 11 years older than Michael, and is a former first round pick (26th overall in 1996) of the Colorado Avalanche. A journeyman rearguard, he is currently playing for the DEG Metro Stars in Germany.

“Peter is playing in Europe now, but he’s had a huge impact on my career,” continued Ratchuk. “I’m really fortunate to be partnered with a veteran like Rory. He has been great in helping me adjust and get comfortable here, and can answer any questions I have.”

Nodl agreed, noting the benefits of the veteran presence he encountered upon his arrival in Philly.

“It’s something I saw right away, and it is really important,” he said. “Guys like [team captain] Boyd Kane taking young players aside and helping them out, making them feel like part of the team and giving advice. Even having two former NHL players behind the bench, like [head coach] Craig Berube and [assistant coach] Kjell Samuelsson.

“There is a very good support system here, and it’s good for young players to see that, to learn how everything works. It’s better than coming in with less direction. That’s not a problem here.”

The Phantoms finished the regular season with a record of 46-17-4-3, good for second place in the AHL’s East Division. The result is a first round matchup with the Albany River Rats. After a disappointing effort in the postseason opener, the Phantoms will look to rebound on home ice at the Wachovia Center on Friday, April 18 and Sunday, April 20.

“We are a young, hungry team,” said Nodl. “There is a lot of energy in this lineup, and it’s fun to be a part of this. We are looking to make our mark in the playoffs, and we feel that we have a team that can go all the way. We believe in ourselves, and in what we can do.”

As the team continues on in the postseason, it will rely on the contributions of a number of young players. In addition to Nodl and Ratchuk, Kalinski, forwards Rob Bellamy (Maine), Matt Clackson (Western Michigan), defenseman Jason DeSantis (Ohio State) and goaltender Michael Teslak have all been assigned to the team from the collegiate ranks.

Forward Patrick Maroon, who enjoyed a very strong rookie campaign with the London Knights in the OHL, has also joined the team for the postseason.

But Because of their talent and upside, Nodl and Ratchuk will be counted upon as pivotal players, despite their relative inexperience. Both have already proven that they are capable of performing in the roles they’ve been given.

“They are both good skaters and they both have good skills,” said Holmgren. “Mike might be one of the better skaters that we have in our organization. Andreas, for a guy that skates as well as he skates, he’s got very good hands and can make plays and score, as evidenced by the numbers he put up in his two years at St. Cloud State.”
The emergence of Nodl, Ratchuk and several of the other aforementioned players is emblematic of the Flyers’ recent success in drafting players out of the NCAA. Last year’s first round pick (second overall), James vanRiemsdyk, enjoyed a stellar freshman season at the University of New Hampshire, finishing third on his team with 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists) in 31 games.

Over the past three drafts, eight of the 23 players selected by the team have either come directly from or were bound for NCAA teams. Are there any emerging trends or shifts in organizational philosophy that can be attributed to this statistic?

“I think it’s probably more a coincidence,” said Holmgren. “If you do draft a kid that happens to be going to college, you do get a little more time to watch him develop. If they end up staying in college the whole four years, they are still on our list, as opposed to a junior player or a European player where you only have two years before you have to make a decision on him.

“It’s beneficial in that regard, but I do think it’s more of a coincidence than any kind of a plan on our part.”

For now, though the Phantoms plan on using a, young, collegiate experienced core to help them battle for the franchise’s third Calder Cup.
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