GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – Mike Testwuide has been patient. He’s had no other choice.
A healthy scratch in six of the previous seven games, and having not dressed since December 1, the Phantoms power forward has been searching for an individual identity in coach Terry Murray’s system, trying to reclaim a regular spot that was his in the Phantom’s lineup in each of the previous two seasons.
It’s been a pretty tough road to hoe for the 25-year-old.
After a successful four-year run at Colorado College, the Flyers signed him to a free agent contract in March, 2010.
The Flyers were excited about his potential because of his size and his knack for scoring goals.
In his first professional season, Testwuide started to show glimpses of that promise, potting 18 goals and finishing with 39 points in 76 games for the Phantoms in 2010-11.
But then his production dipped in 2011-12. His goal total went down to 12. His point total dropped to 29. And, although it’s not always a great indicator of on-ice performance, his plus/minus rating waned considerably, going from a plus-12 in his first season to a minus-5 in his second.
This year, he’s played fewer games than any active Phantoms forward except Jason Akeson, who has only been with the team for 11 games.
And when he’s played, his ice time has been limited to mostly fourth line duty with scant – if any – special teams time.
The knock on Testwuide was that he wasn’t thinking the game correctly. It wasn’t that he wasn’t trying, or that his effort was missing, it’s just that the effort and energy was a little misguided and didn’t always fit within the structure of Murray’s system.
Murray had hoped that Testwuide would figure it out on his own, but no matter how many times he struck flint to steel, while he would get the occasional spark, the tinder would not ignite.
So, Murray decided to give him a push.
Saturday, Testwuide was back in the lineup, but when he saw his number on the board it was in a foreign location.
“When I looked at it he had me at center,” Testwuide said. “I’ve never played center in my life.”
The move was a shrewd one by the wily coach. Put a player who needs to focus more on details in a brand new position, so he has no choice but to focus and play within the confines of the game plan.
For one night, it was a resounding success. Although the Phantoms still lost a good hockey game 3-2 to Manchester, Testwuide was excellent.
He scored one goal, probably scored the second, although he said he wouldn’t request a scoring change, and all told, played his best game of the season under Murray.
“We need some balance here,” Murray said. “We’ve been relying a lot on (Sean) Couturier and (Brayden) Schenn and it’s nice to see (Testwuide) step up. He’s been doing a lot of hard work and doing a lot of skating when he was out of the lineup. He got an opportunity and came up big time.”
His goal came when he took a nice drop pass from Jeff Dimmen and sniped a wrister to the top shelf far side. It was just his second goal – and point – of the season.
The second goal – which ultimately goes into the annals as belonging to Tyler Brown after it hit his skate on a shot by Danny Syvret – was probably batted in by Testwuide – he said he got his stick on it, even if the replay officials beg to differ – but the play was made possible by Testwuide skating hard to the net and looking to make something happen, rather than just lingering on the outskirts of the play.
“(Murray) kind of threw a curveball at me when I came in and looked at the lineup and I was a centerman," Testwuide said. "Sometimes shaking up things like that you have to think about positioning – I’ve never been in those positions, I’ve never really been a centerman. It was kind of cool to feel the puck a little bit more and get some opportunities with the puck.
“Coming into the lineup, I just wanted to contribute, get some energy for the guys, take some minutes away from the guys who are logging 20-plus minutes," he said. "If we can get a couple minutes away from them I think they’ll stay fresher. I think it paid off.”
And Murray took notice of it, which means Testwuide should get yet another chance when the Phantoms take on St. John’s Wednesday at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
“ It wasn’t just him scoring,” Murray said. “There was good energy and he used his size and strength and moved the puck well. He held onto the puck and carried it. I liked what he gave us.”
The next step is to continue to give that effort to the team whether it’s at center, or somewhere else.
“I wouldn’t say I’m the new center for the team,” Testwuide. “I wouldn’t say that at all. But I liked the new look and I liked having the puck on my stick, but I’m not going to change my tires – I’m a right winger for sure.”
Erik Gustafsson missed his first game of the season Saturday with a right foot injury after blocking a shot in the third period of Friday’s game.
The good news for the Phantoms is that x-rays came back negative, which means Gustafsson should be back expeditiously.
“I’d be really disappointed in myself if I couldn’t play Wednesday,” Gustafsson said. “But to be honest, it still hurts a lot, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be O.K.”
Gustafsson is considered the Phantoms top defenseman and is third on the team in scoring with 14 points.
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