The Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate played the previous 13 seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, before moving north to Glens Falls, New York.
Featuring one of their younger squads in recent memory, the Phantoms (9-9-1-0) have had an up-and-down start to the campaign. Multiple recalls caused by injuries to Flyers regulars have forced first-year head coach Greg Gilbert to constantly shuffle his lineup.
|The Adirondack Phantoms are currently 9-9-1 in the American Hockey League's East Division. (photo by Andy Camp) |
So far, five players who began the season with the Phantoms have seen NHL action: forwards David Laliberte, Jared Ross, Andreas Nodl, and Jon Kalinski
; and defenseman Oskars Bartulis.
"That's the nature of the beast, though," said Gilbert. "One of the expectations that comes with coaching a minor league team is that recalls are part of the game, and you have to adjust accordingly.
"Sometimes, this opens up opportunities for young players, so you have to look at it that way."
Among the prospects fans will have the chance to check out on Friday (barring transactions in the interim) are forwards Patrick Maroon and Jonathan Matsumoto; defensemen Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Joonas Lehtivuori; and goaltenders Johan Backlund and Nicola Riopel.
Maroon, a sophomore, is considered to be the squad's most talented offensive player despite a slow start that has seen him net only two goals. Overall, he has 11 points in 19 games, and ranks third on the team in penalty minutes with 40, behind left winger Matt Clackson (71) and defenseman Logan Stephenson (53).
Matsumoto, now in his third full season with the Phantoms, has matured into the team's best all-around player. The 23-year-old center currently leads the team with 16 points (8g, 8a) in 19 games. He is also a minus-two on a team that is last in the AHL in scoring with 41 goals.
"We've had difficulty finding the net, but Matsumoto has been consistent and Maroon is certainly capable of picking up his game. We can't worry about the guys [who are up with the Flyers], but we did recently get David Laliberte back, and that should help."
Laliberte, also in his second full year with the Phantoms, ranks third on the team with 10 points (3g, 7a) in 13 games. He recorded three points in eight games with the Flyers, lighting the lamp in his first two NHL outings.
Perhaps the most intriguing - and promising - aspect of this Phantoms team has been the play of the defense corps, which includes three rookies playing key roles.
Marshall and Bourdon, products of the QMJHL, are both 20. Lehtivuori, a former member of the Finnish junior national team, is 21.
One of only four Phantoms to appear in all 19 games so far, Marshall has already distinguished himself as a veteran-like presence, through his well-rounded play on the ice and by assuming the role of a locker room leader. He has recorded two goals and is fifth on the team with 31 penalty minutes.
Bourdon and Lehtivouri have come on of late, particularly since the recall of Bartulis to the Flyers on November 9. Both have seen their ice time average and responsibilities increased accordingly.
Bourdon has tallied three assists and 13 penalty minutes in 16 games, while Lehtivuori has four assists and four penalty minutes in 13 games.
"All three have been steady, though not without their struggles at times," said Gilbert. "It's been impressive to see them come in and take charge. Marshall plays a very mature game, in particular, and it's sometimes easy to forget he's so young."
One of the decided strengths of the team in the early going has been the goaltending tandem of Johan Backlund and Nicola Riopel.
Backlund, 28, played with Timrå IK of the Swedish Elite League the past three seasons. He was named the Phantoms' starter out of training camp, and to this point has posted a 6-6-0 record with two shutouts, a 2.79 goals-against average and .904 save percentage.
Riopel, only 20, is coming off of a stellar junior career, which culminated when he was named QMJHL player of the year as a member of the Moncton Wildcats in 2008-09. In six games with the Phantoms, he is 2-4-0.
His goals-against average (3.42) and save percentage (.887) were inflated after a tough Thanksgiving night outing in which he gave up four goals on 20 shots to the Binghamton Senators.
"Because we've struggled to score, team defense and goaltending have been important in helping us maintain ground," said Gilbert. "Backlund and Riopel have been very steady, for the most part. Backlund has adjusted well to the North American game and Riopel has done well, coming out of juniors."
With the Philadelphia game fast approaching, Gilbert has stressed the dangers of looking ahead. Striking a balance between emotion and focus, he says, is essential. It will be interesting to see how the Phantoms respond to the Wachovia Center setting; the team is 6-3-1 at the Glens Falls Civic Center and only 3-6-0 on the road to this point.
"I'm sure the team is excited about coming to Philly, especially the guys who have played there before, have friends there and people they'll be looking forward to seeing," he said. "But as a whole, we have to stay focused and view this as another opportunity to gain two points, like any other game.
"But, it should be a good experience and we're all looking forward to it."