Behind Enemy Lines: “Springfield To Provide Early Test”


der Eishockeyzuschauer



With an an otherwise youthful squad that coincidentally features not one but two of the most well compensated veteran players in the American Hockey League’s fourteen-team Eastern Conference, the newly renamed Springfield Thunderbirds from Massachusetts arrive in Allentown to help the Hamilton Street Heroes begin their 2016/17 campaign.  Make no mistake, however, this is the same farm club of the NHL’s Florida Panthers who, operating as the Portland Pirates in Maine, defeated the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in three of the four AHL contests played between the two clubs last season.  What’s more, the host Phantoms lost both of their games versus the visiting Pirates on home ice at the PPL Center last term, losing 3-1 on February 12th before falling 4-2 on March 20th.
This year’s Springfield Thunderbirds return a dozen players who skated in at least one AHL game for last season’s Portland Pirates team which finished in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, a full fifteen points ahead of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.  As was the case last season, head coach Geordie Kinnear‘s charges figure to be a lower scoring, blue collar outfit that will rely heavily upon defense and quality goaltending.  Although Springfield’s attackers will not be as skillful or speedy as those from the Phantoms, the visiting Thunderbirds could very well have more than twice as many forwards who tip the scales at least two hundred pounds in their line-up as compared to Lehigh Valley and, thus, be prepared to win lots of battles along the boards.
It should be very interesting to see whom the Springfield Thunderbirds choose to start in goal at the PPL Center on Saturday night.  Veteran workhorse Mike McKenna, the 33-year-old netminder who has made a total of 109 AHL appearances for the Portland Pirates in the past two seasons alone, won all three of his starts against the Phantoms last term including the magnificent 45-save performance here in Allentown last February.  McKenna (57 ga, 2.45 avg, .926 svpct) also stopped another thirty shots on his other appearance at Seventh & Hamilton Streets last March and is obviously very comfortable with the whole environment there.
Then again, Springfield also have the pricey Switzerland Olympic goaltender Reto Berra on the AHL roster, too. The 29-year-old veteran who has made 64 NHL appearances (2.82 avg, .906 svpct) for the Calgary Flames and Coloarado Avalanche the past three seasons was acquired by the Florida Panthers in a trade this summer but failed to sufficiently impress during training camp.  With a one-way NHL contract that pays a handsome salary of $ 1,500,000 this season, it is Berra who is the highest paid puck stopper in the AHL’s entire Eastern Conference.
On the interesting subject of multi-million dollar skating around in the minor leagues, it should be noted that the Thunderbirds also have the highest paid defenseman in the AHL’s Eastern Conference riding along on the team bus these days. Jakub Kindl, the 29-year-old native of the Czech Republic who has appeared in 292 NHL games in his career already and will be paid a base salary of $ 2,250,000 no matter what league he is playing in this winter, should be a key man on defense for the visitors at the PPL Center on Saturday night.  Kindl (6’3″ 199 lbs) has always been the traditional “stay at home” type at the elite NHL level but it will be pointed out that the former 1st round pick (# 19 overall) of the Detroit Red Wings at the 2005 NHL Draft notched three goals in 10 AHL games while skating with current Lehigh Valley Phantoms center Andy Miele for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season.
On the subject of veteran blueliners with a considerable amount of NHL experience, it should be noted that the Springfield Thunderbirds also boast beefy Adam Pardy (6’4″ 218 lbs). The 32-year-old native of Newfoundland has 338 career NHL games under his belt but struggled with injury and was ultimately waived by Winnipeg Jets last winter.  Pardy went to training camp with the Florida Panthers this fall but was released and has been signed to an AHL contract to help stabilize the farm club and tutor the organization’s younger players.
Ian McCoshen (6’3″ 217 lbs), the 21-year-old rookie from Boston College who represented the United States at the annual IIHF World Junior Championship in both 2014 and 2015, was the first player chosen in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft and is one of the brighter prospects the Florida Panthers’ system at the moment.
Kyle Rau (5’8″ 173 lbs) will certainly be one of the Springfield Thunderbirds who should be worth paying attention at the PPL Center on Saturday night.  The undersized 23-year-old left wing from the University of Minnesota who represented the United States at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship had a solid season (63 ga, 17 go, 31 pts) for the Portland Pirates in his first full year as a professional and also appeared in nine NHL contests for the Florida Panthers, as well.  Rau netted three goals in four AHL games against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season, including the overtime winner for Portland on January 2nd.
Rob Schremp, who paced the Portland Pirates with both 21 goals and 42 points last term, has fled for the tax-free contracts and luxury villas to be found in the Swiss Nationalliga A and Shane Harper, the former Adirondack Phantoms forward who was the second-leading scorer for the Pirates last season with 36 points, actually made the Florida Panthers’ NHL roster coming out of training camp so the Springfield Thunderbirds will be looking for new offensive leaders to emerge.  One serious candidate to address this task is Logan Shaw (6’3″ 204 lbs), the 24-year-old right wing who scored no less than 11 goals in 19 AHL games for the Pirates last term despite the disappointment of having been sent down on multiple occasions.  Shaw, who tallied five goals in 53 games as an NHL rookie for the Panthers last season, has a two-way contract worth $ 70,000 for AHL service but would see his salary multiply almost tenfold if he can find his way back to the big leagues — in other words, guy might be a little hungry.
Paul Thompson (6’1″ 200 lbs), the 27-year-old veteran right wing from the University of New Hampshire who skated in three NHL games for the New Jersey Devils when not suiting up for the AHL farm club in Albany (56 ga, 13 go, 35 pts) last season, was signed as a free agent in the summer and has been given a deal worth $ 200,000 for minor league service to do something about the Springfield Thunderbirds’ offense.
Jayce Hawryluk and Juho Lammikko are two interesting rookies who will be worth watching when the Springfield Thunderbirds face off against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at the PPL Center on Saturday night. Hawryluk was the second player taken in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft and put up huge offensive numbers in Canadian junior hockey last season.  Lammikko, the the third round selection of the Florida Panthers at that same 2014 NHL Draft, appeared in all seven games for the Finland squad that defeated neighboring Russia (including current Lehigh Valley Phantoms rookie Radel Fazleev) in overtime to win the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship last winter.

Categories: Phantoms Hockey

3 replies

  1. That’s it. We need AMac back so that we can have the highest paid defenseman….

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