Impressions From Phantoms’ AHL Opener

Martel

Lehigh Valley Phantoms left wing Danick Martel (# 18) was yet again able to effectively demonstrate that he is certainly not too small to be able to score goals in the American Hockey League on a regular basis … (photo courtesy http://www.journalexpress.ca)

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der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, Pa

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A noticeable vibe of general satisfaction swept through the main concourse as the “sellout” crowd happily filed out of the PPL Center and onto the streets in downtown Allentown on Saturday night, this after the local Lehigh Valley Phantoms team had handed the visiting Springfield Thunderbirds squad a 4-2 setback to start its 2016/17 American Hockey League season.

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There were many impressions to take away from the proceedings at the corner of Seventh & Hamilton Streets this weekend, both on the ice and off. Perhaps the biggest of them all was the feeling that the home side scoring a goal less than one minute into the game must be seen as some sort of good omen indicating that the Heroes are destined to finally have the chance to compete for Calder Cup glory. Such visions of grandeur make Kram nervous, for he knows that injuries, suspensions and the Philadelphia Flyers all lurk in the shadows continuously conspiring to wreck the best laid plans of Lehigh Valley Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon and his minor league men.
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Indeed, the Phantoms won their first two games and raced to a record of four wins versus one loss to start their inaugural 2014/15 campaign only to slide all the way down in the standings and finish 13th out of 15 teams in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. Lehigh Valley flirted with the playoffs last winter but were realistically eliminated rather early and ultimately finished in a tie for the thirteenth spot among all fifteen Eastern Conference squads. So, therefore, perhaps an outlook of guarded optimism would be the wisest policy to pursue at this point in time.
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Meanwhile, undersized Danick Martel left no doubt that that he did not lose his goal-scoring touch somewhere during the long summer vacation. The 21-year-old undrafted left wing who led the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with 22 goals in 67 AHL games last season found the back of the net again twice on Saturday versus the Springfield Thunderbirds and looked like a true sniper in the process. Twice Martel came in on Springfield goaltender Mike McKenna uncontested and twice he youngster from Quebec calmly looked up, picked his spot and beat the accomplished veteran on his 390th career appearance in the American Hockey League with low/medium height wrist shots to the glove side.
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The fact that Martel now skates on the Phantoms’ third line is tangible proof that Lehigh Valley figure to be icing a much deeper offensive attack of a significantly higher overall quality than in years past. The unproductive evenings of the pugilistic Zack Sortini operating on the power play or the roughhousing Jay Rosehill taking a regular shift have mercifully concluded. The fact that Petr Straka, the 24-year-old Czech winger who netted 19 goals in 64 AHL games for the Hamilton Street Heroes last season, could not get a place in the Phantoms’ line-up on opening night and was a healthy scratch only reinforces this notion that Lehigh Valley will be considerably more potent this term.
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On the subject of icing three scoring lines of legitimate quality this season, it was the Phantoms’ third unit of Martel skating with former Calder Cup MVP Jordan Weal and rookie Nicolas Aube-Kubel who combined for nine shots on goal against the Thunderbirds to pace all four of Lehigh Valley’s line combinations; the first line of Greg Carey, Andy Miele and Chris Conner combined for six shots while the second line of Taylor Leier, Mark Zengerle and captain Colin McDonald collectively checked in with four attempts on target.
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Cole Bardreau (54 ga, 13 go, 30 pts, – 1 def) certainly had a solid if injury-plagued season in his first full year as a professional coming out of Cornell University and has been participating in practice as of late but was held out of Lehigh Valley’s line-up as a precautionary measure with regards to his recent abdominal injury. Once Bardreau is pronounced to be fully fit for game action, the Phantoms coaching staff will have to answer even more questions with respect to team selection. Presumably, a player on the fourth line such as good ole’ One Punch Goulbourne or Russian rookie Radel Fazleev, who took two minor penalties but also notched an assist on his formal AHL debut, will have to make way.
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On the defensive side of things, rookie Travis Sanheim looked enormously comfortable rushing the puck and getting involved in the attack in the offensive zone. It’s quite clear already that the 17th overall player chosen in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers will not be playing in the American Hockey League forever and so fans at the PPL Center might be wise to savor every moment. Sanheim led all Phantoms rearguards with four shots on goal and got his name on the scoresheet in the form of an assist, as well.
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T.J. Brennan had a dream debut for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms with a goal and an assist versus the Springfield Thunderbirds while showing why he has been voted the AHL’s Best Defenseman two times in the last three seasons. Brennan and the other ‘big name’ minor league free agent defenseman who was signed this summer, Will O’Neill, already appear to have developed a good mutual understanding while deployed together on the first power play unit. Barring injury or recall, this pair should both serve the Hamilton Street Heroes quite well this season.
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The one chink in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms armor on Saturday night appeared to be standing between the pipes. Although Anthony Stolarz finished with thirty-one saves and was named the game’s third star, it was quite clear to the spectators on hand that both of the goals scored by the visiting Springfield Thunderbirds were of the soft variety. Additionally, so many pucks rang off of Stolie The Goalie’s crossbar in the second period it sounded like a church bell choir practice was in session.
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As far as the atttendance at the PPL Center was concerned, the official crowd of 8,505 spectators on Saturday night was a little more than the 8,425 fans that the Lehigh Valley Phantoms attracted to the AHL season opener versus the Syracuse Crunch roughly one year ago but not quite as many as the 8,647 people who came to see the visiting Adirondack Flames contest the very first regular season American Hockey League game ever played in the City of Allentown.
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These are my Phantoms impressions from this weekend, what are yours?


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

2 replies

  1. It certainly felt good to get that win. It felt good to score goals and hear those horns go off again and see the new smoke machines and everyone going nuts with the rally towels. It was quite a sight from up in the Miller Lite Loft.

    I think I like most what happened after the game. Reading quotes from “professional” media and other bloggers, it sounds like the coaches and team are not quite satisfied with that game. Sure, they were happy to get the win, but the sloppy play in the third period is sure to be something they work on this week.

    I do think we’ll see Bardreau centering that fourth line on Friday–and I think most nights Fazleev will be in there because he’s the “prospect.” You know, like how some of those young baseball players get to bat at the top of the order even when they haven’t really earned that spot–they’re the prospects so they get to play. Still, seen as a fourth-line type, they’ll have him in that role. He did a great job to set up that goal for Martel early on. He’ll get rest, sure, and he’ll have to keep his game clean, but I think they like the effort at this juncture so I think he’ll play more often than not.

    Barring injury or call up, I think those top three lines (and pairs) are pretty locked in at this point. Goulbourne and Straka will have to battle it out for time on that fourth line. I kinda think Mathers will be in Reading at some point.

    One more thing, radio voice of the Phantoms Bob Rotruck sent me a message during the game because he was unsure if the 89.9FM feed in the arena was working properly. I didn’t have my radio last night so I couldn’t help. He said he thought only two people listened LIVE in the arena–but I assured him it is probably more. Does anyone else listen in the arena? If so, let him know on Twitter or FB. I like that 89.9 feed even though I don’t listen to it every game (we had a small group last night).

    • There is no arguing that, far more often than not, an undrafted player will make way for a player who an NHL Draft pick of the organization in question. Still, aside from his defensive accument, Bardreau might have too much offensive potential as compared to a player such as Goulbourne to be kept up in the press box. It should be noted that Fazleev, who was a center for the Russian squad that earned the silver medal at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship last winter, also has experience as a left wing so the situation is certainly something to keep track of.

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