Sundher Transaction, WBS Wipe Out Teach Lehigh Valley Phantoms Lesson

(photo courtesy HC Olomouc website)

(photo courtesy HC Olomouc website)

 

der Eishockeyzuschauer

ALLENTOWN, PA

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Lying somewhere between sudden cancellation of former Lehigh Valley Phantoms center Kevin Sundher‘s standard player contact and the wreckage that was scattered about Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza during the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ 7-1 demolition of the Hamilton Street Heroes in always exciting American Hockey League action on Saturday night are two obvious reminders about the simple facts of professional athletic life to be found anywhere in the world. The first is that if the acronym “NHL” really stands for “Not Here Long” (and, historically speaking as far as the average length of the average player’s career goes, it does), then there can be little doubt that the true meaning of the “AHL” acronym would something along the lines of “Aint Here Long”. The second is that if any professional athlete has an overriding obligation to look out for the best financial interests of his family (and he does), then, by the very same token, the pro player who is paid to engage in athletic competition is duty bound to pursue sporting excellence to the best of his abilities at all times, as well.
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For the benefit of those who would otherwise be unaware, the reason why Sundher was formally released from his AHL contract on February 2nd was so that the 25-year-old center who had, up to this point, spent this entire 2016/17 season in the ECHL with the Reading Royals could sign a brand new contract with an elite league club in the Czech Republic. In the midst of a desperate playoff chase and now without its two leading scorers this term who are both injured at the moment, HC Olomouc have brought in a Canadian import with 139 AHL games (14 go, 43 pts) to his credit and the move seems to have paid immediate dividends, too. Sundher, who notched three goals and five points in ten AHL games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season before suffering a crippling leg injury versus the Hershey Bears at the PPL Center in late November of 2015, made his official debut in the so-called “Tipsport Extraliga” by centering visiting HC Olomouc’s second line during a big upset win for “the Roosters” over third place Sparta Prague on the road in the nation’s capital city on Friday, February 3rd.

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Sundher, who netted a dramatic game-winner by scoring in the tenth round of a history-making shootout triumph over Hershey on his formal AHL deubt for Lehigh Valley fifteen months ago, fared even better in his second match for HC Olomouc. The Canadian import delighted the fans at the Zimni Stadion, a facility with the capacity for 5,500 spectators but less than four thousand fixed seats, by scoring the pivotal go ahead goal with two and a half minutes remaining in the third period of Sunday’s critical clash with HC Plzen, an entertaining affair that was actually witnessed by this very author via streaming satellite link. Sundher’s strike via a nifty deflection in front of the net was certainly well deserved especially considering that the former Phantoms center had previously been directly involved in the two most dangerous chances of what was largely deadlocked final period; the HC Olomouc’s newcomer had been denied at close range by a good save from HC Plzen goaltender Matej Machovsky, the youngster who was third string for the Czech Republic at the annual IIHF World Championship last season, and had later created a great opportunity for a defenseman overlapping down the right wing after a nice individual bit of stickhandling in the middle of the center ice area.
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Two points of note : Wilkes-Barre/Scranton winger Dominik Simon, the youthful Czech import who was one of only three Baby Pens forwards to not pick up a point during the wipe out of the Phantoms, skated for HC Plzen and had a ‘breakout season’ during the 2014/15 campaign before signing an NHL contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization two summers ago … Dominik Uher, the former WBS checking line winger who totaled two goals and five points in 19 career AHL games against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, now skates for Sparta Prague and should be in uniform when the Czech side take on Swedish outfit HC Frolunda Gothenburg in the winner-take-all Final of the 2016/17 Champions Hockey League tournament this Tuesday, February 7th.
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Now, despite its current four-game winning streak, HC Olomouc are still only occupying 12th place in the fourteen-team league standings and, therefore, the traditionally modest club hailing from the eastern part of the Czech Republic must continue to get good results. HC Olomouc are only three points off the pace for the final playoff spot at present and do have the benefit of a game in hand over all of their closest rivals – but most of the teams in the Tipsport Extraliga have just seven matches remaining on their respective regular season schedules so time is running out. As for Sundher, the former 3rd round selection (# 75 overall) of the Buffalo Sabres at the 2010 NHL Draft, a unique opportunity for both financial gain as well as athletic glory.
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Sundher reportedly earned a salary of $ 65,000 during each of the three seasons he spent skating for the Rochester Americans and his recently canceled AHL contract with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms probably was not paying the fifth-year professional all that much more, if anything. Although the Czech elite league is not considered to be one of the most lucrative in all of Europe (thought to be rated sixth behind Finland and Germany but just above Austria) and HC Olomouc — only just promoted from the second division three seasons ago — are definitely not one of the country’s wealthier clubs, the bottom line is that Sundher was, in all likelihood, enticed by pro-rated terms which would be worth a sum of at least six figures over the course of a full season plus bonuses for individual and team performance. Sundher’s current contract with HC Olomouc expires at the end of this 2016/17 campaign but conventional wisdom says a strong showing down the stretch — and perhaps in the playoffs — will result in a pay raise, if not from the Roosters, themselves, then from some other suitably impressed Czech club or perhaps even one from another league somewhere else on the continent.
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Former Lehigh Valley Phantoms center Kevin Sundher celebrates his late game-winner for new club HC Olomouc against visiting HC Plzen during elite league action at the Zimni Stadion in the Czech Republic this past weekend ... (photo courtesy "zpravodajstvi.olomouc.cz" website)

Former Lehigh Valley Phantoms center Kevin Sundher celebrates his late game-winner for new club HC Olomouc against visiting HC Plzen during elite league action at the Zimni Stadion in the Czech Republic this past weekend … (photo courtesy “zpravodajstvi.olomouc.cz” website)

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Getting back to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the simple fact of the matter is that this team, for all its collective talent, has absorbed entirely too many lopsided losses as of late. Of particular concern is the fact that these punishing defeats have been issued by two teams that the Hamilton Street Heroes just might be meeting in the Calder Cup playoffs later this spring. If the American Hockey League’s regular season had concluded yesterday, then Lehigh Valley would have to face off against Providence Bruins, who blasted the Phantoms 9-1 at the PPL Center back on January 21st and if head coach Scott Gordon’s guys survived the first round playoff series versus the P-Bruins, then the Philadelphia Flyers farm club would most likely have to take on those WBS Penguins, who, by the way, still boast a fabulous all-time record playing on the road in Allentown.
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Such blowouts also have to be somewhat disturbing when considering just how many veteran players, the majority of whom are pocketing handsome salaries to skate in the minor leagues this season, are on the roster of this year’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms squad. After all, it should be experienced professionals who understand far better than youthful prospects that is it always important to bring a certain amount of intensity, to work hard each and every night right from the opening face off up until the final horn. And, once the score starts to get a little out of hand in any given game, it should be the battle-hardened pros who are able to prevent things from turning into a genuine rout.
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It has often been said that results at the minor league level really don’t matter but such thinking has always been incredibly misguided. This because it has always stood to reason that if a certain player or group of players always performed poorly in the American Hockey League, then it is illogical to believe that the very same player or group of players would do any better against the stiffer competition to be found in the obviously more difficult National Hockey League. But aside from the fundamental motivation of NHL recall which should be driving the prospects to show up each and every night, the proverbial ‘career minor league veterans’ also have a similar incentive in that one-way contracts or other rather rewarding minor league splits are generally not given to unproductive players whose teams go around getting smashed all the time.
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Every summer nowadays, somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty players or so who have skated a least a handful of games in the American Hockey League will cross the Atlantic Ocean and put pen to paper with a European club. Some go because the money (which is tax free in Switzerland) and benefits (which can oftentimes include an apartment and car) are entirely too good to pass up. Others quite simply depart out of necessity because they have essentially become unwanted in North America.
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One too many 9-1 and 7-1 shellackings, forget all about Calder Cup playoff glory blossoming at the corner of 7th & Hamilton Streets in Allentown this spring … because people are going to be far too busy placing long distance telephone calls to former Lehigh Valley Phantoms winger Jay Rosehill to see if his Scottish club, Braehead Clan, have any more roster space to accommodate foreign imports.


Categories: Phantoms Hockey

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  1. HOCKEY NIGHT IN ALLENTOWN: “On The Rebound” 2/8/2017

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