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Phantoms’ first half in Review

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by Tim McManus

The Adirondack Phantoms played their 38th game Monday to reach the season's halfway point. And while that game would better be forgotten sooner rather than later, the first half of the season was easily the most promising of the team's three seasons in Glens Falls.

The Phantoms are 20-16-1-1 and are tied for second in the Northeast Division. By comparison, they were 10-26-2-0 at this point last season and 18-18-2-0 the one before.

So in honor of a first half worth savoring, let's take a look back at some of the highs and lows and where this all might be headed.

Best moment: Shane Harper's overtime goal in the Outdoor Classic.

Forget for a moment the stage - Citizens Bank Park and a crowd of more than 45,000 - and the historic opponent. The way they won, scoring in the final minute to force overtime and then winning there, is the kind of confidence builder that can propel a team to big things.

Since then, the Phantoms have played with an offensive swagger they lacked for much of the season.

Biggest disappointment: The Civic Center video boards.

In fairness, I supported the purchase, which was a joint venture between the city, Warren County, the Phantoms owners and the Civic Center Foundation. There were a lot of smart people involved in the decision and before they spent $450,000 (which includes the much-needed sound system) someone should have figured out if the equipment they bought actually worked.

The screens are far too dim and low resolution to make out anything of value when they show hockey action.

I realize state-of-the-art equipment wasn't in the price range, but if this was all those entities could afford, then they'd have been better off not spending the money.

Everyone said this was an important step toward landing a permanent hockey tenant because of the revenue streams they provide. But what happens when those prospective teams actually turn the boards on?

First-half MVP: It'd be hard to look anywhere else than the player who won it last season.

Captain Ben Holmstrom is the one guy the team can't afford to lose. He's second on the team in goals, plays on the power play and is one of the best penalty killers. When there's an important defensive zone draw, Holmstrom often comes out to take it even if it's not his line on the ice.

As the captain, Holmstrom has played an edgier game this season. He has 81 penalty minutes in 34 games compared to 75 in 79 last season. He's often been the guy who steps in to defend teammates when liberties are taken.

No one contributes as much in so many areas. Easy to forget he's only 24 and in his second full season.

Impact rookie: Jason Akeson.

It's impressive enough that Akseon leads the team in scoring. But even more promising is the way he's handled himself as a point on the top power-play unit, a responsibility not lightly handed to rookies. We've seen a lot of high-scoring players from juniors struggle to make the transition into the AHL the last couple of seasons. Akeson has broken the mold.

Pleasant surprise: Rookie forward Garrett Roe, signed on a minor-league deal, is fourth on the team in points and has played every game. He's outperformed other well-regarded prospects on two-way deals.

The one-time Los Angeles Kings draft pick is surprisingly physical for a guy listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds.

Due for a breakout: After scoring 17 goals in his last 41 games last season, forward Mike Testwuide has six in his first 35 games to start this season. Encouragingly, he has five goals since Dec. 28 and has again looked like the dominant force around the net he was at the end of last season.

Biggest storyline: Player movement and injuries.

After two years of little activity, the Phantoms were hit hard by call-ups to Philadelphia and not just the guys you'd expect. Zac Rinaldo, Harry Zolnierczyk, Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon have all appeared to graduate to the Flyers full-time.

The Phantoms have also lost Oskars Bartulis, Eric Wellwood and Garrett Klotz to injuries for significant stretches of time.

Mild surprise: Michael Leighton's one shutout. The veteran goaltender has been very good for the most part, but after posting five shutouts in 30 games last season and being one of the league's all-time leaders in that category, you might expect him to have more than one at this point in the season.

A couple of late goals spoiled shutouts for Leighton earlier in the season.

Best fighter: Tye McGinn. The rookie has earned respect by taking on veterans like Zack FitzGerald and Tim Conboy and earning appreciative gestures from both. The guy can take a punch and keep hammering right on back. On a team without a traditional enforcer, it's good to see McGinn stepping up when needed.

Most overlooked story: Johan Backlund's sudden departure after a game on Jan. 4 to play in Finland hardly gave us a chance to say goodbye to one of the team's longest-tenured and most popular players.

Though he only played once his final season, the affable Swede should be remembered for his MVP season in 2009-10, when the team fell off a cliff and lost 11 of their final 13 after he was called up to the Flyers.

Backlund had a chance to become the Flyers' No. 1 before persistent injuries dropped him to No. 3 on Adirondack's depth chart. He handled it all with class throughout, earning his high-stature in the locker room and among the fans.

Best quote: "I've seen that. In golf. With a nine-iron." - Coach Joe Paterson, reacting to Denis Hamel's game-winning goal on Jan. 13 against Hamilton that went off the goalie, off the glass, off the top of the net and then back off the goalie, before going in the net.

Best quote (runner-up): "I just talked to Joe (Paterson) and he was like, ‘Were you a little bit nervous?' And I said ‘Well, yeah, a little bit. But if you need me out there again I'll go for it.' I had no idea what I was going to do. I just put it on net and it went in, thank God." - Forward Tyler Brown, reacting to his game-winning goal in the 12th round of a shootout against Portland after not playing for most of the third period.

Toughest loss: Portland's 2-1 win at the Civic Center on Dec. 9.

The Phantoms had already lost two in a row in the final minute. What could be worse? How about giving up a shorthanded goal with 20 seconds left in regulation.

Biggest win (non-Outdoor Classic edition): The Phantoms' 4-3 overtime win over Rochester on Dec. 10.

One night after the Portland disaster, losing their fourth straight in late, dramatic fashion could have been crippling.

Most unsung player: Jon Kalinski.

The longest-tenured Phantoms player has blocked an incredible number of shots with his body. Every time, I wonder if he's going to get up, but he always does. With just five goals in 28 games, Kalinski doesn't get a lot of ink, but he's a huge part of a penalty kill that's seventh in the league and had a seven-game streak without allowing a goal earlier in the season.


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