By: John Sparenberg
When the Adirondack Phantoms called Philadelphia their home, weird things would happen often when they faced the Hershey Bears. There was the episode in Philadelphia when current Bears’ captain Boyd Kane, then skating for the Phantoms, scored a goal when he should have still in the penalty box serving out his sentence, but was instead granted an early, illegal release from his penalty sentence.
Then there was the time with a playoff berth on the line, the game in overtime, and the Bears’ goaltender pulled for an extra attacker. Their season and playoff hopes vanished in heartbreaking fashion when Shane Willis’ pass to a teammate failed to connect and the puck bounced off the boards at center ice at Giant Center and into the Bears’ vacated net.
However, since the Phantoms relocated to upper New York State, such occurrences have been rare, mostly due to the clubs not facing off against each other as often as a result of the Phantoms’ move north. But last night at Giant Center, the ghosts of games past revisited the clubs in the Bears’ 3-0 win over the Phantoms at Giant Center.
Former Phantom Matt Clackson, who nailed former Bear Danny Syvret into the end boards on his first shift of the game, laid a hearty hit on Phantoms’ defenseman Brandon Manning seconds later, and then subsequently duked it out with Manning in a spirited bout in which he gained a narrow decision, indirectly figured into the Bears’ first goal of the game when he was whistled off for an interference infraction at 12:41 of the opening frame.
With Clackson cooling his heels in the penalty box and the Phantoms on their first power play of the contest, things were moving along rather uneventfully as Hershey the defenseman gathered the puck in his own zone and fired an innocent-looking clearing pass down the ice, but at right about the same spot on the ice where Willis’ wayward pass struck the boards, the puck took a wild bounce, changed directions, and then slowly slithered into the Phantoms’ net which had been vacated by goaltender Scott Munroe who had ventured behind the net to play the clearing pass that never reached him.
“It was quite a goal,” Hershey’s head coach Mark French joked of the tally, eliciting a chuckle from the assembled media at his post-game press conference. Then French expounded on McNeill’s reaction to adversity this season, first on the shorthanded goal that his miscue led to on Friday night in Binghamton and then on his early season struggles to maintain a constant presence in Hershey’s lineup.
“Patrick is the longest serving consecutive member of this team,” explained French. “I think it’s safe to say when Patty was first breaking into the organization, the one thing he had to work on was mental toughness. It wasn’t his fault on the shorthanded goal; he mishandled it and it went down. That would have rattled a young Patrick McNeill, but he was able to steady himself and come back and help score a power play goal immediately after. I think you see a lot more maturity (in him); we all know we’re hardened by the adversity that we face, and Patrick obviously faced a little this year and has approached it the right way and has regained tremendous resolve, and I think everybody can be happy for him.”
McNeill, lending credence to French’s claims and showing the maturity that his coach spoke of, said the “Binghamton bobble” was just part of the game, and he quickly moved on from the episode.
“Those things happen; obviously when playing on the power play, shorthanded goals happen from time to time. It’s not something you want to happen, but when it does, you’ve got to get right back out there, be a professional and do my job and play the game. I was pretty fortunate to be able to come back and assist on those goals last night and help us squeak out a point, and obviously I was pretty fortunate with that bounce tonight.”
McNeill continued, “This season hasn’t gone the way I would have liked it to, but now that I’m in there getting my chance, I’m just trying to do the things that I do best out there. I’m a big believer in if you do the right things, good things will happen, and things have been going pretty good for me lately, so I’m pretty happy.”
Meanwhile, goaltender Philipp Grubauer had a relatively quiet opening frame, stopping all seven salvos he faced, and the one he didn’t stop, a shot from NHL veteran and former Philadelphia Phantom, Jon Sim, a member of their 2005 Calder Cup winning club, was ruled to have been kicked in by Sim and was waved off.
Exactly fifteen minutes into the middle frame, Ryan Potulny potted a power play goal, his ninth marker of the season to give the Bears a rare two-goal lead, a lead that was preserved in spectacular fashion in the waning minutes of the period when Grubauer made a scintillating, stretching skate save on Garrett Roe’s attempt to beat him on the glove side.
Ryan Stoa’s power play strike at 10:42 of the third stanza essentially put the game out of reach for the visitors, but Grubauer made another quality save on Roe with just over five minutes remaining to play to put an exclamation point on his first career American Hockey League shutout, a masterful 40-save performance.
“We’ve been lucky all year having Braden (Holtby), Dany (Sabourin) and Philipp; they are all great goaltenders and that gives you a lot of confidence as a team, especially our defensive corps. That’s shown by our goals against average which has been a good stat for us this year, and our whole team takes pride in that, but that starts and ends with the guy in the net and we have been very fortunate to have three quality guys back there,” said McNeill.
The Phantoms and Bears are scheduled to meet twice more this season, once more at Giant Center and once more at the Glens Falls Civic Center.
Former Bear, Matt Ford, who was dealt to the Phantoms by the Bears last February for Kevin Marshall, was a scratch for the visitors.
The Phantoms are coached by former Washington Capitals and Baltimore Skipjacks head coach, Terry Murray. Terry’s brother Bryan, currently the General Manger of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators, coached the Bears before being elevated to the same position with the Caps.
Grubauer had one prior professional shutout with the Bears’ former East Coast Hockey League affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays in the 2011-2012 season, a 26-save whitewashing of the Toledo Walleye.