In just eight days, the Philadelphia Phantoms will begin their sixth season of play in the American Hockey League. As training camp winds down, the team’s roster is all but set, barring a few last-minutechanges. This preseason has been a rather quiet one for the Phantoms, devoid of any major surprises or unexpected happenings.
Perhaps the biggest surprise thus far has been Pavel Brendl’s eye-popping play with the Flyers in exhibition action. Considering the depth the organization has at the NHL level, the Czech right wing was originally considered a lock to start the year with the Phantoms. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen at this point.
While the final decision on where Brendl will start the season is still up in the air, most of the Phantoms’ primary concerns have already been addressed. With the regular season looming, the team has already taken shape.
As expected, rookie Maxime Ouellet is set to take the reigns as the Phantoms’ new starting goaltender. After yet another terrific season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the 20-year-old phenom will get plenty of work in his first full season of professional hockey (he appeared briefly with the Flyers at the start of last season). Neil Little, the Phantoms’ all-time wins leader, will return in the role of backup netminder. Dan Murphy may stick around as a third-stringer between the pipes or else be loaned to the Trenton Titans (Philadelphia’s ECHL affiliate) .
Team captain Mark Greig is back, as is fellow veteran forward Mark Freer. Veteran defensemen John Slaney and
Brad Tiley (the last two players to capture the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top rearguard) are also back
to anchor the defense. Young prospects also returning include forwards Tomas Divisek, Petr Hubacek, Kirby
Law, Vaclav Pletka and Matt Zultek, and defensemen Jason Beckett, Joe DiPenta, Ian Forbes, Francis
Lessard, Dan Peters and Bruno St. Jacques. Rugged winger Jesse Boulerice, who could play some games
with the Flyers, may also see significant time with the Phantoms as well.
Several newcomers have also been inserted into the mix, including forwards Marty Murray (the MVP of last
season’s Calder Cup Playoffs), Mike Watt, Craig Brunel, J.F. Caudron, James Chalmers, Patrick Leahy,
Guillaume Lefebvre, Alain St. Hillaire and Peter Vandermeer, and defensemen Mike Colgan, Andreas Moberg
and Jim Vandermeer. With the exception of Murray and Watt, any one of these players may or may not see a
significant amount of time with Trenton this season. Only time, the unavoidable numbers problems that arise, and the players’ performances with the Phantoms will tell.
The team looks to have a good mixture of veterans and capable young prospects, both up front and on the
blueline. Obviously, much of the team’s fortunes will rest on the play of Ouellet. His adjustment to the pro
ranks shouldn’t be a difficulty, however. He looked comfortable in a two-game stint with the Flyers last
year and has looked terrific in early preseason action with the Flyers and Phantoms this season.
Thus far, the Phantoms have played two exhibition games and one major intrasquad scrimmage. The
following is a brief report on these contests (in addition to a few other notes).
The Phantoms opened their 2001-02 preseason schedule with a pair of victories over the Albany River Rats.
Maxime Ouellet and rookie J.F. Caudron started in the preseason opener, a 5-1 trashing of the River Rats at
Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ on Sept. 20. Ouellet stopped 18 of 19 shots and outplayed
Ari Ahonen, the Devils’ top goaltending prospect.
Caudron scored twice in his pro debut. The former University of Vermont standout was originally signed
by the Phantoms’ ECHL affiliate, the Trenton Titans, on August 27. He impressed head coach John Stevens
during the early stages of training camp and, apparently, is going to stick around. The Phantoms
received additional tallies from Mark Freer, Guillaume Lefebvre and Patrick Leahy (also making his pro
The following night, Ouellet started in net for the Flyers during an exhibition affair against the New
York Islanders in Trenton, NJ. The young netminder was sensational, stopping 19 of 20 shots against during a
period and a half of play. Neil Little didn’t fair so well in relief. He allowed four goals during the remainder of the game, allowing the Isles to rebound from a 4-1 deficit. The game eventually ended in a 5-5 tie.
Playing in his third game in as many days, Ouellet was again solid as the Phantoms defeated Albany 3-1 on
Sept. 22. The game was played before an empty house at the First Union Center, preceding the Flyers’ 2-2 tie
against the Devils later that afternoon. As the starter, Ouellet stopped six of seven shots, several of the high-quality variety. Training camp try-out Kyle Kettles stopped 10 shots in relief.
Caudron, Freer and Kirby Law accounted for the Phantoms’ three goals. Ted Drury notched Albany’s lone
marker. Philadelphia wound up outshooting the River Rats, 41-17.
Last night (Wed., Sept. 26), the Phantoms held an open intrasquad scrimmage at the new Polonia Bank Flyers
Skate Zone in Northeast Philadelphia. The team was split into two squads – “Team Black” and “Team White”
– and competed in a simulated game divided into two 30-minute periods with a running clock. The squads
skated at 5-on-5 in the first half, then played a 4-on-4 game in the second half.
Team Black took a 7-4 victory in the game, receiving goals from Petr Hubacek, Guillaume Lefebvre and Peter
Vandermeer, and two each from Joe DiPenta and Patrick Leahy. Team White goals were scored by Jason Beckett,
James Chalmers, Vaclav Pletka and Brad Tiley.
Neil Little (White) and Dan Murphy (Black) looked very sharp for their respective squads. Maxime Ouellet
pulled double duty, playing for both sides. He looked a bit shaky at times, but this was probably more due
to a lack of defense than a reflection on his play. On several occasions, particularly during the 4-on-4
second half, Ouellet was simply left to the wolves.
So, which players stood out with strong performances?
Hubacek played a solid game, using his speed to generate a number of scoring chances. He even got back
to help out defensively a few times. Pletka was constantly in the middle of the action in the
offensive zone, as was newcomer Chalmers. Another newcomer, Andreas Moberg, displayed good decision-making
with the puck, knowing when to jump into a play in the offensive end and when to pull back and defend. The
pairing of Mark Greig and Marty Murray showed a lot of promise as well. An instant chemistry was obvious
whenever the two were on the ice together.
Player of the scrimmage honors, however, would have to go to DiPenta. In addition to playing a strong
defensive game, the second-year blueliner jumped into the play numerous times in the offensive zone. Two
such forays resulted in goals. DiPenta also had no problem dishing out some punishing hits on his
teammates. In the first half, he nailed both Pletka and Moberg on the same shift. So far this preseason,
he has looked very confident and much less hesitant than he did at times last year. It’s still very early,
but DiPenta looks poised for a strong season.
Additional scrimmage notes: Official stats, including assists and shots on goal, were not kept. Phantoms
assistant coaches Don Nachbaur (Black) and Kjell Samuelsson (White) served as head coaches for their
respective squads. The coaches didn’t stick with particular line combos or defensive pairings. Considering the time restraints, both teams used nearly every possible combination of players it had to offer. Attendance was not announced, but was estimated to be between 500-600.
Remaining preseason games
The Phantoms have two games remaining on their preseason schedule. The team will host the Norfolk Admirals on Saturday (Sept. 29) at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, NJ at 7 p.m., then travel to Hershey to play the Bears at Hersheypark Arena the following day. The Phantoms will open their regular season schedule at home against the Worcester IceCats on
Friday, Oct. 5, at the Spectrum.
Seven projected Phantoms will be exposed by the Flyers for this Friday’s NHL Waiver Draft. Forwards Mark
Greig, Marty Murray and Mike Watt, defensemen John Slaney and Brad Tiley, and goaltenders Neil Little and
Dan Murphy have officially been placed on the organization’s list of unprotected players.