Czechs, Vets Lift Phantoms Over Ice Cats in Opener

By Bill Meltzer

For the first time in the team’s relatively short history, the Philadelphia Phantoms have a crew of young, potentially NHL-caliber prospects to go along with their usual foundation of veteran minor league standouts. In defeating the Worcester Ice Cats 4-3, Philadelphia got contributions from youth and vets alike.

The Phantoms got goals from four different players, including young Czech players Tomas Divisek and Vaclav Pletka. The other two goals were scored by veterans Mark Greig and Kirby Law. Rookie goaltender Maxime Ouellet turned back 27 of 30 shots to get the win.

Prior to the game, Phantoms coach John Stevens said, “I’m really excited about our club this season. There’s a real good mix of players. You never know what can happen in the American League with callups and injuries, but I think we’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of talent.”

Tonight’s performance from Philadelphia was a bit uneven, with a rather listless first period. The active whistle of referee Jay Sharrers didn’t help matters, either. The flow of play– for both clubs– was broken up by the frequent special teams play. The Phantoms, however, played much better hockey over the final forty minutes.

Game Summary

The Ice Cats’ Justin Papineau opened the scoring with a powerplay goal late in the first period. Hanging out at the red line, he caught defensemen Bruno St. Jacques and John Slaney napping. Papineau took a lead pass from ex-Flyer Darren Rumble and split the gap over the middle to go in all alone on Ouellet. Max made the first stop, but Papineau followed up his own rebound to poke the puck over the line.

The Phantoms knotted the score at 8:19 of the second period with a powerplay goal of their own. Marty Murray won a left circle faceoff back to St. Jacques, who set up and passed to Mark Greig on the half-boards. Finding a wide open Pletka between the circles, Greig fired a perfect pass to Pletka, who hammered a one-timer past Worcester goalie Cody Rudkowsky.

Twenty seven seconds after the Pletka goal, the first fight of the season broke out. New Phantom Peter Vandermeer and the Ice Cats’ Shawn Mamane jostled one another as the teams lined up for a neutral zone faceoff. The gloves were dropped simultaneously to linesman Mike Condon dropping the puck. Vandermeer won the fight decisively. Mamane was cut up his forehead and had to go off to the lockerroom for repairs.

As the game neared the midway mark, Ouellet yielded a goal he’d like to have back. Phantoms defenseman Dan Peters rolled the puck around the boards, where it was claimed along the left side boards by Marc Brown just above the hash marks. Brown flipped the puck at the net. With heavy traffic in front, Ouellet did not see the puck. He did not react until it was too late. The puck went in just inside the long-side post. It’s also possible that the puck deflected. Even so, any time a goal goes in from an angle like that, it’s a pretty tough goal to give up. Brown got the goal, unassisted, at 9:52.

The Phantoms re-tied the score at 14:26. Divisek was tossed out of a left circle faceoff, so Petr Hubacek stepped in to take the draw. Hubacek, who usually struggles on faceoffs, won this one; getting the puck back to St. Jacques at the left point. St. Jacques rotated the puck D-to-D, over the Slaney. Rudkowsky stopped the first shot but Divisek, crashing the net, poked the puck over the goal line from the crease.

The Phantoms took their first lead of the game at 18:20 of the second period. Slaney got caught up ice and St. Jacques was the lone man back on what developed into a 3-on-1 rush for Worcester. St. Jacques gambled by giving up his feet and sliding to try to prevent a pass from going across (this is one of my least-favorite plays; I know that more and more coaches– including Coach Stevens– preach this tactic and lots of defensemen use it, but I still think it’s better for the last man back not to take himself out of the play). The tactic worked this time, as Jamie Pollock could not handle Papineau’s sharp-angle pass.

Play swung the other way, with Pletka retrieving the loose puck and outletting to a streaking Mark Greig. Greig went in alone on Rudkowsky, who came way out of his net to challenge the angle as Greig pulled up in the right circle. Greig’s shot squeezed through the pads and trickled into the net.

The Phantoms lead did not last long. Jeff Panzer knotted the game at 3-3 at the 2:01 mark of the 3rd period. Pollack banked a neutral zone pass to Jeff Panzer off the boards past Jim Vandermeer. As Panzer gained the blueline, Joe DiPenta stepped up to challenge him and Vandermeer tried to check him from the other side. The two Phantoms defensemen bumped into one another and Panzer squeezed through, still controlling the puck. After making the two young Phantoms defenders look foolish, Panzer skated in and beat Ouellet high to the stick side.

As the Ice Cats celebrated the goal, skirmishes broke out. Both Vandermeer brothers were involved, with Peter getting flagged for roughing and Jim squaring off in a fight with Walker. The on-ice manpower balanced out, as Peter Vandermeer and Pollock each got minors, Jim Vandermeer got a roughing minor and fighting major, and Walker got an instigation minor, fighting major, and ten minute misconduct.

The Phantoms got what proved to be the game-winning goal at 5:38 of the third period. Kirby Law circled all the way behind the net and into the lower left circle to snap a shot past Rudkowsky. The assists went to Mark Freer and Peters.

The Phantoms did a good job protecting the lead the rest of the way, including a pair of penalty kills.

Phantoms Line Combinations

Even Strength
Pletka-Murray-Greig
Divisek-Hubacek-[varied– P. Vandermeer and James Chalmers]
Lefebvre-Freer-Law
P. Vandermeer-Chalmers-Brunel

St. Jacques-Slaney
J. Vandermeer-Lessard
Peters-DiPenta

Ouellet
[Little]

Powerplay1:
Pletka-Murray-Greig
St. Jacques-Slaney

Powerplay2:
Divisek-Freer-Law
Peters-J. Vandermeer

Official Three Star Selection
#3- Pletka
#2- Law
#1- Greig

Phantom Player Notes

Vaclav Pletka

Pletka was arguably the Phantoms most dangerous forward tonight. He was constantly buzzing around the slot and was in the thick of four great scoring chances, including the one he buried for the Phantoms first goal. He also drew a pair of penalties on Worcester.

Bruno St. Jacques

St. Jacques logged a lot of ice time tonight, playing in every manpower situation. Apart from the mix-up on the Papineau goal (Papineau, incidentally, had a very good offensive game for Worcester),St. Jacques was outstanding on the blueline for the Phantoms. He logged several good hits and helped prevent a goal on a 3-on-1 rush. He also had a pair of assists.

Maxime Ouellet

Apart from the one funky-looking goal from the side boards and an unforced turnover trying to play the puck behind the net, Ouellet did not play badly. His reaction times were extremely quick, especially down low, and he was square to the shooter and in control of his body. He did, however, show his characteristic tendency to drop into the butterfly on almost every shot.

Tomas Divisek

Divisek played in all manpower situations. Although at 5-on-5, he is skating left wing on Hubacek’s line, Divisek is the one who takes faceoffs for the line (Divisek did not have a particularly good night in that area). Divisek played a decent all-around game tonight; nothing that jumped out at you (except his goal, of course)but no glaring mistakes, either.

Guillaume Lefebvre

Lefebvre didn’t see a lot of ice time but he turned in some good forechecking work and drew the penalty on the Ice Cats that led to the first Phantoms goal.

Jim Vandermeer

Not a great professional debut for Vandermeer but at least it’s out of the way now and he can move on. Vandermeer was beaten one-on-one to the outside by Igor Valeev on a sequence that produced one of Ouellet’s better saves of the game. Vandermeer was also part of the mix-up that led the Ice Cats re-tying the game in the 3rd period.

Francis Lessard

An unusually quiet game out of Lessard. The favorite to be the first Phantom into the 2001-02 penalty minute and fight ledgers, he did, in fact, take the season’s first penalty (a hooking minor at 2:06 of the first period), but did not fight tonight.

Petr Hubacek

A typical Hubacek game. Some fancy stickhandling along the perimeter and nothing else to show for the night. He did, however, win the faceoff that led to Divisek’s goal.

Joe DiPenta

DiPenta, who is not at all flashy, is the type of defenseman you usually notice only when he makes a mistake. He was noticed on the Panzer goal. Otherwise, he was fine.

Marty Murray

If Murray were four inches taller, he’d be an NHLer– and a good one. He’s got speed and skill. If Jiri Dopita is, as expected, lost to the Flyers for several weeks with the left knee injury he suffered in yesterday’s opener, Murray could get a recall to the Flyers.

Mark Greig

As always, a solid pro. He’s come through many times in the clutch for the Phantoms over his Philadelphia career and he did it again tonight.

Roster Notes

The Phantoms scratches tonight were Mike Watt, Brad Tiley, Jason Beckett, and Mike Lephart. Watt is out for several months with a badly separated shoulder suffered in the first game of the season. Tiley is day-to-day with a minor injury. The others were healthy scratches.

The Phantoms have sent Matt Zultek to Trenton of the ECHL. He suited up for the Titans in their opener last night.

Press Box Miscellany

Philadelphia Flyers coach Bill Barber and assistant coach Mike Stothers were up in the box watching the game.

One of the pressbox televison sets was tuned to the New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes game, in order to catch Eric Lindros’ debut with the Blueshirts.