Coach John Stevens’ team, the Philadelphia Phantoms, skated despondently to the locker room in front of more than 7000 fans dressed in white at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza. The No. 1 seeded team of the East Division was ousted by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in six games.
“If you are an athlete you learn from those situations,” Coach John Stevens said earlier to a crowd of reporters in Philadelphia earlier during the playoff series.
Playoff hockey is all about finding what players call “their game” and struggling in tight situations. It’s a vital way for young players such as 19-year-old rookie Jeff Carter to prove their skills on the ice. No doubt about it, Carter showed the crowds why he was selected first by the Flyers in 2003. During the second game of series, the center scored a power play goal in a sniper attack, 56 seconds in on 22-year-old center Shane Endicott’s hooking penalty. Carter took a pass from Ian MacNeil at the bottom of the left circle and snapped a wrist shot past goaltender Sebastien Caron.
“It took a little while to get the next one, but it went in. Definitely, I’m glad I could make it. I thought I was going to come down and practice (in the AHL), but I got a chance to step in and got my second against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. They gave me the chance to prove myself.”
Carter played in a line with veterans right wing Ian MacNeil and left wing Mark Murphy. “They’ve been excellent. We really have been clicking. We got a lot of speed. They are good playmakers.”
However, Jeff Carter was unable to defy the Pens No. 1 goaltender this playoff season, 21-year-old Andy Chiodo. In the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton region, he is called the “Chiodo Dragon.” Despite having a plethora of excellent goaltenders to choose from such as Marc-André Fleury and Sebastien Caron, Penguins Coach Therrien chose Andy Chiodo.
Like a Chinese New Year fire dragon, the versatile but feisty goaltender scrambled before the net waving up and down, maintaining a clear line of vision as the opposition attempted to attack him. Chiodo shut out the Penguins twice in a row. He made 18 saves during Game 2 of the series and during Game 4 he made 32 saves to win. Chiodo’s goal against average improved to 1.41 and his save percentage to .939.
“He deserves a lot of respect (since) placed in the situation he got himself into the playoffs,” said Michel Therrien applauding Chiodo’s game which consisted of both energy and zeal. It is heart that makes Chiodo special, not just his dexterity in goal. After Game 3 of the series, Chiodo dropped his gloves at center ice challenging 23-year-old Antero Niittymäki to fight.
“You got to admire how they back their team here,” said Coach John Stevens after watching the event at rinkside.
But Flyers coach, Ken Hitchcock, who admires the Finnish system of training knows that despite the fact that Antero Niittymäki might have lost the battle against the Wilkes-Barre Pens, he is the goaltender of the future. He applauded his efforts as to his key saves and tight butterfly in front of the international press after Game 4 of the series. Despite being honored by Hitchcock, Niittymäki knows that to improve his game he must watch for rebounds and improve his stick maneuvering in tight situations.
Therrien considers the East Division win a team effort compiled with key goaltending moves. “We’ve got good speed with our forwards,” referring to 21-year-old right winger Colby Armstrong who scored two goals during game one of the playoffs with five shots and 22-year-old right winger prospect Michel Ouellet, who worked hard at maintaining a two-way game.
“We were playing with a lot of desperation out there and that is what puts us on the lead. I’ve told the guys we know what we have to do and we shut them down. We did a tremendous job as a unit and as a team.“