Northampton Press

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Phantoms, Checkers series getting rough

Thursday, May 10, 2018 by chuck hixson Special to the Press in Sports

Generally, you think of rivalries as being between teams in close proximity to each other.

Sometimes though, rivalries can develop because of circumstances, including a big playoff series. Such is the case for the budding rivalry between the Phantoms and Charlotte Checkers. The two teams played each other very evenly during the regular season and are matched up in the Atlantic Division finals on their quest for an AHL Calder Cup trophy.

The Phantoms came into the series with home ice advantage, but lost that when the Checkers, who were playing their best hockey of the season heading down the stretch, split the two games at the PPL Center. Saturday night’s game could wind up being a big turning point in the series, although both games delivered a message from the boys in Charlotte.

The Checkers came in as the more physical team and showed that in the opener which came down to a late power play goal from Greg Carey to deliver a 2-1 win. The game included a big hit on Flyers top prospect Travis Sanheim from forward Valentin Zykov. Sanheim had to be helped from the ice by teammates and the team announced after game two that he’s lost for at least the rest of the series.

That hit, which the AHL office deemed legal, carried tensions over to Saturday’s game which saw Nic Aube-Kubel deliver a blow to the head of Josiah Didier that caused Didier to crumble to the ice and be helped off the ice by teammates. Didier appeared pretty much out on his feet and his status for the rest of the series is unknown.

On Monday, the league issued a three-game suspension to Aube-Kubel for the hit.

Game two, won by Charlotte 6-0, saw 11 roughing penalties, three misconduct penalties and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. In all there were 76 minutes of penalties handed out to the two teams. Throughout the night, Checkers players delivered hard shots that frustrated the Phantoms and forced bad penalties that led to Lehigh Valley eating up 46 of the penalty minutes.

That played right into Charlotte’s hands as they used their speed to pick up four goals on power play opportunities.

“There’s more substance to what we did five-on-five tonight. It’s not like you say we have a major flaw in our game. It wasn’t the five-on-five play,” remarked Phantoms coach Scott Gordon.

If that frustration carries over for Lehigh Valley, the three games in Charlotte could be difficult ones for the Phantoms who need at least one win on the road to bring the series back to Lehigh Valley.

ONE MAN OUT, ONE MAN IN ... The injury to Sanheim definitely hurts the Phantoms, but the good news is that they got defenseman Sam Morin back from an injury. Morin hadn’t played since January 20. Overall, Morin played just 15 games with the Phantoms because of injuries and a short stint with the Flyers.

WHO GOES WHERE? ... The league announced their realignment for the 2018-2019 season on Monday. The league will add the Colorado Eagles to the mix, giving them 31 teams. The Eagles will be an affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche and will play in the Pacific Division. San Antonio and Texas move to the Central Division and Cleveland moves from the Central to the North Division. Even with all of the shuffling, the Atlantic Division, home to the Phantoms, will be unchanged.

A LONG JOURNEY ... Most AHL series have the first two games in one city, the next two in the other city and then they rotate the venue for the final three games (if necessary) of the series. The Phantoms and Checkers played two in Lehigh Valley and will play the next three in Charlotte because of the travel distance. If needed, games six and seven would be back at the PPL Center.