Northampton Press

Friday, May 29, 2020

Birgas’ goal pokes bear at PPL Center

Thursday, January 2, 2020 by CHUCK HIXSON TNSPORTS@TNONLINE.COM in Sports

Chris Bigras isn’t exactly a household name with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but his second goal of the season was a big one.

It wasn’t a game-winner or a milestone, but it did launch an eruption of over 10,000 teddy bears onto the ice at the PPL Center as part of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms annual Teddy Bear Toss. The event collects stuffed animals of every size and variety for children in need.

The animals are then collected and distributed throughout the Lehigh Valley.

This year’s official count was 10,091 stuffed animals, including a couple of the life-size variety that were not an easy task to get over the glass and onto the ice.

Players, officials, Phantoms personnel, their mascot Melvin and even a youth hockey team helped to scoop up all of the stuffed animals and place them into bins.

The following day, the stuffed treasures were counted and shipped out in trucks provided by 1-800-GOT-JUNK to be taken to Valley Youth House before being placed in loving hands of kids.

Phantoms fans set a record for the number of stuffed animals collected this season, topping the previous best of 7,148 set just last season. Over the six seasons that the Phantoms have been in existence, the number has grown each year starting with 1,728 in 2014. The result is over 30,800 stuffed animals that have been donated.

“The entire Phan Nation again showed their incredible support for the Lehigh Valley this past weekend,” said Phantoms Executive Vice President Chris Porreca. “They threw, pushed and launched over 10,000 stuffed animals onto the ice in support of our annual Teddy Bear Toss. What a great night and the ability to deliver these to the Valley Youth House is an awesome experience. Thanks to all who helped support us.”

Bigras became the sixth different player to set off the stuffed animal frenzy.

Others who have accomplished the feat include: Brett Hextall (2014), Andrew MacDonald (2015), Nic Aube-Kubel (2016), Matt Read (2017) and Connor Bunnaman (2018).

In the game that night, the Phantoms picked up a 4-2 win over Hartford, with Gerry Fitzgerald scoring the game-winner.

The win snapped a four-game losing streak and since then, the Phantoms have gone 2-2-0-0, including splitting a pair of games in Charlotte this past weekend, taking the Phantoms into the Christmas break.

The lackluster play has slipped the Phantoms down to seventh in the Atlantic Division with 29 points on the season. Charlotte remains just ahead of Lehigh Valley with 31 points, while Hartford and Providence have a division-high 41 points, with Hershey at 37 points on the season.

Going into the break, Greg Carey leads Lehigh Valley in both points (17) and goals (9). Cal O’Reilly leads the team with 13 assists and is second in points with 15. Just behind O’Reilly in assists is Tyler Wotherspoon with 11.

In goal, Alex Lyon has a 2.49 goals against average, while Jean-Francois Berube stands at 2.59 GAA on the season.

Attendance-wise, Lehigh Valley ranks seventh in the AHL with an average of 6,971 per game. Cleveland leads all AHL teams with an average of 8,242 fans per game this season.

KASE FAMILY REUNION ... With injuries mounting, the Flyers recalled David Kase recently. The call came in time for Kase to play in an NHL game against his brother, Ondrej, in a game against Anaheim. Mom and dad were able to fly in from the Czech Republic for the game and got to witness some family history.

David Kase scored his first NHL goal, and it was a game-winner for Philadelphia in a 4-1 win to snap a Flyers three-game losing skid.

PENALTY KILL IRONY ... Lehigh Valley has struggled in penalty kill situations this season, but two Phantoms players who were recalled by Philadelphia have helped to turn around the power play at the NHL level.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Mikhail Vorobyev have been credited with helping not only cover injuries suffered by key penalty killing players like Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl, but the Flyers penalty killing skills reached as high as third in the NHL over the past month with Aube-Kubel and Vorobyev being a part of the penalty kill line for the Flyers.