Flyers' minor-leaguers and older veterans most affected by lockout

Posted: October 21, 2012

TRENTON - The young minor-leaguers and the past-their-prime NHLers are the players affected the most by the lockout.

Some of the youngest players have lost their jobs at low-level NHL affiliates such as the Trenton Titans - an ECHL team that has the Flyers as their parent club.

Some of the older players, such as the Flyers' Kimmo Timonen and Jody Shelley, are staring at uncertain futures, unsure if they will play again if the lockout wipes out the entire NHL season.

"It crosses your mind," said the 36-year-old Shelley, when asked if he ever thought his career might be over if the season is canceled. "But it's not like you dwell on it. I feel great and want to continue. I feel I have more to offer."

Like Shelley, Timonen is in the final year of his contract.

"It's tough, because this might be my last year. You never know," said the 37-year-old Timonen early in the work stoppage. ". . . If this thing drags on another two or three months, who knows? I might lose my motivation."

While Timonen and Shelley are toward the end of their careers, several players just getting started have been forced to take a step back - or have been released from their minor-league teams.

Several Flyers who have two-way contracts are now playing for the AHL Adirondack Phantoms. That created a roster logjam and caused some Phantoms - including forward Jason Akeson, who was Adirondack's leading scorer last season with 55 points - to be demoted to Trenton.

"It's been a rough week, mentally, getting it through my head. I wasn't happy about it, but it is what it is," Akeson said after a recent workout at Trenton's Sun National Bank Center. "I'm here to play hockey. I'm not here to complain. I'm not here to sit back and say, 'Aw, man, I'm getting screwed here because of the lockout.' I'm here . . . and I'm going to aim to be the best player on the ice every night."

Akeson, who skated on the Phantoms' second line last season, said: "There are always places in your game that you can improve on," and that he has taken that mind-set to Trenton.

"It was a shock, and it truly did hurt," Akeson conceded about his demotion, ". . . but you can't live in the past or you go nowhere in the future."

According to Trenton coach Vince Williams, more than a dozen of his players were released to make room for the demoted Phantoms, along with two former players from Albany (the New Jersey Devils' AHL affiliate) and free agents from other AHL camps.

The lockout has had a trickle-down effect that has drastically changed the makeup of minor-league teams.

"We went through a whirlwind - it's the business side of things," said Williams, who had an influx of 18 new players show up last Sunday. ". . . The 'depth guys' are the ones who are affected and the young guys who aren't proven. You only have a week or 10 days to make a decision [on who stays]."

Defenseman Blake Kessel was among the Phantoms sent to Trenton.

"You just have to say, 'Hey, I'm here.' There's nothing I can do about it," said Kessel, whose brother, Phil, is a standout winger with the Toronto Maple Leafs. "I just have to get better myself and help these guys now."

By his own admission, Kessel had a disappointing season and was "sitting back" and "overthinking" plays with the Phantoms last year. He said he has a more relaxed attitude this season and is hoping it translates into better play on the ice - whether it's with the Titans or the Phantoms.

If the lockout ends, several of the released Titans figure to be added to Trenton's roster because of a "trickle-up" effect - and some of the Titans will be promoted to the Phantoms.

In the meantime, Trenton, which plays in a 7,600-seat arena, will benefit by attracting hockey-starved fans who are disillusioned by the NHL.

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