Wellwood's wakeup call with Phantoms

ASSOCIATED PRESS Eric Wellwood, who played in 11 playoff games with the Flyers last season, has been fighting for ice time with the Phantoms.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Eric Wellwood, who played in 11 playoff games with the Flyers last season, has been fighting for ice time with the Phantoms.
Posted: November 30, 2012

GLENS FALLS, N.Y. - For Eric Wellwood, life in this picturesque, upstate New York hamlet hasn't been so pretty this fall.

Wellwood, 22, played important minutes for the Flyers in 11 Stanley Cup playoff games last spring. For three straight games last week, he was relegated to the stands as a healthy scratch - the recipient of some tough love from Phantoms coach Terry Murray.

"The fact that he played games last year, well, really, that's last year," Murray said. "You've got to come back and do it all over again this year. That's the way pro hockey works."

Refocused and re-energized, Wellwood was back in the lineup on Wednesday night at the Glens Falls Civic Center for the Phantoms' 3-2 loss to St. John's. He admitted that it was quite the wakeup call to be scratched for the fourth time in a span of 12 games this season.

With the NHL lockout forcing him and fellow Flyers Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon up to Adirondack, Wellwood said it was easy to lose focus. Like most observers, Wellwood probably had himself penciled into the Flyers lineup based on his consistent performances at the end of last season.

"I recognize that things aren't going to be handed to you," Wellwood said. "Coming into camp, I kind of expected to get minutes right away without proving anything. That didn't happen. I think we've got a lot of good players down here. Now, when I get my chance, I have to take advantage of it."

Murray said Wellwood has failed to recognize exactly the level of skill and potential he possesses. It's Murray's job to draw it out of Wellwood.

"It's not a lack of effort. His intentions are always good," Murray said. "The most important thing is to get on the balls of your feet and be aggressive with your skating. He showed it a little bit, but it wasn't there in a game-to-game, shift-to-shift basis. We need that from him. He needs to learn that as a pro."

Murray said Wednesday night was a "step in the right direction" for Wellwood. He posted one shot on goal but did not register any points. Wellwood has just one goal and four assists for five points in 14 games. Last year, he netted 21 points in 33 games with the Phantoms before being called up. In Philadelphia, he had five goals and four assists in 24 regular-season games with the Flyers. He averaged 11:42 in ice time during the Flyers' 11 playoff games, an uptick from his 10:57 mark in the regular season.

The AHL does not keep track of ice time as an official statistic, but Wellwood is clearly still the Phantoms' 12th forward. When Zac Rinaldo was ejected in the first period, winger Tyler Brown slid up and stole those extra minutes from Wellwood.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette lauded Wellwood last year for his speed and aggressiveness on the forecheck.

"When pucks are on his stick, he can create separation," Murray explained. "He can put pressure on a defenseman. Or he can go recover pucks in the offensive zone off a dump-in and create opportunities. That just has to be more consistent for me."

Murray admitted that Wellwood isn't the only Phantom to be caught thinking about his status during the NHL lockout. The only difference is that some of those players have realized that amid a lockout now dragging into its 74th day, there is no guarantee there will even be an NHL this season.

"It's always in the back of your mind," Wellwood said. "I think a lot of guys expected to get a lot of points coming down here this year, but you look at guys like [St. John's Alex] Burmistrov or [Adam] Henrique, those guys aren't doing so well. As much as you try to focus on the hockey game, it is always your hope that you get back up there and start playing in the NHL."

For Wellwood, the message may not be pleasant. But coming from Murray - who has coached 1,012 games at the NHL level and played in 302 himself - the lesson could be career-changing.

"He knows how to win, look back to his junior career," Murray said. "It's a process to learn how to do that as a pro."

Slap shots

Sean Couturier nearly knotted the game with 1:08 remaining on a short-side slap shot from the top of the left circle . . . Zac Rinaldo was ejected in the first period because of a 5-minute elbowing major, which resulted in a game misconduct. Upon closer inspection of the replay, Rinaldo did deliver a thundering hit, but he kept his elbows down and his skates remained on the ice. Seemed like a tough call for a major penalty; the St. John's defenseman was uninjured on the play . . . Stick with the Daily News through Saturday for more Phantoms coverage, including features on Brayden Schenn and Couturier.

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