Phantoms' sad run in Adirondack about to end

Posted: April 14, 2014

FIVE YEARS AGO, a wrecking ball tore a hole through the brick and mortar of the Spectrum - tearing down nearly 40 years worth of dusty Flyers and Sixers memories.

On the periphery, the demolition of America's Showplace left the Flyers' top minor league affiliate in need of a new home after an impressive 13-year run across the street from the big club.

That wrecking ball left the Phantoms' franchise in shambles. They've yet to recover.

The Phantoms will play their final home game in Glens Falls, N.Y., this Friday to mercifully end the most embarrassing era of minor league production in the Flyers' 47-year history. In five seasons in Adirondack, the Phantoms (158-189-13-22) went through four head coaches, never made the AHL playoffs and averaged a 13th-place finish in the 15-team Eastern Conference.

The Phantoms will move to Allentown this fall to play in the palatial, 10,000-seat PPL Center, which is still under construction.

"It has been a big disappointment," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who heads the management team in charge of player transactions, said Thursday in Tampa Bay. "I think it is one of those things that I wish went better. We've not had a very good team there, but I can't say anything [bad] about the fan support there. It's a small town, but they embraced us with open arms."

For decades, the Flyers' farm system had been one of the most well-run in professional hockey. In their 42 seasons before playing in Adirondack, the Flyers' top minor league affiliate had missed the AHL playoffs only six times when stocked solely with Flyers prospects.

The Phantoms won two Calder Cups and made the playoffs 10 times in 13 seasons at the Spectrum. Two of the years they failed to make it came on the heels of a 2005 Calder Cup championship team that graduated 13 full-time players to the NHL.

In Adirondack, not only were the Phantoms not competitive, but the only full-time NHL player they've produced is Flyers defenseman Erik Gustafsson. A handful of others have seen game action but never stuck.

What happened?

"We traded away a lot of draft picks over the years," Holmgren acknowledged. "It's really hard to compete in that league with rookies that you're signing out of college or junior to fill out your roster. It's a tough league. It's tough to be competitive when you're trading picks like we did. It has to be better."

The ripple effect has left the Flyers with a mostly barren cupboard.

Part of the issue in Adirondack was that top prospects such as Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn - or even Michael Raffl - never really spent time in the AHL other than during the 2012-13 NHL lockout. They filled immediate voids with the Flyers. And 2012 first-round pick, Scott Laughton, could make the same jump this fall.

Suddenly, instead of practicing in the same Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., the Phantoms were a 4-hour car ride away and no longer under watchful eye of management. A losing, indifferent culture permeated the ranks. Plus, the Glens Falls Civic Center lacked all the modern amenities of a professional hockey team - from the locker room to weight room.

Despite the losses, fans in Adirondack turned out, even though they knew the Phantoms' stay was temporary. Adirondack averaged 4,079 fans per game over five seasons in the 4,794-seat Civic Center. Whether the town lands another AHL franchise remains to be seen.

The situation was less than ideal for the Flyers, but it was temporary in the grand scheme. Now, with the Phantoms only an hour away, Holmgren wants to revitalize the farm system.

Allentown's sparkling PPL Center, predicted to be the nicest in the AHL, will help. Five thousand fans already signed up for a season-ticket package of some kind. Plus, the Flyers are hanging on to picks, with highly touted players such as second-rounder Robert Hagg dotting the roster. And barring an NHL offer, Terry Murray is expected to remain behind the bench.

"I'm excited for them to be back in the area," Holmgren said. "I'd say we'll have at least one person from management at every home game. Terry has done a great job teaching, getting these guys ready for the NHL. But it's not his fault he's had a lack of talent there. That's on me."

On Twitter: @DNFlyers


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