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  • Schenn, Couturier mean more to Adirondack than hockey Print
    Written by Dan Marrazza   
    Saturday, 06 October 2012 14:22

    The NHL lockout has given many young players the opportunity to hone their craft in the NHL's minor league, the American Hockey League. For Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, however, their time spent in Adirondack could mean much more than that.

    With the NHL’s official cancelation of all its games through October 24, it can now officially be said that the American Hockey League will be taking over center stage in the hockey world when it opens its 2012-13 season with seven games next Friday night.

    Brayden SchennWhile it’s undeniable that all 30 AHL teams will be more closely watched than in past years, it also seems almost irrefutable that the large contingent of players in the AHL who would otherwise be in the NHL—if there was CBA peace— will be the ones who receive the lion’s share of the attention.

    For the Philadelphia Flyers, centers Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier should be the most scrutinized players suiting up with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Adirondack Phantoms. While Schenn and Couturier, 21 and 19-years-old respectively, will naturally be counted on to help solidify the Phantoms’ win-loss record, the proficient pivots also find themselves in unique situations because of how important the roles are that they’ll be expected to fill in Stanley Cup-feverish Philadelphia as soon as the NHL resumes.

    “Being here (with Adirondack) gives me a good chance to be in really good game shape,” said Couturier. “You’re always better off when you get to play more games and hopefully get big minutes. So far, our preseason has been really high tempo and I only expect that the regular season will be even faster. It’ll definitely help keep me ready so that as soon as the lockout ends, I’ll hopefully be all ready to pop right back up to Philadelphia.”

    “I’m excited,” added Schenn. “It’s the chance to work on a lot of different skills in what’s going to be a very competitive league.”

    For Schenn, the extra competition in the NHL lockout version of the AHL should present him with far greater challenges than those he faced during his brief stint with Adirondack last year, when he terrorized the AHL by exploding for 12 points (6g, 6a) in just seven games.

    “A guy like Schenner is obviously a very offensive player,” said Phantoms assistant coach and former Philadelphia Flyer tough guy Riley Cote. “He’s a good shooter and he skates well, so we’re going to be focusing on defense first with him since we know his offensive chances will come anyway.”

    Meanwhile, Cote says that the Phantoms’ coaching staff—headed by longtime NHL head coach Terry Murray—will be taking the opposite approach towards Sean Couturier, who will be primarily targeting offensive improvements after his rookie 2011-12 season with the Flyers where he emerged as one of the NHL’s better defensive forwards at just 18-years-old.

    “Couturier is the type of kid that you only have to tell him something once for him to do it,” added Cote. “I’ve heard the (Jordan) Staal comparisons and maybe even a little Ronnie Francis if you want to go old school. At the end of last season, he was matching up against NHL teams’ big dogs in a defensive role, and it’s hard to put up offensive numbers when playing that role. He’s going to play the power play and get lots of minutes with us, which should give him the chance to score more.”

    “Couturier is creative and sees the ice well,” added Phantoms head coach Terry Murray. “He can shoot, and he’s going to get the chance to play a lot of minutes with us. His reads are so clean and he plays the game the right way, so I think all he needs to get better is the chance to play the game more. He’ll get that chance with us.”

    Looking at their long-term futures, Schenn and Couturier both seem to be a little experience and a few minor tweaks away from having long NHL careers with the Flyers,Sean Couturier where they appear destined to be slotted behind NHL ‘13 cover boy Claude Giroux down the middle for years to come on a team that will probably continue to be Stanley Cup contenders year in and year out.

    But in the short term, the term which includes playing for the Adirondack Phantoms, Schenn and Couturier also have the chance to do something that no other locked out NHL/AHL players will have the chance to do—save the AHL city which will be their temporary home.

    For when the Phantoms, formerly tenants of Philadelphia’s since-demolished Spectrum, relocated to Glens Falls, New York to become the Adirondack Phantoms three years ago, it was only designed to be their home until a new state-of-the-art facility in Allentown, Pennsylvania was completed to house the Flyers’ AHL affiliate. Currently, the Phantoms’ Allentown arena is scheduled to open in either 2013 or 2014, meaning the date when the Phantoms leave Glens Falls is fast approaching.

    But for AHL history rich Glens Falls, the former home of the four-time Calder Cup champion Adirondack Red Wings who shaped Detroit’s NHL dynasty in the 1990s, hope is far from lost. Because when the Flyers’ affiliate relocated to Glens Falls in 2009 after Detroit’s AHL affiliate skipped town in 1999, they helped show that the Adirondack region was capable of being a viable AHL market in the 21st century.

    “Glens Falls is a great community with lots of loyal hockey fans,” said Adirondack’s executive vice president Chris Porreca. “At this time, we have just over 1,600 season ticket holders, when we think 1,756 season ticket holders represents a number that would allow us to be financially successful enough to support a new AHL team in the future.”

    If the calculations of Adirondack’s front office are correct, then the team would need to add only about 150 more season ticket holders in order to be an attractive enough destination for another NHL team to relocate its AHL affiliate to.

    While Glens Falls will always have factors working against it—most notably being the city’s population of just under 15,000—the area has plenty of other factors on its side, too. Because with many NHL executives preferring their AHL affiliates to be located in the northeast corridor to allow for shorter bus trips and more practice time, Glens Falls actually has the perfect geographical location—200 miles north of New York City along the Hudson River— for a team in being located less than four bus hours from almost every other team in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.

    “I can’t really be specific, but I have had a few teams that have asked questions,” added Porreca. “Each team we’ve spoken to has different things they’re looking for in a place to play. But there are a few teams who are going to be looking at our numbers as the season progresses, who I know we’re going to continue to talk to.”

    Where Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier enter into the equation can be summed up with one of Charlie Sheen’s favorite words: “winning.”

    Because if the two centerpieces of the Flyers’ future can help the Phantoms get off to a strong start and perhaps into the playoffs for the first time since moving to Glens Falls, they’ll have played a vital role in what would probably be a huge boost in attendance at the 4,800-seat Glens Falls Civic Center. And with increased attendance comes extra attention, and in the case of Glens Falls, a much better chance of remaining an AHL city into the future.

    “Glens Falls is obviously a lot smaller of a city than a place like Philadelphia is,” added Schenn. “But there are a lot of good fans that come to the games in Adirondack and I think it’s a good place to play. As players, it’s always nice knowing that you’ll have good fans that will come out to watch you.”

    The only question remaining now is if it will be enough fans?

    You can follow us on Twitter @HockeyPrimetime and Dan @DanMarrazza

    Photos by Getty Images


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    Last Updated on Saturday, 06 October 2012 15:37