PREVIEW: Lehigh Valley Phantoms Kick Off Their Season Tonight vs. Hershey

LAVAL, QC, CANADA - NOVEMBER 30: Carter Hart #31 of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms looking at the play behind the net at Place Bell on November 30, 2018 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC, CANADA - NOVEMBER 30: Carter Hart #31 of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms looking at the play behind the net at Place Bell on November 30, 2018 in Laval, Quebec. (Photo by Stephane Dube /Getty Images) /

Welcome to day two of AHL’s opening weekend. It’s been 332 days since the Lehigh Valley Phantoms have played a regular season game in the AHL.

That all changes this afternoon with Lehigh Valley traveling to Hershey for a 4:00PM puck drop at the Giant Center. It’s the first meeting of fourteen on the season. There will be a number of tickets available for this evenings game.

We’re two days into the AHL season and we’re already having COVID challenges. So far, five opening-weekend games have been impacted across the league. The Hershey Bears were scheduled to travel to Newark, NJ last night to kick off their season, however the game was postponed and rescheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 7:00 p.m.

Binghamton has also rescheduled their game for today against Wilkes Barre Scranton as it will now take place for Monday, Feb. 8, at 5:00 p.m. The Cleveland Monsters were unable to travel to Rockford for their games Friday and Saturday due to COVID-19 protocol. The Chicago Wolves have replaced Cleveland as Rockford’s opponent on Saturday, Feb. 6. Game time is at 6:00PM. With the Wolves COVID situation fluid and the league not knowing when they will be able to play again, the initial schedule for the AHL has been thrown out the window.

Late Friday night, the announcement was made of the two games to the 2020-21 schedule, featuring the Chicago Wolves and the Rockford IceHogs.The teams will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 2 p.m. CT in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and again on Tuesday, Feb. 16, at 6 p.m. CT in Rockford. The IceHogs were set to face Cleveland originally on Friday and today.

Lehigh Valley opens their season off a 2-0 win in their lone pre-season game against Wilkes Barre/Scranton. Returning defenseman’s Chris Bigras and Tyler Wotherspoon provided the spark of the Phantoms offense and Felix Sandstrom posted a 21-save shutout. Sam Morin, after being sent down from the Flyers Taxi Squad, played in Thursday’s exhibition clash.

All eyes are on all the players on OHL assignment tonight who are on Amateur Tryout Contracts until the OHL season begins.

In their first games at the professional level, head coach Scott Gordon had impressive things to say about Tyson Foerster and Zayde Wisdom on Thursday.

"“I thought Foerster made some really nice plays under pressure and did a really good job of protecting the puck,” Gordon said. “It’s funny, both of those guys I felt like I was talking to on every single drill for the first week (of practice). Gradually the discussions as far as where to be and what to do have lessened. And tonight there wasn’t a whole lot to say to either one of them as far as corrections and what I did have to say was minimal. “Wiz” is a big body. Real strong. They’ve got a big future and it’s starting early here. It’s a great jump-start for their careers as far as being able to have the opportunity to learn the professional game before they’re pros.”"

Thursday’s Phantoms lineup should look very similar to today’s. I would think that head coach Scott Gordon would want to see all the OHL players on loan so I’d assume that Mason Millman, who was a scratch Thursday, will be dressed tonight. Lehigh Valley might even dress veterans Tanner McMaster and Logan Day.

The Hershey Bears get a big break before their first game of the season with the return of goaltender Pheonix Copley to chocolate town after the Washington Capitals COVID-19 outbreak on January 16th. Copley is projected to start tonight vs. Lehigh Valley.

Hershey is highlighted by newly appointed captain Matt Moulson, veteran Steve Whitney, who returns to Hershey for his 3rd season. Center Matt Weis is starting his 3rd season but looking for his 2nd full season in the AHL. Mason Morelli who spent the last two seasons with the Stockton Heat will play his first game in a Bears uniform.

Hershey has plenty of rookies highlighting their roster at the start of the season including Axwel Jonsson-Fjallby, first year pro Connor McMichael, Phantoms killer Garrett Pillon, Damien Riat, Brett Leason, Riley Sutter, Kody Clark, Lucas Johansen, and 2018 2nd round pick Martin Fehervary.

Lehigh Valley will also see a familiar face tonight in defenseman Reece Wilcox. Wilcox spent five years in the Flyers organization with the Phantoms and Royals. The 26 year old skated 232 games for head coach Scott Gordon recording 58 points (12G, 46 A). Wilcox joined the Phantoms rival on January 19th.

With Carter Hart’s injury coming yesterday, day to day back spasms, and the emergency recall of Alex Lyon from the Flyers Taxi Squad the big question is what’s next? By rule per the NHL, teams must have at least one goalie on the Taxi Squad with the exception of an emergency recall. Now since this is an emergency situation, will Philadelphia recall a goaltender before their practice at noon?

The simple answer is it depends on if Hart is good to go for practice, which he is expected to be. If he is, then Lyon heads back to the Taxi Squad no problem. If Carter is out on Sunday, I’d assume the Flyers will recall a goalie from Lehigh Valley. It’ll be Felix Sandström or Zane Macintyre. If a goaltender gets recalled before Phantoms puck drop tonight, Lehigh Valley will still have two goalies with the signing of Eamon McAdam.

A reminder that tonight’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms game, along with the rest of the opening weekend of the AHL, is completely free for anyone to watch on AHL.TV. All games this year for the Phantoms are on AHL.TV and all home games are available on Service Electric which is a local broadcast network in the Pennsylvania area.

Former Phantom Steven Swavely has joined Service Electric as a color commentator this season calling Phantoms home games. I’ll be live tweeting from my account and i’ll have a game recap coming after the game.