Phantoms Leave Fans Optimistic For 2016-17

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The Phantoms finished the season off with a win and a final stick salute to their loyal fans at the PPL Center. Photo credit: Nina Weiss/The Home News

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms finished their second season as an American Hockey League (AHL) franchise over the weekend, capping the 2015-16 season with a 5-2 win over Syracuse Sunday at the PPL Center.

The Phantoms aren’t headed to the postseason, but as head coach Scott Gordon recalled after the game he said he told his players before their final game that they owed it to the fans to give them a proper send off.

“I think we made up our mind before the start of the game that we were going to compete and try to put a good show on for the fans that have supported us all year,” forward Tim Brent said after the season concluding win.

Gordon’s first season behind the bench with the Phantoms was marred not only by injuries, but by entering the year learning completely new systems of play without the help of having any of the guys on the team to mentor the younger players on how Gordon wanted the team to play.

“You can’t call it a successful season when [making the playoffs] doesn’t happen, but I do know that coming into next year I feel a lot more comfortable about where our players are at now,” Gordon said in his final press conference of the season.

The Phantoms were infused with a wealth of talented prospects in the final month of the season, and they made an almost immediate impact – as Lehigh Valley won seven of their final 10 games. The Philadelphia Flyers got a look at some of their top prospects like forwards Oskar Lindblom and Nicholas Aube-Kubel and defensemen Travis Sanheim and Reece Willcox at the AHL level.

Getting that first taste of North American pro hockey a year early only puts them ahead of the curve entering their expected first full season of pro hockey next fall – something that leaves Gordon and Phantoms fans alike optimistic for next season.

“I would like October to start right now because of the fact that I know where everybody is and what they are capable of,” Gordon explained of looking forward to his second season as coach. “The biggest piece of all of this is that there will be a group of players here that will know what the expectations are and help mentor the new guys faster than just the coaches at the start of the year starting from scratch.”

Fan Support

Despite the Flyers’ top minor league affiliate missing the postseason for the seventh straight season, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ second season at the PPL Center was still a resounding success from a ticket selling standpoint.

The Phantoms finished 7th in the AHL in average attendance throughout the 2015-16 season with an average of 8,244 fans at each of the team’s 38 home games, including 24 sellout crowds of at least 8,420 fans and a streak of 13 straight leading up to Sunday’s season finale.

What’s even more impressive is the fact that the six teams who finished ahead of the Phantoms in average attendance all have larger venues that can seat more fans. The Phantoms’ filled PPL Center at a 97.9% capacity on average this season.

Black Aces

With the Phantoms’ season over and the Flyers in the first round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, several Phantoms players were called up to Philadelphia to provide extra depth.

Team captain Colin McDonald was called up prior to the Phantoms’ season finale on Sunday, while eight more players – goaltender Anthony Stolarz, defensemen Mark Alt, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg and Davis Drewiske and forwards Cole Bardreau, Chris Conner and Taylor Leier – were added to the NHL roster on Monday evening before the Flyers were pushed to the brink of elimination in a 6-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in Game Three of their first round series.

You can follow all the latest Lehigh Valley Phantoms breaking news, updates and much more during the offseason by following Tony on Twitter -> @TonyAndrock and by visiting his daily online coverage at Highland Park Hockey.

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