Like the Philadelphia Flyers, the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms were decimated by injuries this season. They were also shorthanded because many of their quality players were recalled by the parent club.
Unlike the Flyers, the Phantoms stayed in the playoff race until late in the season, a credit to the players and to first-year coach Ian Laperriere.
The Phantoms lost 479 man-games because of injuries — almost as many as the Flyers — and finished with a 29-32-16 record.
“We had 13 guys called up this year,” Laperriere said. “I was an assistant coach in Philly for eight years and don’t ever remember that many called up.”
Laperriere was proud of the players who were recalled by the Flyers and played well in the NHL, such as Hayden Hodgson, Isaac Ratcliffe, Cam York, Linus Hogberg, Gerry Mayhew and Felix Sandstrom, among others.
“When I see that, I take it personally, for sure,” Laperriere said. “But for me, it’s more for my staff because I know how much work we had to go through this year. … When you see a kid get called up, someone you live with every day, you practice with every day, and they go up to the best league in the world and they do well, it’s something everybody is proud of in that coaching room.”
Hodgson’s development was the biggest surprise, Laperriere said.
“The past two years he played in the East Coast League, and I didn’t even know who he was,” Laperriere. “He started on the fourth line and played well and kept moving up.”
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound right winger then suffered a groin injury “and never played for us again. That really hurt us. We were three points out of the playoffs and fighting for our lives,” Laperriere said. “When you lose one of your best players, it’s tough.”
Hodgson, 26, finished with 19 goals in 46 games for the Phantoms, and he will battle for a roster spot with the Flyers next season. In six games with the Flyers, he had three points (goal, two assists).
“It’s funny, when they get called up, up I’m the first one watching on my iPad,” Laperriere said. “I get excited about my players.”
Ratcliffe, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound left winger, is in that group. He spent 10 games with the Flyers and had four points.
“Ratty embraced that physical, big-boy game when he got called up,” Laperriere said. “He’s got the right mindset. He got a little taste of the NHL, and he wants to make sure he’s giving himself the best chance to make it to the next level — and stay there.
“I was proud of him. Proud of all the guys that went up.”
Laperriere, who probably doesn’t have enough head-coaching experience to be considered for the Philadelphia Flyers’ job, said it was a “challenging year” for both the Phantoms and the parent club. It was especially tough not having Tanner Laczynski and Wade Allison for most of the season, he said. They would have been the Phantoms’ best forwards if they had not been injured and remained in the AHL.
That said, he enjoyed his first year as a head coach.
“I liked it, personally, to run practices the way I wanted to run them and to bring a structure and a style of play that the team didn’t have before,” he said. “I think it’s something we can build on for next year. We’ll have guys coming back, so that will make it less challenging in that regard.”
Especially if they don’t have as many injuries or callups to the big team.