Series Preview: Phantoms vs. Checkers

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

The Calder Cup playoffs get underway tonight for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms as the Flyers’ AHL affiliate embarks upon a best-of-three first-round series against the Charlotte Checkers (Florida Panthers affiliate).

Game 1 is tonight, Game 2 is on Thursday, and Game 3, if necessary, will be on Friday. Every game will be held on the third-seeded Checkers’ home rink, the Bojangles Coliseum, in Charlotte. However, the Phantoms will be the designated “home team” for Game 2, receiving the last line change.Every game will start at 7:00 p,m. EDT. Games will be streamed on AHLTV (subscription required).

Head to head during the regular season, the Phantoms were 4-4-0 against Charlotte. Ian Lappiere’s team won three of the first four meetings and then losing three of the next four. The Phantoms picked up a crucial late-season home win over the Checkers on April 7 but the Checkers got revenge on Apri; 14. At the Bojangles Coliseum this season, the Phantoms were 1-3-0.

Offensively, the Phantoms ranked tied for 17th in the 32-team AHL with 221 goals scored (3.07 GPG) while Charlotte ranked 9th (235 GF, 3.26 GPG). Defensively, the Phantoms ranked 20th (226 goals allowed, 3.14 GAA) and Charlotte ranked 14th (220 GA, 3.06 GAA).

On special teams, the Phantoms ranked in a tie for 9th leaguewide (49-for-233, 21.0 percent success rate), while the Checkers ranked 8th (58-for-275, 21.1 percent). The Phantoms penalty kill struggled for much of the season, ranking last in the AHL at 73.7 percent. The Checkers’ PK placed in a tie for 8th at 82.2 percent success. The Phantoms scored seven shorthanded goals while Charlotte collected nine.

In goal, Samuel Ersson had a strong season in Lehigh Valley until struggling in the final week of the season. Between the AHL and NHL levels this season, Ersson played 3,157 minutes in goal. That was 600-plus more minutes than he’d ever played previously in his professional career in Sweden. Overall, Ersson ended up with a 24-17-1 record, 2.84 GAA and even .900 save percentage (his SV% took a beating in the final week, as he allowed 15 goals in the final three games).

For Charlotte, with former Flyers/Phantoms goalie Alex Lyon now with the NHL’s Panthers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Mark Guzda (29 GP, 16-9-3, 2.88 GAA, ,897 save percentage) and veteran former Phantoms goalie J.F. Berube (8-6-3, 3.22 GAA, .885 save percentage) are available for duty. Berube and Guzda split the starting assignments in the two April games against the Phantoms.

Tyson Foerster led the Phantoms in overall scoring this season with 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists). Elliot Desnoyers paced the team in goals and set a Phantoms rookie goal-scoring record with 23 tallies among his 44 points. Twenty-three-year-old Swedish forward Olle Lycksell led in assists with 31 helpers among his 45 points in 53 games.

In the second half of the season, rookie Bobby Brink returned from off-season hip surgery to post 12 goals and 28 points in 41 games. The blue was led offensively by rookie Ronnie Attard (12 goals, 32 points, +10), veteran Louie Belpedio (eight goals, 27 points), and puck-moving Russian defenseman Egor Zamula (19 points in 44 games). Rookie defensive defenseman Adam Ginning set a Phantoms single-season plus-minus record (+24) while also chipping three goals and 16 assists. Prospect Emil Adrae provided a late-season offensive spark on a late-season AHL tryout deal ahead of an NHL entry-level contract that will start next season.

Veteran two-way center Artem Anisimov provided a stabilizing presence for Lehigh Valley after signing an AHL contract for the 2022-23 season. The team also got significant contributions from veteran power winger Garrett Wilson as a net-front (18 goals in 68 games) and physical (195 PIM) presence. A future AHL Hall of Famer, 36-year-old Phantoms captain played in just 59 games this season (5g, 13a, 18 points).

Younger veterans Adam Brooks (10g, 35 points in 54 games) and Cooper Marody (40 points in 47 games played) dealt with injuries during the regular season but both were major contributors when the Phantoms started to get hot down the stretch on the way to clinching a playoff spot. Marody was the AHL Player of the Week before being sidelined again for a couple weeks by a suspected concussion. He returned before the end of the season.

For Charlotte, veteran forward Riley Nash led the Checkers in scoring this season with 59 points (24g, 35a), followed by offensive-minded defenseman Lucas Carlsson (20g, 34a, 54 points), former Flyers/Phantoms forward Gerry Mayhew (24g, 20a, 44 points), 23 year old Finnish forward Aleksi Heponiemi (12g, 31a, 43 points) and 22-year-old Russian forward Grigori Denisenko (12g. 24a. 36 points).