April 18, 2019
By: Kristi Fulkerson
Does anyone else find it hard to believe we just witnessed the FIFTH season of Phantoms hockey in Allentown? It doesn’t seem like long ago we were watching the PPL Center walls being built, the ice going in for the first time, or the thrilling OT victory in the team’s inaugural regular season game on October 17, 2014. Yet here we are, reflecting on half a decade of hockey in the Lehigh Valley.
It was a bittersweet finish to year five. The Phantoms, despite all the trials and tribulations of the season, keeping their playoff hopes alive (albeit barely) into the final weekend. Ultimately, Lehigh Valley would fall 2 points and a couple tiebreakers shy of their their third consecutive postseason appearance, finishing fifth in the Atlantic Division behind Providence, Hershey, Bridgeport, and division champion Charlotte.
It was an emotional end to game No. 76 on Saturday when hockey journeyman and goaltender Mike McKenna backstopped the team to a 3-2 shootout victory, earning his 231st AHL win. His 14-year career coming to an end in fitting fashion as he made 29 saves over regulation and OT, then denied all three Hartford shootout attempts. The Phantoms had rallied from a 2-goal deficit to win this 21st home game of the season and 39th overall.
For the third straight season, the Phantoms finished well above .500, especially impressive considering all the changes and inconsistencies throughout the organization. From losing their leading scorer (Phil Varone) to the Flyers in early December to bidding farewell to their head coach (Scott Gordon) and half of their goaltending duo (Carter Hart) a week later, the only consistency this season was the lack thereof. 5+ players missed significant time due to injuries, a handful more missed a couple weeks here and there, and then there was the overload of veterans, 8 total goalies playing a game, and a handful of trades for good measure. That probably doesn’t cover everything but you get the idea.
Special credit should go to interim head coach Kerry Huffman and assistants Terry Murray and Bill Downey who kept the ship afloat. Huffman finished with a 24-21-5 record in spite of it all, admittedly disappointed but happy with the team’s continued battle and effort. 4th year captain and new father Colin McDonald should be mentioned too — his leadership on and off the ice is invaluable. Here’s hoping the powers that be bring him back for year 5.
When it comes to next season, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect. Many contracts are expiring for players we’ve become accustomed to seeing in a Phantoms uniform (including McDonald). Lots of young forward prospects are expected to fill the roster along with a couple returning defenseman -- the rest? TBD. As for a head coach, selfishly I hope Scott Gordon AND Kerry Huffman return to Allentown this fall. I’m annoyed and disappointed Gordon didn’t get the nod as the new Flyers head coach, an opportunity he most certainly deserved after the job he did on an interim basis. But perhaps their loss is our gain. He’s certainly proven he can develop players and win.
The Phantoms 2019-20 schedule will be released sometime in August but, give or take a few days, YEAR SIX of LV Phantoms hockey is just 6 months away. To get you through the offseason, visit the Phantoms page and enjoy some of the feature stories we put together this season!
LEHIGH VALLEY PHANTOMS YEAR-BY-YEAR
YEAR RECORD DIV. RANK POINTS GF/GA COACH
14-15 33-35-8 4th* 74 194/237 Terry Murray
15-16 34-35-7 7th 75 215/222 Scott Gordon
16-17 48-23-5 2nd 101 260/219 Scott Gordon
17-18 47-19-10 1st 104 260/218 Scott Gordon
18-19 39-30-7 5th 85 240/244 Gordon/Kerry Huffman
*In year 1, the Phantoms competed in the 5-team East Division. The AHL realignment moved the Phantoms to the Atlantic Division in 2015 when the league transitioned from 6 total divisions to 4.