BY TONY ANDROCKITIS
GLENS FALLS - The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Adirondack Phantoms have finished their regular season series with the conclusion of last night's contest, but may have started a new chapter in one of hockey’s many rivalries.
While the Penguins and Phantoms only played four times this year, the rivalry between the two teams still exists and is reminiscent of when the Phantoms were in Philadelphia. And as one player in the midst of the rivalry notes, the rivalry is only going to grow when the Phantoms re-locate to Allentown.
Penguins’ defenseman Alex Grant acknowledged the rivalry after Friday night's game at the Phantoms’ current home in Glens Falls, New York and offered up an explanation as to why the games between these two teams are hard-fought battles.
"It stems from the NHL teams, the big rivalry between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh," Grant said.
He added that it has a trickle-down effect on the two organizations' minor league teams. It was evident in Friday night's Penguins/Phantoms matchup, where several post-whistle scrums and fights broke out on the ice.
Penguins team captain Joey Mormina has seen both sides of the Penguins/Phantoms rivalry over the years and explained how the style of the play amongst the two teams is what causes the games to be so hard-fought.
"They're a hard working team, and so are we," Mormina said. "A lot of the time when that’s the case, hard-working guys but heads and that's what happens."
When the Philadelphia organization re-locates the Phantoms to Allentown, Pennsylvania, the two teams will be the closest (geographically) they have ever been, approximately 60 miles apart. The Phantoms would immediately re-kindle rivalries with both Pennsylvania hockey teams in the American Hockey League (AHL) in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears.
With how the AHL schedules a majority of a team’s games against other teams close by, a re-alignment could see the Penguins and Phantoms playing each other twice or even three times as much as they did this season. The Penguins faced the Hershey Bears 12 times this season, the most regular opponent on the Penguins schedule in the 2012-13 season.
Heading Down The Stretch
There’s only two weeks left in the AHL’s regular season before the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs will commence.
The Penguins continue to solidify their playoff push down the stretch and with last night’s 3-2 overtime win over the Phantoms, they are 4-0-1 in their last five games.
The Phantoms, devastated by injuries and NHL call-ups this season, are in last place in the AHL’s Eastern Conference. They’re 5-4-1 in their last ten games and while the playoffs are almost mathematically out of the equation this season, they still have a lot to play for: especially when they match up against a familiar foe like the Penguins.
"They [Phantoms] used to be in Philadelphia too, so it's kind of the same rivalry still and it's even going to grow when it goes to Allentown. “It's only four games, but the two teams know that there's a lot of pride on the line in those games," Grant said.