As the fall season gets in mid-swing, professional ice hockey teams are just starting to get their season underway when the calendar hits October.
In the National Hockey League (NHL), the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins gear up for another year to add to their rivalry, while their top minor league affiliates in the American Hockey League (AHL), the Adirondack Phantoms and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, will face each other as well as several other area teams in the league in Pennsylvania and New York including the Hershey Bears, Binghamton Senators and Syracuse Crunch.
In Wilkes-Barre, the Penguins opened their 15th season in the AHL last Saturday (October 5th) with a 5-2 victory. This Saturday (October 12th), they play their first home game of the year against their in-state rival, the Hershey Bears.
For team captain Tom Kostopoulos, a former member of the AHL Penguins when he was beginning his professional career some 14 years ago, there’s no place he would rather be at this point in his career.
“If you can’t play in the NHL, this is the best place to play,” Kostopoulos said of Wilkes-Barre and the Penguins organization. “They want to win and always have a competitive team.”
The AHL Penguins are still in search of their first league championship, the Calder Cup, but Kostopoulos seems cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances heading into the 2013-14 season.
“We have a real deep team, a real strong team,” Kostopoulos said. “If we all do our jobs and work hard, we should have a real fun and successful year.”
The Philadelphia Flyers top minor league team, the Adirondack Phantoms, opened their schedule in Hershey, Pa, against the Bears and left the Giant Center with a thrilling 4-3 overtime victory. The Phantoms look to get back on track this year after a disappointing 2012-13 season and have brought in a good mix of players for 2013-14 with promising rookies and experienced veterans.
Hockey in the area continues to grow. Another AHL team is coming to the area next year, when the NHL Flyers move their AHL team back into Pennsylvania. Following the conclusion of this season, the Flyers will move their team in Glens Falls to Allentown. The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will play in the newly built PPL Center in the 2014-15 season, becoming the third AHL team in Pennsylvania.
In one year, the Flyers and Penguins AHL teams will be roughly a one hour trip on the turnpike away from each other. With the Washington Capitals AHL team in Hershey, Pa and five other AHL teams scattered across New York, minor league professional hockey will continue to grow in the area as a source of entertainment for local sports fans as the days become shorter and the nights become longer.
Editor’s Note: Tony Andockitis, a reporter based in NEPA, will be covering the AHL Season for the Town & Country Gazette. Look for his continued coverage throughout the season and expanded coverage when the Phantoms move into the Lehigh Valley.