Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rivalry kicks off with a bang

(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

The Albany River Rats and Adirondack Phantoms kicked off the Northway rivalry with a bang on Friday and Saturday night.

No points or positions in the standings were up for grabs in the two-game preseason series, but something less tangible was clearly on the line.

The Rats hit the ice determined to set the tone against their new arch-nemesis from the north...and they did just that.

During 125 minutes of intense and physical hockey, the Rats and Phantoms traded punches, penalties and home-town wins.

The Phantoms won the first contest on Friday in a shootout, 2-1, while the River Rats dominated the second match on Saturday, 5-1. Each team recorded a victory, but there was little doubt regarding which team was superior.

During both contests Albany had better puck control and spent more time on the attack. The Rats out-shot the Phantoms 27 to 20 in Glens Falls, and 27 to 16 at the Times Union Center.

Adirondack netminder Johan Backlund saved the Phantoms from losing the first match.

The Rats had a multitude of chances in game one, but only winger Jerome Samson was able to score. Samson played well and has been impressive at camp. He was assisted by Drayson Bowman and Elgin Reid.

Bowman, after tallying an assist, was injured in a knee-on-knee collision. He did not return and did not play Saturday. No word on his condition.

Reid is at camp on a tryout basis and playing solid.

The Rats were blessed with the presence of Zach Boychuk in game two. Boychuk, a 2008 first-round draft pick, was recently assigned to Albany from Carolina. He was undoubtedly the most skilled player on the ice Saturday night.

Zach Boychuk
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Boychuk's constant pursuit of the puck put the Phantoms on their heels throughout game. He finished the night with two points, scoring a goal off a beautiful set-up by Bryan Rodney and helping Jacob Micflikier net the Rats' final goal in the third.

Boychuk also drew several penalties, as the Phantoms were forced to hook and hold the speedy youngster all night.

In the second period, Boychuk was awarded a penalty shot after being tackled on a break-away. He was unable to convert. After he returned to the bench, back-up veteran goaltender Mike Morrison provided the rookie some advice for the future. Boychuk listened carefully.

Also getting on the board were Stefan Chaput, assisted by Nicolas Blanchard; Harrison Reed, assisted by Steven Goertzen and Jacob Micflikier; and Mike Angelidis, assisted by Brad Herauf. In addition, Jonathan Paiement landed two secondary assists on the goals by Boychuk and Micflikier.

As some fans may remember, last season some of the tougher clubs around the league took advantage of the Rats' smaller stature and lack of healthy enforcers. Not this time.

The Phantoms' attempts to intimidate fell flat. The Rats were not afraid go hit-for-hit, mix things up after the whistle, and drop the gloves.

In the bare-knuckle department, Zack Fitzgerald did exactly what he was signed to do. During the first period of game two, Fitzgerald noticed a Phantom taking cheap shots in a post-whistle scrum. Fitzgerald moved in, singled out his man, dropped the gloves and delivered numerous haymakers in a lengthy bout.

Albany's Zack Fitzgerald and Nicolas Blanchard fight Adirondack's Matt Clackson and Josh Beaulieu
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Meanwhile, Niclolas Blanchard went toe-to-toe with a man of his own, earning a game misconduct for the secondary altercation. Blanchard may have lost his playing privileges for the night, but Albany kept the momentum.

The Rats and Phantoms totaled 160 penalty minutes, ten belonging to Brad Herauf, who was perhaps the most passionate and spirited player on the ice.

Herauf, who is fighting for a spot on the AHL roster, brings toughness and great character to the bench. His drive motivates the entire team.

Brad Herauf
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Herauf is a true worker that always appears to be improving. He is best known for his toughness, but is capable of producing hard-nosed offense as well. He tallied an assist in Saturday's game on a goal by Mike Angelidis.

D-man Benn Olson should be commended for delivering big hits and playing a good defensive game. He sent the final message of the preseason with a fight against Andrew Lord at the end of intermission on Saturday.

Benn Olson takes care of business at the final buzzer
(Photo by Jennifer Bock)

Harrison Reed, who has been skating well since the first day of training camp, had a very strong second night, notching the game-winner and earning first star.

Brett Carson was designated captain on Friday. Carson did not play Saturday and the "C" was worn by Mike Angelidis.

Netminders Mike Murphy and Mike Morrison split time in the first game. Justin Peters secured the win on Saturday.

Steven Goertzen, Nicolas Blanchard, Bryan Rodney, Zach Boychuk and Pat Dwyer did not play in Glens Falls. Brett Carson, Nick Dodge, Jerome Samson, Drayson Bowman and Pat Dwyer were scratched in game two.

Brandon Sutter, Michael Ryan, Jamie McBain and Jay Harrison remain in Carolina.

Attendance in Albany more than doubled the previous night's showing in Glens Falls, 5,289 to 2,039. The Rats offered free tickets.

The River Rats start the regular season at home next Saturday at 7 p.m. against the Manchester Monarchs.