|Taylor Leier returned to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms' lineup Saturday in Wilkes-Barre. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
After returning from a month-long look from the Philadelphia Flyers in January, Taylor Leier was hoping to return to form and keep up his consistent scoring production in Lehigh Valley.
The month of January turned out to be quite the roller coaster ride for Leier, who was named to the 2017 AHL All-Star Classic hosted by the Phantoms' home rink, the PPL Center. He represented the home fans well, taking home All-Star Challenge MVP.
Then, everything turned upside down for Leier.
"It was one of those things I couldn't really control," he said. "It was kind of out of my control and I couldn't do anything about it."
While hockey teams are typically quiet on the injury front, and even more so when talking about concussions in hockey, it's obvious that these lingering issues, or symptoms, caused Leier quite a bit of trouble in regards to making a return to game action.
"It was tough at times, but I just tried to stay positive and did what I could to get back."
From what Leier told Highland Park Hockey about his six-week absence upon his return last Saturday in Wilkes-Barre, the 'lingering issue' that caused him to miss the next 19 games after the All-Star break - exactly one-fourth of the AHL's regular season schedule - actually occurred as a result of some bigger hits he took before the 2017 AHL All-Star festivities kicked off in late January.
"I know man, what a whirlwind," Leier responded when asked about his return to the lineup Saturday in Wilkes-Barre. "Obviously it's not something that I was planning on for my season, but things happen for hockey players sometimes that are not obviously too good but those things happen."
In his third year of professional hockey with the Philadelphia Flyers organization, Taylor Leier had been fortunate enough to avoid any serious injuries that would result in missing games.
In his rookie season with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, Leier appeared in 73 of the team's 76 games - battling through multiple upper body ailments during the final stretch of the 2014-15 season.
He appeared in 71 AHL games last season, missing a few games due to a short stint with the Flyers - his first NHL action.
"That was like my first time ever out during the season," Leier said about avoiding the injury bug, adding, "Just being away from the team - we have a really tight knit group - that was my first time experiencing being alone and being away from a team like that. It wasn't fun and I don't really wish it upon anyone to be out for that long."
The timing for Leier's return was also important accoring to head coach Scott Gordon, and that's despite the fact that forward Chris Conner was added to the team's ever-growing injury list.
"Especially with Chris being out, it was timely for him to step in and play as well as he did. I never anticipated that," Gordon said after Saturday's win in Wilkes-Barre.
"The thing that's really good about it is he's not playing his first game on back to backs, and it would have been real hard I think for him to come back the next night and play," the Phantoms' second year coach added. "Now he'll be sore tomorrow but, I really think that he'll be better for playing [Saturday night]. We weren't sure if it was going to happen. We talked about it and wanted to make sure it was the right thing. And he had a great game."
Leier didn't appear on the score sheet in his first game back, but he was noticeable on the ice and regaining instant chemistry with his former partners in crime on the ice in forwards Scott Laughton and captain Colin McDonald.
"I'm so happy to be back," Leier said with obvious excitement in his usual calm and approachable demeanor. "I was sitting beside Colin McDonald in the dressing room [Saturday], and I just told him man this feels so good. I had a very good day and we topped it off with a win."
Leier's return provides instant offense for Lehigh Valley in St. John's
Leier spoke about wanting to do everything in his power to come back and do whatever it takes to help push the Phantoms into the postseason. It didn't take long for him to contribute offensively with some timely scoring in the team's trip to St. John's earlier this week.
In Tuesday's unthinkable comeback from a 4-0 deficit, it was Leier who got to a loose puck in the corner and got it to the point for T.J. Brennan's eventual point blast tied the game at 4-4. In fact, shortly after the goal Leier was hit from behind away from the play by Chris Terry - a power play that the Phantoms would cash in on in overtime to complete their comeback in a 5-4 win.
Wednesday night, it was Leier himself tying the game on a knee-drop one-timer from the corner along the goal line to force overtime in a second comeback that ended with Corban Knight's 4th round shootout goal.
GOAL GIF: @23TLeier sends #LVPhantoms to OT with this game-tying goal with 1:16 left in the 3rd period with extra attacker on the ice. pic.twitter.com/EqV5GBzhCp— Tony Androckitis (@TonyAndrock) March 23, 2017