|Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey|
Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook
ALLENTOWN - Coming into his fourth year of professional hockey - all with the Philadelphia Flyers organization since being acquired in a trade back in 2013 - Mark Alt hadn't been on a Phantoms team that qualified for the American Hockey League's (AHL) postseason before this season.
"This is my fourth year with this team, and obviously we have had some struggles in the past. It's been a really fun A - a really exciting year - getting a chance to move on into the postseason and we're really looking forward to it."
Before his 2016-17 season started, Alt was injured during an NHL preseason game in a fight as a member of the Flyers. Having missed the Phantoms' first three months worth of games following shoulder surgery, Alt first noticed something special with this year's Phantoms squad from afar while watching games from the press box with other injured teammates.
"I could kind of tell there was something brewing - something special with this team," Alt recalled of watching the team while he was out with injury. "It was fun to watch them at first, but that's the excitement that you want to be a part of and I worked my way back in. Now that we are kind of rolling along here, it's been really fun."
Entering their first playoff series as an AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers since the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, Alt and the Phantoms are especially motivated because their opponent - the Hershey Bears - is the Phantoms' most-heated rival (along with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton).
"Absolutely, this is a fun rivalry for us," Alt explained of facing Hershey in the Atlantic Division Semifinals starting Friday night at PPL Center. "I think it adds a lot to it. We're close to them right - only an hour away. A quick road trip to play each other either way, so yeah it does make it a little more special," he continued.
"Obviously, you play them a lot during the season but now to play these kind of games - it's going to be fun."
Alt knows what his role with the team is, and it's really quite simple - play sound defensively, log big minutes on the penalty kill and routinely matching up against other team's top offensive weapons. While it's certainly not a glamorous role that attracts a lot of attention by the common fan, it's one that both Alt and his reunited defense partner Sam Morin have come to enjoy.
"Sam and I built some great chemistry over the last two year playing together," Alt said of his comfort level playing alongside Morin. "That is our role - that's what we love to do. We take a lot of pride in that. They have a great team over there - a lot of guys we need to shut down. It's a good challenge, and a fun one."
Since the Phantoms finished the season with the second best record in the Atlantic Division - clinching home-ice advantage in their final home contest of the season - they'll begin their best-of-five series against the Bears on home ice at PPL Center.
Just how important was it for Lehigh Valley to get that home ice advantage for the first round?
"We knew going into that game against Providence that we needed that game," Alt explained, adding, "That was huge for us and I think it's going to be big going into playoffs to get that home ice first."
"I think we got a taste of what it can be like in here. We've had that opening nights, those good overtime victories but I think this playoff atmosphere could be something like no other," Alt said of the hometown Phantoms fans in the Lehigh Valley. "The guys have been talking about it, and we're looking forward to Friday night."