Phantoms/Bears - By The Numbers in 2016-17

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Lehigh Valley and Hershey battle it out in the 1st round of the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs starting Friday night at PPL Center. Photo: Nina Weiss/Highland Park Hockey
Editor's Note: Before jumping right in to our first round preview, a look at both teams' road to get to the 2017 Calder Playoffs as well as a stats-heavy introduction to both teams. In the days leading up to Friday's Game One, there will be a daily multi-part preview series to give everyone all the info they could ever want before the postseason begins.

Written by: Tony Androckitis - Twitter/Facebook

It's the most wonderful time of the year. The 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs are upon us.

While 14 teams in the American Hockey League finished their 2016-17 season over the weekend, the other 16 teams will compete for hockey's holy grail at the AHL level - the Calder Cup - as the 2017 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway Thursday night with Albany versus Toronto and Chicago versus Charlotte.

The Lehigh Valley Phantoms will begin their quest for the Calder Cup on Friday night when they host the Hershey Bears in Game One of the Atlantic Division Semifinals. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET in what should be a euphoric atmosphere at the PPL Center as the Phantoms will host their first ever Calder Cup Playoff game as a franchise in the Lehigh Valley.

The Philadelphia Flyers' haven't had their top minor-league affiliate qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2009, and you would have to go back a year prior to find their last playoff win - May 1st, 2008 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

That win against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton almost nine full calendar years later came just one week after the infamous fifth overtime win against the then-Albany River Rays. Ryan Potulny scored the golden goal for the then-Philadelphia Phantoms, while Scott Munroe stopped 65 of 67 and added a secondary assist on the game-winning tally. Albany's goaltender that night? Michael Leighton, who faced a ridiculous 101 shots (98 saves).

But I digress.

After the jump, a brief overview of the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and Hershey Bears prior to their first round, best-of-five series.

Know Your Opponent - Hershey Bears

Regular Season Stats Overview

43-22-8-3, 97 points
3rd place Atlantic Division
Streak: 5-0-0-0

Power play: Tied-5th (66-for-319 = 20.7%)
Penalty kill: Tied-14th (265-for-322 = 82.3%)

Leading Scorers (Active)
F Travis Boyd (76 games played, 16 goals - 47 assists)
F Chris Bourque (76GP, 18G-42A)
D Christian Djoos (66GP, 13G-45A)
F Christian Thomas (65GP, 24G-25A)
F Stanislav Galiev (56GP, 21G-19A)
Bears' Road to the Playoffs

It wasn't a season full of sunshine and rainbows for the Hershey Bears in 2016-17, who are just about 10 months and a week removed from an overtime loss in the 2016 Calder Cup Final.

The annual Calder Cup contender battled injuries to some key contributors early in the season (namely defenseman Madison Bowey and forward Dustin Gazley) and were not getting consistent goaltending beginning from their opening night 5-4 loss in Rochester where starting goaltender Joe Cannata allowed five goals on just 12 shots.

Rookie goaltender Vitek Vanecek showed flashes of being a dependable #1 AHL starter early on in the season, but battled consistency issues while appearing in 16 of the team's 24 games in January and February.

The Washington Captials did their AHL affiliate a favor as the trade deadline approached by re-acquiring a goaltender they had previously moved years prior - bringing in goaltender Pheonix Copley to upgrade at the goalie position.

Despite getting Copley into the mix, the Bears headed into April on the outside looking in in the Atlantic Division. In fact, an 0-3 weekend from March 31st to April 2nd - ending with a 4-2 home loss to the Phantoms - had Hershey's postseason hopes on the ropes.

Oddly enough, with their backs against the wall the following Wednesday at PPL Center, the Bears found a way down 2-1 with 11:26 left in regulation to force overtime and eventually steal two points from the Phantoms. That OT win on April 5th sparked what turned out to be a five-game winning streak to run the table in their remaining regular season schedule.

The Bears have been here before. In fact, 17 skaters on the 2016-17 Bears roster (six defensemen and 11 forwards) were in the Calder Cup Finals with Hershey in the 2016 Final. (Note: Defensemen Jonas Siegenthaler and Colby Williams didn't participate in the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs but were on the Bears' active roster last spring.)

The top line of Chris Bourque, Travis Boyd and Jakub Vrana rivals any AHL club's best trio of forwards and could be the most offensively potent line in the entire league. Copley back between the pipes for the chocolate and black has to have Bears fans thinking about his 17-4 rookie season and 3-1 record to start the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs before Philipp Grubauer re-joined the team and took over the postseason duties in net.

And then there's Giant Center. A building unkind to its opponents - especially to the Phantoms their first two years in the Lehigh Valley - provides Hershey with a serious 'home-ice advantage' unlike any building in the Eastern Conference (I've been to every rink in the Eastern Conference sans Toronto and St. Johns and Western Conference rinks home to the Cleveland Monsters and Chicago Wolves, not to mention the now defunct Adirondack Phantoms, Manchester Monarchs, Norfolk Admirals, Portland Pirates and Worcester Sharks).

The Bears enter the 2017 postseason as one of the hottest teams in the league, have the playoff pedigree down pat in their club's history and have built a solid roster aimed at bringing home another Calder Cup championship. Their first test are the so-called 'new kids on the block' - their in-state rival Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Regular Season Stats Overview

48-23-5-0, 101 points
2nd place Atlantic Division
Streak: 4-0-0-0

Power play: Tied-5th (73-for-353 = 20.7%)
Penalty kill: Tied-5th (242-for-288 = 84.0%)

Leading Scorers (Active)
D T.J. Brennan (76 games played, 21 goals - 39 assists)
F Andy Miele (65GP, 13G-44A)
F Chris Conner (70GP, 22G-34A)
F Greg Carey (74GP, 28G-23A)
F Colin McDonald (72GP, 25G-19A)
Phantoms' Road to the Playoffs

Heading into the 2016-17 season, expectations were sky high for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms entering their third season as an AHL franchise at the PPL Center in downtown, Allentown Pa. The sky-high expectations were placed on the season by both the players on the team, the staff and media alike.

Philadelphia Flyers GM Ron Hextall made it 100% clear over the summer that his intentions were to build a playoff-caliber team for his AHL affiliate - signing some of the top AHL-level free agents available such as defensemen T.J. Brennan and Will O'Neill, and forwards Andy Miele and Greg Carey.

Adding those four along to a core of veterans like forwards Colin McDonald and Chris Conner as well as the new influx of young talent up and down the lineup gave most Phantoms fans a good feeling by the time October rolled around.

Simply put, the Phantoms got off to a strong start to the year a after a hiccup in the opening few games and continued to build on it throughout the season.

The differences between the previous two seasons of Lehigh Valley Phantoms hockey and this 2016-17 club really come down to three  things. Their high-end offensive abilities to convert on special teams, their overall team depth and ability to roll four lines and six defensemen and their ability to never be out of a game in the third period regardless of the score of the game or how much time was left.

Their ability to turn regulation losses into wins at seemingly the flick of a switch is the reason the Phantoms have qualified for the AHL's postseason in what turned out to be a downright dog fight to the finish in the Atlantic Division.

The Bears (and other PA rival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton) are annual contenders, while the Phantoms are the 'new kids on the block'. The Flyers organization has been trying to re-establish a winning atmosphere and exhibit patience in developing their high-end prospects. With the Phantoms this season they were able to do both - creating a winning environment and a good situation for their notable prospects to learn and grow their game.

The next step for the Phantoms to take as an AHL franchise is a good run in these 2017 Playoffs. Having several prospects on the team gearing up for their first ever playoff game as a pro and the city and many fans anticipating Friday night for their first look at what the Calder Cup Playoffs have to offer at the PPL Center should provide an energetic environment this coming weekend.

Phantoms/Bears Head-to-Head Season Stats

Head to Head Record 2016-17 Regular Season
Lehigh Valley: 7-4-1-0
Hershey 5-5-1-1
2016-17 Regular Season Series

April 5th: Hershey - 3 at Lehigh Valley - 2 OT (GAME STORY)
April 2nd: Lehigh Valley - 4 at Hershey - 2 (GAME STORY)
March 10th: Hershey - 2 at Lehigh Valley - 3 (GAME STORY)
January 22nd: Lehigh Valley - 5 at Hershey - 1 (GAME STORY)
January 14th: Lehigh Valley - 4 at Hershey - 6 (GAME STORY)
January 13th: Hershey - 2 at Lehigh Valley - 6 (GAME STORY)
December 26th: Hershey - 5 at Lehigh Valley - 2 (GAME STORY)
December 16th: Hershey - 2 at Lehigh Valley - 3 (GAME STORY)
December 3rd: Lehigh Valley - 3 at Hershey - 2 (GAME STORY)
December 2nd: Hershey - 4 at Lehigh Valley - 3 (GAME STORY
November 13th: Lehigh Valley - 3 at Hershey - 1 (GAME STORY)
October 30th: Lehigh Valley - 2 at Hershey - 3 (GAME STORY)

Head to Head Leading Scorers (Active)

Lehigh Valley
Greg Carey (12 games played, five goals - eight assists)
Andy Miele (11GP, 1G-10A)
Chris Conner (12GP, 6G-4A)
T.J. Brennan (12GP, 3G-5A)
Colin McDonald (11GP, 6G-1A)
Travis Boyd (12 games played, six goals - nine assists)
Christian Thomas (10GP, 3G-5A)
Liam O'Brien (12GP, 1G-7A)
Jakub Vrana (7GP, 3G-4A)
Chris Bourque (12GP, 3G-3A)
Head to Head Special Teams Stats:

Lehigh Valley

Power Play vs. Hershey: 15-for-59 = 25.4%
Penalty Kill vs. Hershey: 39-for-48 = 81.3%


Power Play vs. Lehigh Valley: 9-for-48 = 18.8%
Penalty Kill vs. Lehigh Valley: 44-for-59 = 74.6%

If you haven't had enough stats yet, the AHL has a pages upon pages of head-to-head stats for Lehigh Valley and Hershey here.


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