GLENS FALLS -- As the Adirondack Phantoms settled into their Civic Center digs over the last two weeks, it occasionally looked more like move-in day at the college dorms than a professional hockey team unpacking its bags.
When the Phantoms take the ice in Binghamton Friday night for their season opener, they’ll do so with a roster whose average age is 22. If they’re not the youngest team in the league, they’re sure close.
After a miserable, 48-loss season when several long-gone veterans failed to live up to expectations on and off the ice, no one is really complaining about the youth movement.
“I think we’re going to be a stronger dressing room,” Adirondack coach Greg Gilbert said. “The work ethic they’ve shown to this point is outstanding, and we have to keep pushing, pushing, and keep working hard every day. These kids don’t hesitate to bring it.”
Young players are in key spots all over the ice.
Rookie Luke Pither has been centering the top scoring line. Four second-year players anchor the defense. The backup goalie had played three pro games.
Eleven of the 22 players on the roster are in their first or second AHL season. Jon Kalinski’s 22 NHL games are the most big-league experience of anyone on the club.
“They’re going to give you the energy and the work. It’s all about learning and teaching them,” Gilbert said. “There’s going to be nights when they make mistakes, but that’s the way people learn. I’m real excited, real optimistic about our club.”
New additions in defenseman Dan Jancevski and forward Greg Moore are notable exceptions to the young man’s club.
On Friday, Jancevski became the Phantoms’ 11th captain. The former Calder Cup champion will be counted on to turn around the dressing room culture. He’ll get help from Moore, who at 26 is what passes for a graybeard on this team.
Their impact has been felt in the preseason.
“We have a lot of rookies, but we have really good chemistry,” second-year defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon said. “And I think it’s going to take us farther than we went last year because that’s what we were missing last year, the chemistry. We were missing chemistry in the room. This year... we’re listening and we have a good captain.”
Whether that helps them climb out of last place in an East Division that is as competitive as any in the league is yet to be determined. Not surprisingly, the players are optimistic.
“We’re going to be better,” Bourdon said. “You can tell.”