Joe Paterson’s 17th win as coach of the Adirondack Phantoms came Wednesday night.
The fact it came against Binghamton puts a nice bow tie on the reclamation project he’s overseen.
In Paterson’s first game, Binghamton throttled the Phantoms 7-1, and it was fair to wonder if his tenure was just going to be more of the same.
Since that game the day after Christmas, the Phantoms have lost in regulation only nine times in 34 games. They have 40 points in those games, a pace that, if you projected over the course of a full season, wouldn’t just put them in the playoffs, but make them a high seed.
Paterson’s record as the Phantoms’ coach is 17-10-2-6. Solid on its own, but when you consider it came after a 6-23-2-0 start and a pair of 10-game losing streaks, it’s downright phenomenal. Turn a few of those six shootout losses into wins and the numbers would be off the chart.
What else does anyone need to see the final 14 games of the season? Hire the man for next season, already.
The Flyers will assess the situation at the end of the season, likely waiting at least until their playoff run is over. Fine. Never hurts to take a look and see what’s out there. I just don’t see how they can land on anyone but Paterson.
Paterson came into an abysmal situation and made this team bearable. Made them competitive again.
I keep going back to something Greg Joly said when I called him for a profile of Paterson when he was still an assistant coach.
Joly said of his old Red Wings teammate, “After you finished playing Joe in a game, you knew you had played against someone. He never made it easy.”
Couldn’t that be said of the Phantoms during his tenure?
The Phantoms may not be the most skilled team on the ice each night, but they’ve rarely made it easy for their opponents.
They’ve given playoff teams all they can handle and beaten top teams like Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hamilton. There are few games they enter anymore where you think they don’t have a chance.
For sure, it’s not as if Paterson waved a magic wand. Warts still exist.
The team still isn’t in any danger of burning out the bulbs on the scoreboard. The power play is non-existent. They’re still overly reliant on their strong goaltending.
But what Paterson did is look at the personnel he had and figure out a style that fit them, one they could play with success. It isn’t always pretty, but it sure beats the alternative.
Anyone want to go back to 20 losses in 21 games? Didn’t think so.
Paterson has had some help.
He assisted Hall of Famer John Paddock for 18 games, and while the results weren’t always there, you could see the kernels being planted.
The talent is better, too. Much better, in some cases.
Michael Leighton is an NHL-caliber goaltender, and a good one at that. Denis Hamel will be a hall of famer in this league whenever he decides to retire. All Michael Ryan has ever done in the AHL is score goals.
(Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for the Flyers. Bring the veteran talent in before the season next time, OK?)
Paterson also has the benefit of dealing with nine rookies now in their second 40 games in the league. That makes a big difference.
Paterson also seems to either have been granted, or taken on his own, a freer reign in making lineups.
Maybe the Flyers ceded some control after hitting rock bottom. Maybe Paterson said, heck, if I’m only getting the rest of the season, I’m doing this my way.
Whatever the case, mess up and you sit, prospect or not. Ask Luke Pither or Stefan Legein.
Paterson plays the guys he thinks will help win. And if that’s J.P. Testwuide rather than a draft pick, that’s who dresses.
Paterson also has something few other candidates can lay claim to: credibility with the core fan base.
Because people remember him fondly from his playing days with the Adirondack Red Wings, fans trust him. They give him rope rather than just wanting to strangle him with it.
I’ve never bought into the fact that the Phantoms had to have a former Red Wing in charge or try to take on their likeness. Live in the past and die in the future. The Phantoms deserved a chance to carve out their own tradition.
Two years in, the hell with it. If a Red Wing is going to fill a few more seats, embrace it.
Paterson’s Red Wing past doesn’t automatically qualify him for the job. His living in the area is a much bigger asset.
He knows the players’ role in the community and he knows having pro hockey here means.
Paterson is an unlikely public face of the organization. He’s reserved, bordering on shy with the media.
He doesn’t have the acerbic wit and one-liners of Greg Gilbert, or the been-here-so-many-times-I-can-say-whatever-I-want bluntness of John Paddock.
Following a recent game against Albany, a gaggle of reporters retreated to the press box after a postgame session with Paterson and looked at each other like, “Can we use any of that?”
Paterson doesn’t speak in sound bytes or soliloquies that can be easily cut into five-sentence quotes. I was told once, as a note of warning, that he’s been that way since his playing days.
With the microphones off, he’s different. Paterson wants you to understand what’s going on with his hockey team, even if he’d rather not be quoted about it.
Really, it doesn’t matter what he says as long as his record keeps speaking for itself.
Paterson isn’t trying to parlay this into an another NHL gig. He’s not keeping the seat warm until it’s time to resume another job.
This is his home. This is the job he’s always wanted. The fans deserve someone who feels that way.
He’s earned the job. Your move, Philly.
Tim McManus covers the Adirondack Phantoms. He may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitterhttp://www.poststar.com/">www.poststar.com. (@PSPhantoms) or read his Phantoms Forum blog on