GLENS FALLS -- Last weekend was chock-full of heady moments for Brandon Manning.
He made his NHL debut with the Flyers on Thursday. Saturday, he gave a live interview on “Hockey Night in Canada.” And his parents were in the stands as the Flyers beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
Not a bad few days for the 21-year-old defenseman from Prince George, British Columbia.
Thursday morning, an Adirondack Phantom once more, he was the last person on the ice at an empty Civic Center, helping with the lowly rookie task of collecting the pucks into their container at the end of practice.
“You definitely have to have a good mindset with it. You can’t be the cocky guy who comes back down and thinks they’re better than everyone else,” Manning said. “You have to do the same things you’re doing before and kind of just check back in and make sure you’re not trying to do much.”
The stage may be smaller here, where Manning returned in time for Wednesday’s game, but the stakes are high. With 14 games remaining in the season, the Phantoms are one point behind the final playoff spot.
A few months ago, it would have been highly unlikely that Manning would be a key contributor to a playoff race or in line for an NHL call-up. He didn’t play a game with the Phantoms until Dec. 3 as he rehabbed an injury in Philadelphia.
But with the Phantoms’ defensive corps stricken by injuries to Marc-Andre Bourdon, Oskars Bartulis and Matt Walker, Manning was thrust into a key role quickly and produced. He has nine points in 33 games with the Phantoms and plays point on the top power-play unit.
His call-up was a surprise to most, but Manning wasn’t as much of a stranger to the Flyers locker room as someone with fewer than 40 games in the organization might usually be.
“With my roommates Tom (Sestito) and (Harry Zolnierczyk) being up, and living in Philly this summer, and even with my injury, being around the (Flyers) the first couple months, I try to take as much away from that as I could and it benefited,” Manning said.
Manning was plus-2 in three games with the Flyers and nearly scored in his first game.
“Talking to Kevin McCarthy, the Flyers coach who runs the defense, he played very well and opened some eyes,” Phantoms coach Joe Paterson said.
The Phantoms face a tough road weekend against Hershey, where they haven’t won in nearly two years, and Syracuse, which is one of the hottest teams in the conference.
“Every game from here on out is going to be the most important game, whether you’re playing Syracuse or a team like Wilkes-Barre, every night the two points are huge,” Manning said. “You kind of take what you’re doing from the last game and learn from it and just run with it down the stretch.”
Wednesday’s lesson was a stinging one as the Phantoms blew a late one-goal lead and a chance to move into the seventh spot. They went just 1 for 7 on the power play.
“You look at the second five-on-three, we couldn’t really cash in. It’s not even about scoring goals. I think just building momentum and generating chances,” Manning said. “A few of those power plays we didn’t generate much of anything and it bit us.”
Things aren’t going to get easier. The Phantoms have lost their last five games in Hershey by a combined score of 23-7.
This is Phantoms’ first game there since a a 5-2 loss on Jan. 7, the day after their victory in the Outdoor Classic. That one turned ugly in the third period as a brawl in front of the Phantoms’ bench resulted in three suspensions.
But with more than two months passed and the playoff push of paramount importance, the issue may not flare up again, especially since Sestito, one of the main combatants, isn’t on the roster.
“I think the first 10 minutes will kind of determine that, depending on who they’ve got in their lineup and our attitude,” Manning said. “We’re a team that really can’t sit back right now, so we’re going to go after them. Sometimes it keeps building, sometimes it shuts right off. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Loose pucks: Bourdon skated for about half of Thursday’s practice. He will travel with the team and may play this weekend. Bourdon hasn’t played for the Phantoms since Nov. 20. He’s been injured since his retun from the Flyers on Feb. 20. ... Walker is likely out for the weekend with a new injury. Rob Bordson missed practice Thursday to have an X-ray taken after blocking a shot on Wednesday night. The results came back negative and he’ll play this weekend.