GLENS FALLS -- Tye McGinn plants himself in front of the net, screening the goaltender’s view of the ice before him. A defenseman skates up to him, trying to shove him out of the way and create a line of sight for his netminder.
McGinn gives the D-man a shove back and quickly gets back into position, just in time to get his stick on the puck and deflect the slap shot into the net.
That’s how it played out Dec. 8, when McGinn scored the first goal in an Adirondack Phantoms victory over Syracuse, but really, some version of the scene could describe a number of goals this season.
McGinn is making a home in front of the net, and while he looks to deflect pucks or bang home rebounds, his primary focus, to borrow his own words, is to “take the goalie’s eyes.”
“You need that guy to keep the goalie pushed back and not able to see the puck when you’ve got your sharpshooters out at the blue line,” McGinn said. “It’s a tough sport because you’re always getting hacked and slashed and yelled at, taking pucks to the body and stuff like that. It’s a tough job, but it’s something I’m really enjoying.”
It’s a relatively new role for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound left wing. McGinn has always been one of the bigger guys on the team, whichever team it was, so coaches had him in and out of that spot in front of the net. But this is the first time it has been his primary role.
“I think the big body in front of the net really has an effect and I think McGinn knows his role in that area. He competed hard and just buys space for everyone else. When there’s pucks coming to the goalie and you have a big body in front, he might just get a piece of it,” head coach Terry Murray said after the Phantoms first game of the season, in which McGinn scored the winning goal.
“Good things can happen when you’re hungry around the net,” Murray said.
McGinn has proven that. He has scored eight goals in the first 23 games, four times as many as in the same period last year. That difference is the result of a combination of playing on the top two lines instead of the fourth, having the rookie year under his belt and playing a different role.
He has also contributed to a number of goals that do not show up on his stat line. McGinn was involved in all four goals of the Phantoms’ overtime victory over Syracuse on Oct. 28, but he was only on the scoresheet for the two he scored.
Adirondack was on the power play for the final two minutes and McGinn was stationed where he usually is, in front of the net. Crunch goalie Riku Helenius couldn’t see past him as Brayden Schenn fired off the tying goal or as Brandon Manning had the winning shot.
And that’s just the way it’s supposed to work.
“With me standing there in front of the net, the goalie’s got to go to one side to see, so those players have the whole other side other to shoot at,” McGinn said.
No one is just going to let McGinn, or any other player, just hang around in front of the goaltender. There’s always someone trying to push him out, trying to reclaim the crease as his own or his goalie’s.
“It gets dirty and you’ve got to just embrace it and you’ve got to be willing to fight harder than that guy pushing you away,” he said. “Sometimes it works even better. Instead of just me standing in front, screening the goalie, if I’m battling good with this defensemen then there’s two guys. So now this goalie is having a really tough time seeing the puck, seeing a shot or even a pass across for a one-timer.”
It has been a learning process for McGinn. In the beginning, McGinn was tempted to drift away from the net and go off in search the puck. The more games he’s played — and the more video he’s watched — the better feel McGinn has gotten for exactly when to stay in front of the net and when to go help dig the puck out of the corner or track it along the boards.
McGinn said he’s learned to think like a goalie to track the puck and yet simultaneously be aware of exactly where the goaltender is behind him, constantly moving in the crease. Well, until a shot is taken. Then he stays where he is, out of the puck’s way, blocking the goaltender.
“When the puck is coming on a hard one-timer, (some other players are) moving aside and deflecting pucks and he doesn’t,” Murray said Wednesday. “He stays in there, he’s got his position, he’s got his ice and pucks are hitting him or pucks go through his legs. When you have a player with that kind of size and that mentality, that’s a skill.”
McGinn admits that it was a little scary to see those pucks coming at him at first, but he trusts his shooters to aim for the corners. He also says if he moves, he has a better chance of getting in the puck’s way than out of it.
And by staying right in front of the net, he is in position for the potential rebound. The more quickly you get the puck back on net, the greater chance you have of scoring, especially in the first two or three seconds.
“You can score a lot of goals that way and you’re going to be a very important player as you move on in your career,” Murray said.
That’s exactly what McGinn is hoping for.