GLENS FALLS -- Ask an Adirondack fan to name the chief rivals of the Phantoms, and in most cases, the Hershey Bears won't make the short list.
During the three years the Phantoms have played here, Albany, Binghamton, even Syracuse, have surpassed the Bears in that regard.
But at one time in the not-so-distant past, the blood feud between the Philadelphia Phantoms and Hershey was as fierce as any in the sport as two of the league's marquee franchises battled annually for Eastern Conference supremacy.
In the 13 years the Phantoms played at the Spectrum, the teams met on the ice more than 150 times in the regular season, faced off in four postseason series and combined for five Calder Cup championships.
Few understood the animosity between the franchises as much as current Phantoms assistant coach Riley Cote, who shed plenty of knuckle skin on the skulls of the Bears as the chief enforcer for the Phantoms between 2004-07.
"Any time you play a team that much you build a rivalry and a hatred for one another," Cote said. "I think every team has that one opponent that kind of drives them up the wall. And back in the day it was Hershey."
That day is over, in more ways than one.
The Phantoms' Calder Cup-winning team in 2005 had three players with more than 230 penalty minutes, led by Cote's 280. Ten players had 100 or more.
Last season, Zac Rinaldo was the only Phantom to crack the 200-penalty-minute mark. Just three players topped 100.
"It was a little bit of a different setup," Cote said. "(The Phantoms) had their four or five tough guys and so did Hershey. So those guys probably sharpened up their knuckles a little more."
Friday night, when the current teams meet in the AHL's Outdoor Classic at Citizens Bank Park, the Phantoms won't dress a traditional enforcer.
It's not just the lack of fisticuffs that has changed the shape of the rivalry. The Adirondack brand of Phantoms simply haven't been competitive on Hershey's level.
A move out of the Bears' division this year hasn't helped, either. The teams will meet just four times this season, down from 12 at the rivalry's height.
Former Phantoms captain Boyd Kane, who now fills that role with Hershey, put the current state of the rivalry in perspective in an interview with The Patriot News this week.
"We don't play them as many times a year," Kane told the
Harrisburg, Pa. paper. "They haven't had as good a team, either, since they left Philly, and I think that's a big part of it. When you have two good teams that battle every year and are that close and you play that often, that rivalry is going to be there. I think that's kind of went away the last little bit."
While the Bears' aggressive ownership has continued to target top-end talent and foot the cost in pursuit of a title, the Phantoms have gotten dramatically younger and closer to a pure developmental mode.
Adirondack just hasn't been relevant enough on the ice to warrant the Bears' attention, unless they were making a remark about Glens Falls or its arena.
Kane took a minor crack at the city in The Patriot News this week, and former Bears announcer John Walton called the visitor locker rooms at the Civic Center "one step above a cave" in a 2009 video interview.
Granted, he's not exactly wrong. But it always hurts to hear an outsider say it, especially one who hails from the gleaming, 10-year-old Giant Center.
A historic, classy organization with a league record 10 championships, the Bears are roughly analogous to the Yankees in the American Hockey League. That's one thing that hasn't changed since Cote's playing days.
"They always have good teams and they always get the top-end veteran players and they always get the home games on Saturday nights," Cote said. "That does add fuel to the fire."