GLENS FALLS -- One of the focuses of any minor-league team is development, getting players ready for the major league affiliate. For that reason, an organization will often play the same system at every level, no matter what the sport.
The Adirondack Phantoms are one of the exceptions to that rule, playing a different system than the Philadelphia Flyers this season.
Most AHL teams play the same system as their NHL affiliates. Someone watching the New Jersey Devils and the Albany Devils would see very similar styles of play, for example.
Phantoms head coach Terry Murray said his former team, the Los Angeles Kings, played the same system as their AHL affiliate, Manchester. Both Danny Syvret and Zack FitzGerald, who have played for a combined 10 organizations, said every AHL team they played for used the same system as its NHL affiliate.
Up until this year, the Phantoms also played the same system as the Flyers, but that was before they brought in a coach with substantial NHL experience.
“I think maybe it’s because of me coming in as a veteran coach, they want to let me play the system I’m comfortable with, that I know, that I’ve been using over the years,” Murray said.
Which system is better could be argued, as both teams are struggling this season, but the differences are apparent. The Flyers’ system has more of an offensive focus and a more aggressive forecheck, according to defenseman Erik Gustafsson.
“They want the ‘D’ pinching a lot more; they want you up the ice and try to help the offense in the neutral zone,” he said. “It’s also more offensive style than we have; we have the trap here. It’s a little more push up the ice than we have here.”
Offense has been something of a struggle all season for the Phantoms, who are last in the conference in goals scored and second-to-last in the league. That was the biggest change the Los Angeles Kings made to the system after firing Murray last year and going on to win the Stanley Cup.
Murray pointed out that players go through different systems and philosophies as they progress through their careers, from college or juniors to the AHL to the NHL and then to different NHL teams. Therefore, having a different system in the AHL versus the NHL shouldn’t be a challenge.
Tye McGinn, who is back with the Phantoms after spending almost two months with the Flyers, echoed that sentiment. He said there was a bit of an adjustment but that is wasn’t too bad. McGinn, however, had the benefit of adjusting during training camp, when everyone was either re-adjusting to the Flyers’ system or seeing it for the first time.
Gustafsson, a fourth-year professional who has had stints with the Flyers each of the past four years, said it’s easier when both teams play the same system.
There is a reason, after all, that most baseball organizations, which have more levels than hockey, have every team run the cut-off the same way all the way to the winter leagues.
“I think most of the American Hockey League teams have the same system as the NHL teams,” he said. “I think it’s just easier, when you want to develop guys from the first year of pro, to have the same style.”
Gustafsson added that it was actually harder to adjust back to the Phantoms system than to the Flyers. His style of play, as an offensive defenseman, may fit the Flyers system a little better.
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment but I like the offensive style that we have up there,” he said. “We just went over it before my first game in Montreal and then after that it was kinda easy. When I got back here, I was almost in that state of mind playing that offensive hockey so it took me a few games here before I adjusted to this one.”
When it comes down to it, both McGinn and Gustafsson said professional hockey player should be able to make the adjustment from one system to another.
But Gustafsson pointed out that it does make it easier if the system is the same and the player only has to acclimate himself to the level of play.
“I think that helps out a lot,” he said. But it is what it is, it’s not that hard to adjust.”