GLENS FALLS -- They haven't resorted to stop signs yet. The way things are going, that's probably next.

When some of the younger Phantoms were playing as kids in Ontario, they'd have to affix a red stop-sign sticker to the backs of their jerseys, just above the nameplate, and on their helmet.

The message was as simple as it was redundant: If you can see this sticker on your opponent, don't hit him.

In case you haven't turned on your television this hockey season, the National Hockey League is cracking down on on-ice conduct. Hits from behind and hits to the head have been scrutinized like never before.

New Vice President of Player Safety Brendan Shannahan has been producing slick videos that show the illegal hit and explain the suspension he's handed down.

You don't get the fancy video treatment in the AHL, but the emphasis has trickled down without losing any steam. Players watch the same what-not-to video they show in the NHL, and the penalties have been just as stiff.

No team has felt that burden more so far than the Phantoms.

The league upheld an NHL suspension on Tom Sestito, forcing him to sit out the final two preseason games and the opener.

Captain and MVP Ben Holmstrom is out until Saturday as the first person suspended under the AHL's new rule 48, which prohibits hits where the head is the principal point of contact.

"I think everybody's pretty aware of it," Holmstrom said. "There were a lot of suspensions early and they're really trying to set the tone. ... I guess you have to be smart and know when you can and can't hit a guy, and when it's a vulnerable situation you may have to back off a bit."

The problem is it's not always that simple. Even for people as aware as Holmstrom, the line isn't always easy to find.

He caught Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Colin McDonald in open ice just as he crossed below the blue line. The hit was timed well, but as Holmstrom followed through, the referee and the league felt he caught McDonald with an elbow to the head.

"It's one of those plays that you only got a quick second to make a decision," Holmstrom said. "I play a fairly physical game and that's the way it goes."

Even as a first-time offender with a sterling reputation, Holmstrom got two games. If that doesn't make clear how serious the league is, nothing will.

Phantoms coach Joe Paterson, who played a physical game himself as a player - the evidence is on YouTube if you care to look - understands how difficult it can be.

"When you're going to hit someone, you don't think about those things," Paterson said. "Sometimes, accidentally, this is going to happen."

It's hard to say if there's a rash of it going around early this season, or if there's just more attention to it.

There were several suspensions in the preseason, including three in the Flyers organization. Sestito and Jody Shelley, competing for the same job as enforcer, had nearly identical boarding hits from behind just days apart.

Mike Testwuide also took a game misconduct for a similar hit in the preseason, but wasn't suspended.

You might be wondering, what are these guys stupid? How could you do the exact same thing you just saw a teammate suspended for?

Paterson has a couple of theories.

Make no mistake, he's all for enforcing the rules and sees value in them. But he thinks all of the suspension videos and media attention paid to them might have something to do with it.

"You teach with showing hits, sometimes that remains in the people's minds," Paterson said. "It's almost like a negative. You're showing them what not do. And they all see this in training camp and now all of a sudden we have all these hits from behind and high hits."

Something else could be at work, too.

"Or whether players now know they can't be hit from behind so they're turning their backs more when they get along the boards," Paterson said.

Whatever the intent behind a hit, the message has been sent loud and clear that you'll pay for those kind of hits. And no team knows that better than the Phantoms.

Getting the jerseys right

Is there anyone out there - even one person - who doesn't think the Phantoms home jerseys should say "Adirondack" on the front?

The Phantoms have a habit of producing special edition jerseys for sale at auctions that are much nicer than their actual uniforms.

There's nothing wrong with the regular home sweaters, but they scream generic. They could be the jersey for any team in the world named the Phantoms.

While the script for the names and numbering may have been a train wreck, the opening-night jerseys got the front just perfect, with "Adirondack" written across the front in an old-fashioned script.

My personal favorites remain the jerseys worn during games with Albany two seasons ago, with letters spelling Adirondack written diagonally across the front.

It's not just a matter of style. People shell out good money for jerseys with the names of players who may be gone tomorrow. (Hope you didn't buy any Stefan Legein gear lately.) But Adirondack is permanent and it's a name people here are proud to wear. There should be more ways to get a jersey with Adirondack on the front than buying it at the exorbitant prices common in the postgame auctions.

The Brooks Brothers have been trying harder lately to make this feel like a real Glens Falls team. This should be their easiest call yet.

Tim McManus may be reached at tmcmanus@poststar.com. Follow him on Twitter (@PSPhantoms) or read his Phantoms Forum blog online.

 

(2) comments

smpotter

I understand what the NHL is trying to do regarding head shots and hits from behind, however, players are going out of their way to avoid making contact. I've watched a lot of games this past week and there is hardly anyone hitting for fear of being suspended. If they want the European game, they better make the ice surface larger. I think that once the players and officials know what's going on they will gradually start to hit again. Sorry, but the game is boring without some good body checking. Regarding the jersey's, I agree 100% and have said so on numerous occasions. We need an "Adirondack" jersey that fans will purchase and wear to the games. Orange or black instead of white, thank you. I know the Brook's don't want to alienate their Philadelphia/Allentown fans, but the team is here for 2 more years. Its time to put a local stamp on this team and that opening night jersey (with a few tweaks) just could be it.

VTfan
VTfan

I would like to second that thought on the home sweater. The home opener sweater just with orange lettering instead of black is pretty sharp.

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