Matt Ford sat in the Phantoms’ locker room Sunday evening clutching a pack of ice to his arm.
He scored twice in Adirondack’s 5-4 win over Binghamton, including the shorthanded game-winner in the third, but the lasting imprint on his body came courtesy of a stinging shot block in the third period.
The pair of goals are why Ford has gotten plenty of attention since his February trade to the Phantoms. But the ice bag is just as much a reason why his trade for defenseman Kevin Marshall has been such a smashing success for Adirondack.
When Ford arrived, it seemed likely he’d be an instant offensive upgrade. He’s certainly filled that role and then some, putting up 14 goals and six assists in 23 games with the Phantoms.
Where Ford was a complimentary offensive piece in Hershey, he’s thrived here when given the chance for more ice time and a larger role.
But the real revelation has been his play in all areas of the ice. He’s helped fill the penalty-killing role of Jon Kalinski and is one of the team’s leading shot blockers.
It’s not a stretch to say that Ford may have been the team’s best all-around forward since his arrival and it’s hard to imagine the Phantoms still being in the playoff race without him.
The best part is that the Phantoms were able to deal from a position of strength. Marshall was a fan favorite here and one of the team’s most recognizable players.
But Adirondack has plenty of gritty defensemen: from the veteran Matt Walker and the emerging Oliver Lauridsen, to more offensive players like Marc-Andre Bourdon and Brandon Manning, who still have plenty of snarl.
Ford’s arrival has also has made others better. He’s helped the top line defensively and there’s a trickle-down effect of having a strong scoring presence on the right side. Eight of Shane Harper’s 13 goals have come since Ford arrived.
Last week, I critiqued the Flyers’ approach to the AHL. It angered some who read it solely as a condemnation of the current players.
Perhaps a more delicate way to make my point is to say that players like Ford are what wins at the AHL level. Guys who are in their later 20s, who’ve been around some and have leadership qualities.
You don’t necessarily have to have a team full of AHL mercenaries, but a couple of players like him acquired in the offseason can go a long way toward helping the product on ice and setting a tone for the younger players.
In Ford’s case, however, I think the Flyers have stumbled onto something more. I think they have a player who deserves a shot to compete for an NHL role next season.
Too often in sports we give up on people who aren’t in the show by a certain age we deem appropriate. That would be a mistake to do here.
Re-signing Ford should be a no-brainer for the organization this summer. If he doesn’t get the chance here, someone else will surely give it to him.
Tim McManus covers the Phantoms. He may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter (@PSPhantoms) and read his daily updates on the Phantoms Forum blog online.