|League:||American Hockey League|
|Home Arena:||Wachovia Spectrum and|
|Colors:||Black, purple, orange, white
|General Manager:||Paul Holmgren|
|Head Coach:||John Paddock|
|Media:||The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News|
|Affiliates:||Philadelphia Flyers (NHL)|
Mississippi Sea Wolves (ECHL)
|Regular Season Titles:||2 (1996–97, 1997–98)|
|Division Championships:||4 (1996–97, 1997–98, 1998–99, 2003–04)|
|Conference Championships:||2 (1997–98, 2004–05)|
|Calder Cups:||2 (1997–98, 2004–05)|
The Philadelphia Phantoms are a professional ice hockey team in the American Hockey League. They are based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania playing home games at the Wachovia Spectrum. When the Spectrum is unavailable because of other events such as ice shows or the circus, the adjacent Wachovia Center serves as the alternate home venue for a small number (generally three to six) of the club's regular season games each year as well as many (and sometimes all) of its Calder Cup playoff matches. The Phantoms have won two Calder Cups since their inception in 1996.
Philadelphia and the AHL
When the Canadian-American Hockey League (1926–36) and original International Hockey League (1929–36) began playing an interlocking schedule in 1936–37 as the International-American Hockey League, the then defending "Can-Am" champion Philadelphia Ramblers (née Philadelphia Arrows) became one of the new combined circuit's eight original member clubs. (After two seasons of interlocking play, the two leagues agreed at a meeting held in New York on June 28, 1938, to formally merge. In 1940 it also renamed itself the American Hockey League.) By 1942, however, that original Philadelphia franchise (which was renamed the "Rockets" in 1941 after losing its affiliation with the New York Rangers) fell on hard times and permanently suspended operations.
The AHL's next two tries in Philadelphia made in 1946 by a new Philadelphia Rockets (1946–49) and again in 1977 by the NAHL refugee Philadelphia Firebirds (1977–79) unfortunately also both met with very little longevity or on-ice success. (The 1946–47 Rockets in fact still hold the AHL mark for fewest wins in a season at five on a record of 5–52–7.) The AHL's dismal record in the city all changed, however, with the establishment in 1996 of a fourth AHL club in Gov. William Penn's "Greene Countie Towne" -- the now already two-time (1998, 2005) Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms.
The Phantoms are the third AHL franchise to be owned and operated by the NHL Philadelphia Flyers as their top development club. (The Flyers previously operated the Quebec Aces from 1967 to 1971 and the Maine Mariners from 1977 to 1983.) For the twelve seasons (1984–96) prior to founding the Phantoms, the Flyers had maintained a highly successful affiliation with the venerable Hershey Bears which included winning a Calder Cup title in 1988. With the Flyers' impending move in September 1996, from their long-time (1967–96) home at the Spectrum across the parking lot to the then soon to be completed CoreStates Center (later called the First Union Center, now the Wachovia Center), however, Comcast-Spectacor, as the owner of both arenas as well as the Flyers, elected to keep the older building open and active instead of demolishing it as has been the fate of so many other similar arenas. This, however, required finding one or more new tenants to fill some of the 80 to 100 or so NHL and NBA dates each year which the Spectrum would lose to the much larger new Center.
To help achieve that end, in December 1995, the Flyers purchased an AHL expansion franchise which would begin operation in the 1996–97 season. A few weeks later it was announced that the new team would be named the Philadelphia Phantoms and be coached by Hall of Famer and former Flyer winger Bill Barber assisted by veteran ex-Bear and Flyer defenseman Mike Stothers, the same tandem who were then coaching the Flyers’ prospects in Hershey.
The Phantoms played their first ever regular season game on October 4, 1996, defeating the Springfield Falcons, 6–3, in Springfield. The club made its Spectrum debut two days later on Sunday, October 6, before an enthusiastic crowd of 9,166 which saw them defeat the visiting Rochester Americans, 3–1, in the first regular season AHL game played in Philadelphia since the departure of the Philadelphia Firebirds in 1979. By season's end the Phantoms had compiled a 49–18–3–10 record for a league best 111 points, ten more than second overall Hershey's 101. Center Peter White captured the Sollenberger Trophy as the AHL's top scorer with 105 points while center Vinnie Prospal finished fourth overall in the league with 95 despite having been called up to the Flyers with 17 games left in the season.
After sweeping aside the Baltimore Bandits in three games in the opening round of their first ever play-offs, the Phantoms then met their now already arch rivals, the Hershey Bears, in a most eventful best-of-seven second round set. After dropping the opening game, 5–3, the Phantoms evened the series with a 7–4 victory in a most memorable game two which featured, among other things, 350 minutes in penalties (171 to the Phantoms), fourteen game misconducts, a pair of suspensions, a one sided fight in which goalie Neil Little KO'd Bears' substitute netminder Sinuhe Wallinheimo, and most unusual of all the appearance in the game of no less than five goalies (J.F. Labbe, Wallinheimo, and Sylvain Rodrique for Hershey; Little and Dominic Roussel for Philadelphia). After dropping game six, 3–2, in a marathon affair at Hershey which ended when Blair Atchenum slipped the Bears' 57th shot of the night (and the 121st overall by both teams) behind Little on a breakaway at :42 of the third overtime, the Phantoms' first season came to an end when Hershey edged them again, 3–2, in Game 7 at the Spectrum three nights later on May 14. (Hershey went on to win their eighth Calder Cup title a few weeks later.)
1998: Philadelphia's first Calder Cup
As in their inaugural season, the Phantoms again finished first overall in 1997–98 with 106 points on a record of 47–23–2–10, and again Peter White took home the Sollenberger Trophy as the league's top scorer with another 105 point season. Sell out crowds of 17,380 also packed the Spectrum eight times during the regular season schedule with a total season attendance of 472,392, and over 100,000 more attended the club’s home Calder Cup games during which the Phantoms played and defeated the Rochester Americans, Hershey Bears, Albany River Rats, and Saint John Flames.
A crowd of 17,380 (the club’s ninth sell out of the year) filled the Spectrum on the evening of June 10, 1998, for game six of the finals which saw the Phantoms play a virtually flawless contest as they defeated the Flames, 6–1, behind the stellar goaltending of Neil Little who had allowed just 48 post season goals on his way to a 15–5 play-off record. Winger Mike Maneluk earned the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the play-off MVP while also being the league's leading post season scorer with 34 points on 13 goals and 21 assists. Team captain John Stevens (who had also won Calder Cups with Hershey in 1988 and Springfield in 1991, and would coach the Phantoms to another title in 2005) and his teammates paraded the Calder Cup around the same ice as the Flyers had skated their first Stanley Cup twenty-four years earlier.
1999 AHL All Star game
On January 24, 1999, the Phantoms hosted the 1999 AHL All-Star Game before a crowd of 14,120 at the then First Union (now Wachovia) Center. Philadelphia defenseman Sergei Klimentiev, center Richard Park, and goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier all skated for the PlanetUSA team in that game, while centers Peter White and Jim Montgomery joined head coach Bill Barber and assistant coach Mike Stothers on the Canadian squad for which White also served as captain. Pelletier won the game’s MVP award with his outstanding period of work for PlanetUSA in their 5–4 win over Barber's Canadian squad.
The Phantoms continued to draw fans through the turnstiles at a prodigious rate in 1998–99 as they drew a then-franchise single game attendance record of 19,532 at the First Union Center on February 28, 1999 to see the Phantoms and the Kentucky Thoroughblades skate to a 3–3 draw. With a capacity crowd of 17,380 at the Spectrum on April 11 to watch the Phantoms conclude their home schedule against the Hershey Bears, the club established an AHL-best overall single season attendance record of 480,106 for an average of 12,002 fans per game.
With head coach Bill Barber's promotion to the Flyers after the 1999–2000 season as an assistant (and later head) coach, assistant coach John Stevens (who had been forced to retire as a player the previous season because of a serious eye injury) became the second head coach of the Phantoms in June 2000. Stevens, the team's first captain, was soon joined by two more former Flyer players, defenseman Kjell Samuelsson and winger Don Nachbaur, to complete the new staff. In November 2003, long-time NHL tough guy and former Flyer left wing Craig Berube signed with the Phantoms to finish his 18-year pro career back in Philadelphia as a player/assistant coach. At the end of that season he retired as a player to become a full-time assistant coach for the 2004–05 campaign replacing Nachbaur who had since returned to the WHL as head coach of the Tri-City Americans.
While it may have only been a coincidence, not long after signing Berube the Phantoms and Binghamton Senators combined for 373 penalty minutes in a 5–1 Sens' win at the Spectrum on December 28, 2003, to establish new club records for most PIM (210), combined PIM, and even an individual team mark set by Peter Vandermeer with 44 PIM. After 11 fights and 15 game misconducts, the game was called with eight seconds remaining due to a lack of enough remaining players on each team. When John Stevens was promoted to the Flyers as an assistant coach after the 2005–06 season, Berube was named the Phantoms' third head coach in June, 2006. After John Stevens was promoted to Flyers head coach, Berube left the Phantoms to join Stevens' staff as an assistant coach. Samuelsson, a Phantoms' assistant coach for six seasons, was named the 4th head coach in Phantoms history on October 23, 2006, and two-time Stanley Cup winner Joe Mullen, a 2000 inductee in Hockey Hall of Fame and former teammate of Samuelsson's with the Pittsburgh Penguins, joined the club as his assistant coach. Berube returned to the Phantoms as head coach again with the 2007–08 season (and Samuelsson to associate coach) while Mullen joined former Phantoms' mentor John Stevens with the Flyers as an assistant coach for the NHL club.
A goalie scores -- shorthanded and in OT
The Phantoms clinched the F.G. (Teddy) Oke Trophy as the AHL’s East Division 2003–04 regular-season champion with a 0–0 tie in Bridgeport on April 10 for its fourth division title and 13th shutout of the season. (The previous franchise record for shutouts was just five.) The following night the club ended the regular season by completing its improbable 12–0 season sweep in games of the rival Hershey Bears with a bizarre 3–2 overtime victory at the GIANT Center in Hershey. Goalie Antero Niittymaki was credited with the game-winner on a shorthanded, empty-net goal 2:32 into the extra session, making him the first-ever Phantom goaltender to "score" a goal. (With the Bears needing two points in their final games of the season to make the playoffs, Hershey coach Paul Fixter pulled his goalie in overtime when the home team got a powerplay but then the Bears inadvertently shot the puck into their own net when their pointman missed a pass. Niittymaki was credited with the goal because he was the last Phantom player to have touched the puck.) Over the season Philadelphia had outscored Hershey, 47–14, in the 12 match-ups between the two clubs. But despite finishing the regular season with 46 wins and 101 points, the Phantoms were upset in the second round of the play-offs by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, a team that had finished the season 15 points behind them.
2005: A second Calder Cup
The 2004–2005 season would see the now 70-year old Calder Cup return to Philadelphia for a second time, and do so in record setting fashion. After dropping their first two games of the season on the road, the Phantoms posted a 5–3 victory over Hamilton in their home opener on October 22 which would prove to be the first win in an AHL-record 17-game win streak which they set with 3–1 victory in Hershey on November 27. On April 15 Antero Niittymaki's 4–1 victory over Hershey also broke the team record for most wins in a season by a goalie as he registered his 32nd win to break veteran teammate Neil Little’s mark of 31 set in both 1996–97 and 1997–98. While Niittymaki saw most of the playing time in the season, veteran Phantom netminder Neil Little was still able to make his mark as he became just the 10th goaltender in AHL history to accumulate 200 wins when he shut out the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on March 4 as the club compiled a 16–7–1 record over the final two months of the regular season to finish just one point behind the Jason Spezza-led Binghamton Senators for second place in the division.
While the Phantoms were already a very solid contender entering the play-offs, the roster improved drastically with the addition of the Flyers' two graduating 2003 first-round draft picks -- centers Jeff Carter of the OHL Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (taken 11th overall) and Mike Richards of the OHL Kitchener Rangers (taken 24th) -- who each joined the Phantoms as their junior clubs were eliminated from the Memorial Cup playoffs. Carter arrived in time for the final week of the regular season schedule and went on to lead the AHL in playoff scoring with 23 points (12–11) in 21 games. Richards joined the club a game into the second round and went on to collect 15 points (7–8) in 14 games.
The Phantoms' 2005 play-off run began against the Norfolk Admirals, a team that had defeated Philadelphia in six of their ten regular-season meetings including the last game of the season played at the Spectrum on April 17. Philadelphia took the first round set in six games with a 4–2 victory at the Wachovia Center located across the parking lot from the Spectrum. (With the circus in the Spectrum for two weeks as the play-offs began and no conflicting Flyers' post season dates at the Center because of the lockout, the AHL club would end up playing all 13 of its home Calder Cup games in the much larger NHL building.)
In the second round they met the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins who had already upset the Binghamton Senators in their first round set. After the Phantoms took the first two games at home and split games three and four in Wilkes-Barre, the series returned to the Center for one of the most memorable games in team history. Trailing 4–1 approaching the midway point of the third period of game five, the Phantoms exploded for six unanswered goals over the game's final ten minutes en route to a 7–4 victory and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Providence Bruins whom the Phantoms dispatched as well in six games with another victory at the Center which also extended their post season home ice record to a perfect 11–0.
With the victory over Providence the Phantoms were back to the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since 1998 and would meet the Chicago Wolves, another powerhouse team that up until that point had breezed through the playoffs including a sweep of the Manitoba Moose in the Western Conference Finals. While both teams had plenty of scoring power, it was expected to be a battle of two stellar Finnish goaltenders -- the Phantoms' Niittymaki and the Chicago's Kari Lehtonen -- who had both been stellar performers all season long. Even though the Phantoms had finished the regular season with 103 points on a record of 48–25–3–4, for the first time in the 2005 post season the they would have to open a series on the road as Chicago had finished with 105 points (49–24–5–2) -- and had lost just seven times at home all season.
As expected, the first three games of the series were tight checking, low scoring contests which featured stellar goaltending at both ends of the ice. Niittymaki, however, who was just a little bit better than Lehtonen, his fellow Finn, earning a surprise 1–0 shutout victory in game one. He was even better in game two, however, holding the high scoring Wolves to just one goal in a 2–1 double overtime victory to send the series back to Philadelphia where the next three games -- if necessary -- would be played and Phantoms were already 11–0 in the play-offs. Niittymaki again held the Wolves to just one goal as the Phantoms defeated Chicago again, 2–1, in game three. Through almost eleven periods of hockey over three games, Niittymaki had allowed the high scoring Wolves (245 regular season goals) just two goals while Lehtonen and had been solved for just five by the Phantoms, but that differential of three goals was enough to give Philadelphia a 3–0 stranglehold on the series going into game four on June 10.
An AHL playoff-record crowd of 20,103 NHL-lockout hockey starved fans filled the seats as the puck dropped that night hoping to see a Philadelphia professional hockey team win a play-off title on home ice for just the fifth time in the seventy-eight years since the C-AHL Philadelphia Arrows first played a pro hockey game in the city in 1927. The Phantoms did not disappoint the SRO crowd as they defeated the Wolves handily, 5–2, with center Ben Stafford (who retired after the play-offs and is now a Lieutenant in US Marine Corps serving in Iraq) collecting the Cup-winning goal. Rookie Jeff Carter's 23 points (12–11) earned him individual honors as the AHL's top scorer in the play-offs and Niittymaki won the Jack Butterfield Award as the Calder Cup MVP. After the Phantoms shook hands with the Wolves' players at center ice AHL President Dave Andrews handed the Calder Cup to team captain Boyd Kane who skated it around the ice. Ironically exactly seven years earlier to the day, Phantoms' coach John Stevens had received the same Cup from the same hands a few hundred yards away at the Spectrum as captain of the 1997–98 Phantoms. The Phantoms' victory also represents the only time that a professional team in any sport has captured a play-off championship in a game played at the Wachovia Center, and just the fifth time that a professional hockey title in any league has been won in a game which took place in Philadelphia since the sport was first played in the city in 1927.
Phantoms in the NHL
The 2004–05 Phantoms not only brought the Calder Cup back to Philadelphia for a second time, but also sent a dozen members of its championship roster on to the NHL in 2005–06. Nine players -- Antero Niittymaki, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Patrick Sharp, Jon Sim, Joni Pitkanen, Dennis Seidenberg, Freddy Meyer, and R.J. Umberger -- all saw regular service with the Flyers in 2005–06 while Ben Eager, Randy Jones, Wade Skolney, and Ryan Ready also were called up at one time or another during the season. Dennis Seidenberg was traded during the 2005-06 season to the Phoenix Coyotes and now is under contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Richards, Jones, Carter, Niittymaki, Eager, Umberger and Pitkanen would move on to become regular players for the Flyers. However, Pitkanen was traded before the 2007-08 season, Eager during that season and Umberger before the 2008-09 season.
The Final Season
Due to the impending demolition of the Wachovia Spectrum, on February 4, 2009, it was announced that Comcast Spectacor has reached agreement to sell the Phantoms to the Brooks Group of Pittsburgh. The new ownership has expressed interest in eventually moving the Phantoms to Allentown provided that a multi-purpose arena can be constructed there. Until a permanent new home is found for the club it will have to operate starting in 2009-2010 in a temporary location. The site being given the most serious consideration for that is Glens Falls, NY, the former home of the AHL Adirondack Red Wings from 1979 to 1999. Comcast Spectacor continues to operate the team through the conclusion of the 2008-09 AHL season and play-offs.
On April 10, 2009, the Phantoms played their final regular season home game at the Spectrum in front of a standing room only crowd of 17,380 (the 21st sell-out in team history) and defeated the Hershey Bears, 5-2. Rob Siriani collected the final regular season hat trick in Spectrum history while the win also secured the Phantoms a berth in the Calder Cup playoffs. During a pregame ceremony, one final banner was raised to the rafters of The Spectrum paying tribute to "The Final Home Game" and included the signature sign-off off of Gene Hart, the late longtime voice of the club's NHL parent Philadelphia Flyers: "Good night and good hockey."
The Phantoms ended their thirteenth and final AHL regular season schedule with a 3-2 loss in Hershey the following night which set up a Hershey/Philadelphia match-up in the first round of the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs. The series is the fourth overall between the two Pennsylvania clubs, although the first since 2000.