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Fans say farewell to Adirondack Phantoms

Fans say farewell to Adirondack Phantoms

Cullen Eddy and Rob Bordson were locked out.
Fans say farewell to Adirondack Phantoms
Fans cheer as the Adirondack Phantoms leave the ice following their last game at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Friday.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson

Cullen Eddy and Rob Bordson were locked out.

The two Adirondack Phantoms players and roommates found themselves out in the cold staring up at the unlocked second-floor window of their apartment in Hudson Falls. Both relatively new to the area and unsure whom to call, they decided to turn to their fans for help.

Eddy shot out a message on Twitter. Moments later, a fan responded and the two locked-out players were en route to pick up a ladder.

“People help you out,” said Eddy after practice on Thursday.

“It was pretty legendary,” added Bordson.

For Eddy, a Pennsylvania native, and Bordson, who grew up in Minnesota, the Glens Falls area has been a home away from home for nearly four years. Bordson came to the Phantoms after the Philadelphia Flyers, the team’s NHL affiliate, acquired him in a 2010 trade; Eddy joined the team that same year after toiling for a year in the East Coast Hockey League.

On Monday, both players will have an end-of-the-season medical exam with the team and then clear out their gear from the Glens Falls Civic Center. They’ll move out of their apartment — now in Queensbury — and return home for the summer.

“It’s kind of been like a hometown we’ve been here so long, said Eddy, a defenseman. “It’s going to be tough to say goodbye to a place you’ve called home for so many years.”

When the season resumes next fall, the Phantoms players won’t be coming back to Glens Falls. Not at least as the home team.

The team that spent five years in the city will take up residence in Allentown, Pa., and be known as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The move was planned to coincide with the completion of a new $272 million arena complex, meaning most fans expected them to leave one day.

“It’s going to be a big change obviously,” said Ben Holmstrom, the team’s captain and its only player to see action in all five of the Phantoms’ seasons. “There’s always going to be change though. Unfortunately, it’s part of the business.”

That didn’t make their final game any less emotional for the fans who adopted the Phantoms as their own. The Phantoms brought hockey back to the city that lost its beloved Adirondack Red Wings in 1999 and hadn’t hosted any professional hockey since 2006.

“It’s depressing,” said Kelly McGuire, a season ticket holder from Corinth during the team’s last home game Friday. “I’m already starting to cry. We’ve become close to these guys. Not the names, the guys.”

Hopes dim for 2014-15

And the prospects of another team replacing them is appearing increasingly dim. Only one of 30 American Hockey League teams — the Calgary Flames affiliate in British Columbia known as the Abbotsford Heat — is shopping for a new city, meaning Glens Falls could be competing with any number of other areas hoping to land a franchise before the 2014-2015 season.

Over the winter, Mayor John “Jack” Diamond indicated the city’s hope of attracting a replacement for the Phantoms was rapidly diminishing. Fans were given new hope last week when the city officials from Abbotsford announced they were canceling a long-term deal with the Flames to retain the team.

But Flames executives — two of whom toured the civic center in February — haven’t given any clear indication of where they plan to locate or when they’ll make a decision. Even if they do chose Glens Falls, there’s a good chance their stay won’t be any longer than the Phantoms.

“It’ll probably only be temporary if they do come,” speculated Dan Hall, the city’s councilman-at-large.

Looking westward

Many NHL teams are now trying to move their minor league affiliates closer to their base of operations to more easily evaluate and call up players on an as-needed basis. This push has opened up the real possibility of the AHL creating a Pacific division so West Coast NHL teams can move their minor league teams closer.

“From a geography point of view, there’s a lot of pressure on our league at this point to grow our league to the West Coast to get our teams closer to the West Coast NHL teams,” said Dave Andrews, the president and chief executive officer of the AHL, during a radio interview at a Phantoms game in late March. “That’s one of the things that’s in play.”

If a West Coast division is created, it’ll likely draw teams away from the Northeast. Fewer available teams means the AHL’s footprint will shrink considerably.

Facilities issues

Glens Falls will then need to compete with cities boasting larger populations and bigger arenas with facilities more suited for future NHLers. Though the Civic Center’s bowl provides for an optimal fan experience, its dated interior pales in comparison to other arenas in the region.

The locker rooms are small, as is the weight room. The Phantoms keep a cluster of stationary cycles in the corridor leading to the rink because there isn’t enough space for them elsewhere.

“Some of the things it comes down to is space for the team in the locker room area and trying to figure out what’s needed there,” said Chris Porreca, the Phantoms’ executive vice president. “It’s not up to me, it’s going to be up to the next team in making those decisions.”

Still, the city has its advantages, said Terry Murray, the Phantoms’ coach of two seasons. The city is located within close proximity to others in the league, meaning Adirondack only had 13 days during the 2013-2014 season where they needed to stay overnight at hotels.

“To me the city of Glens Falls is the perfect place for a minor league hockey team,” he said. “The fans are tremendous. The city is not so big the players get lost in it. The housing situation is ideal. And that’s a big part of it.”

Economic impact

Hanging in the balance with the fate of hockey in Glens Falls is the large economic impact an AHL team brings to the city and surrounding area. Though an exact estimate of the business drummed up by the Phantoms is not available, it’s believed to be in the millions of dollars.

“Professional sports does make an impact on a community,” said Peter Aust, president of the Adirondack Regional Chamber in Glens Falls. “We’re experiencing that positive impact from having a professional sports team here. Without them, we’re going to feel an impact.”

The Phantoms gave area residents a reason to explore Glens Falls during the harsh Adirondack winters. Bill Gloffke, a season ticket holder from Stony Creek, doubts he’ll be back to Glens Falls much without hockey at the Civic Center.

“It gives you something to do for 40 days out of the winter and now we’ll have no reason to come back,” he said. “Will [the Phantoms’ departure] make or break businesses? I don’t know. But it won’t help.”

There’s another impact from the Phantoms’ departure — an emotional impact. Among the announced record-setting crowd of 5,586 on Friday were diehard fans not ready to watch their final game of AHL hockey in Glens Falls.

Fans chanted “we want hockey” and “we want the Heat” during a gut-wrenching 3-2 overtime loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Though fans had a slightly varying take on the Phantoms’ looming departure, many described it succinctly: Bittersweet.

In Heritage Hall, the bar tucked beneath the Civic Center stands where many season ticket holders congregate during games, longtime bartender Gary Townsend lamented about the loss of AHL hockey. Over five seasons, he got to know many of his customers by name.

“You get a great relationship with them,” he said. “It becomes like a family after a while and you don’t know when you’ll see them again.”

Close to community

Phantoms players were visible in the community, forging a bond with the fans, even though they never made the playoffs and only had one winning season. Gary and Linda Seitz, season ticket holders from Granville, would have watched nearly any hockey club skating at the Civic Center, but felt a bond with the Phantoms that made their final game tough to watch.

“We all knew this was going to come to an end,” said Gary Seitz.

“And now it’s here,” finished his wife.

For other fans, the Phantoms served as a portal into playing the sport, explained Marlanne McCarthy, a board member with Adirondack Youth Hockey. Children in the program got to meet the players and skate between periods at the Phantoms’ games, which helped motivate others to join the program.

“When they see other little kids skating around, suddenly they want to do it,” she said. “I think that helped immensely.”

Phantoms players saluted the fans after their loss Friday and then made their way to the locker room, where they packed up their gear and loaded up a tour bus bound for an away game at Hershey, Pa. For nearly an hour, they signed autographs and chatted with a throng of young fans, who lingered by the Civic Center’s exit even after the bus pulled away.

The Phantoms may leave behind one lasting reminder of their time in Glens Falls: Their mascot Dax. The loveable neon yellow beaver developed by the Flyers’ organization midway through the 2011-2012 season won’t be joining the team in Allentown and could be adopted by a new organization if one comes to the Civic Center.

“Dax will be sad, because this is all he knows,” lamented Andrew Hill, the Phantoms’ director of fun and community development, who wore the costume for three seasons. “It’ll be tough for him like everyone else.”

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