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Phantoms kick off 2021 season with overtime heroics

It was their first regular season game in around eleven months.

Heather Barry / SB Nation

The puck dropped for the first time in nearly a year for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last night, and they kicked off their season with a win over the Hershey Bears. Down by one, rookie defenseman Wyatte Wylie broke Pheonix Copley’s shutout bid with just 45 seconds remaining in regulation, and Ryan Fitzgerald secured the two points with the overtime game-winner.

The game marked AHL debuts for seven Phantoms skaters, including 2020 draftees Tyson Foerster and Zayde Wisdom, who both had injury scares. About midway through the middle frame, Wisdom appeared to get hit in the face by a Hershey player’s skate, and he made his way to the locker room. Thankfully, after only missing a shift or two he made his return and finished the game.

Foerster, however, would exit the game with what looks like could be a significant injury. In the third period, a Bears’ forward lost his footing and slid into Foerster’s legs, taking him out. He was helped off the ice and that marked the end of his pro debut. It really put a damper on what had been an encouraging start for the Flyers’ first-rounder, who had a 55.56 Corsi-For percentage and 64.69 Expected Goals-For percentage at five-on-five in the game. He was also a key player in the team’s transition game, with a team-high six carry-ins along with two controlled exits.

While he didn’t make his mark on the scoresheet, Foerster’s debut was an impressive showing. With any luck his injury won’t keep him out long, but it did not look good.

On defense, Wylie’s debut went beyond the two points. Playing primarily alongside returning defenseman Chris Bigras, the pair finished with the best on-ice numbers at five-on-five. He’ll need to clean up his zone exits, with three fails and just one controlled exit on seven attempts, but his skating ability and offensive instincts showed. The tying goal and lone assist on the overtime winner capped off an already solid introduction to the league for Wylie.

Our final standout, aside from Zane McIntyre who was excellent en route to a 34-save performance, was Max Willman. Willman, who impressed in 24 games with Lehigh Valley last season, picked up right where he left off. He’s a flat-out burner, and helped create a couple of quality chances in the game with his speed. He led the team in five-on-five shot attempts and the on-ice numbers agree with the eyes, pointing to him being one of their more effective forwards in the opener. He was also tasked with killing penalties, and if Willman continues to see time on the penalty kill, it’s not hard to imagine him occasionally breaking free for offensive chances.

On the whole, it was a pretty evenly played game between the Phantoms and the Bears, so even that they finished with the same amount of attempts and scoring chances at five-on-five. The power play did have some looks, but if you’re looking for a negative from game one, the power play likely draws the most ire.

This season Madeline Campbell and I will be tracking more data than ever before, and have plenty of links to share. So, with the season opener out of the way, now feels like a good time to drop them all at once. Just as you could the last three seasons, you can find Corsi, scoring chances, and penalty differential, among other things on my site, Phancy Stats. Madeline has transition statistics, with entry and exit numbers that can be found here, and I have added Expected Goals, as well as estimated time on ice, which can be found here. Everything is from a five-on-five game state, but we do have some loosely-created plans having to do with special teams that may or may not show up later.

On the Phancy Stats home page I do have links back to each of our Google sheets, so if you find yourself looking for entry numbers, for example, but can’t seem to find the link, remember to check there.

Lastly, I do want to mention that Madeline has also been tracking college games, and has full-team transition numbers from Michigan, as well as some assorted Flyers prospect-related numbers from other schools.

We do hope you enjoy our coverage of the Phantoms (and beyond) this season, and stay safe out there.