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NHL stars enduring lockout in minor leagues

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Phantoms’ head coach Terry Murray instructs the team during their first practice on Saturday, Sept. 29. (Brooke Famous / Staff Writer)

As the NHL lockout continues to threaten the 2012-13 season, several players are finding their hockey fix in alternative leagues. For fans looking for a hockey fix, the American Hockey League has you covered.

The AHL is the top minor-league affiliate to the NHL. This past Saturday, training camp started for Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL team, the Adirondack Phantoms, formally known as the Philadelphia Phantoms.

Not only do the Phantoms possess most of the Flyers’ future stars, they also are serving as the temporary home for some of the NHL’s current young stars.

Whether an NHL player or a current minor-leaguer yet to experience NHL playing time, the players are equally excited to return to the ice.

“It feels good to be back (in Philly),” Phantoms defenseman Cullen Eddy said. “Five months is a long summer and it’s good to be back on the ice, to see the guys and to get the season going.”

While the Phantoms players are getting ready to start their season, several NHL players were on the other side of the rink, staying in shape during the current lockout. Among them were Flyers stars Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and former Flyer Justin Williams, who won the Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in June.

Two-time Stanley Cup champion Justin Williams and other NHL stars have had private skating sessions during the NHL lockout. (Brooke Famous / Staff Writer)

“We’re certainly frustrated to see the start of the season slowly start slipping away,” Williams said. “We should be in training camp right now gearing up for the season but instead we’re stalled in paperwork and we’re frustrated by that. But at the same time we’re waiting for the right deal.”

For the NHL players that are not used to playing at the AHL level since being up at the NHL, seem to be taking a positive route. One of those players is Sean Couturier, who played his rookie season in the NHL in 2011-12.

“It is not a good situation for everyone with the lockout,” Couturier said. “I’m trying to look at it in a positive way and to work on my game and to improve myself in the AHL. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Joining Couturier are a slew of young players from the most recent group of Flyers. Among them are forwards Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo and Eric Wellwood as well as defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Marc-Andre Bourdon.

Flyers forward Sean Couturier will be playing for the team’s AHL affiliate Adirondack Phantoms during the lockout. (Brooke Famous / Staff Writer)

Some AHL players like the fact that they have some of their old teammates back, knowing that it could help them further improve their game.

“It’s good to see them again and to play with them again,” Shane Harper said.

The Phantoms start the regular season on Saturday, Oct. 13. With the NHL cancelling all games through at least Oct. 24, there is a good chance the AHL will make stops to NHL arenas including the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Flyers. It seems likely that Flyers fans will need to get their hockey fix by attending Phantoms games whenever they are playing locally.

That’s something that the players feel will help, even if it doesn’t solve the situation that continues to escalate in the NHL.

“I know it hurts the city and the fans,” Eddy said. “With the NHL being down, it would be good to hold a game in a good network area and get games going.”

Brooke Famous

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