It’s almost tournament time, of course, and Philadelphia Little Flyers head coach Rocky Russo knows that postseason play calls for a strong defensive front at all times.
By Joshua Boyd
“Championship teams always play great defense. That is no secret. It starts with our goaltenders [Sam] Kany and [Joseph] Giacobbo,” said Russo. “All seven of our defensemen have been very consistent, which makes the decision each night on who’s in and who’s out very difficult.”
Roughly four months ago, the defensive corps was settled and it’s the same group that the Little Flyers will take into the playoffs in mid-March.
“They have been here learning the systems, and earning the trust,” added Russo. “They don’t always play in the same pairs, but they trust each other, and I trust all seven.”
The group of seven defensemen includes team co-captain Chris Best, alternate captain Evan Heldt, Cameron Bartkoski, Zikmund Mroz, Ian Kwant, Trevor Lewandoski and Cale Coor II.
“Chris and Evan are the calming presence on the ice,” said Russo. “They play big minutes and they have been the backbone of that ‘D’ corps.”
Russo was especially proud of the play
“These are young guys and first-year junior players,” said Russo. “They make good decisions with the puck, and they turn north quickly, making good passes. Everyone loves those offensive-style defensemen, but good offense comes from the ability of your defensemen to get the transition going.”
Up front, the team got strong production from “the usual suspects,” especially co-captain and leading scorer Peter Hatton.
Russo was pleased with fellow forwards Brett Abdelnour and Konsta Jaakola who bring the type of up front energy every team needs in the playoffs.
“They’re first on pucks, they’re hard to play against and they have filled that role,” said Russo. “I can put them out in any situation.”
The Little Flyers clinched both the South Division and Eastern Hockey League regular season titles for the third straight season. Beating Walpole and the Philadelphia Revolution was uplifting after three straight shootout losses, spread over 22 days.
“We played some really good teams, but we only had one game a week [in the first three weeks of February],” Russo said. “Right now, we’re focusing on details, zone entry, puck support and doing what we can to create secondary scoring chances.”
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