UPDATED: October 12, 2006

The AHL Beat - The Stories Behind the Game.

by Kate Krezner.

East Division Rivals 'Bang Heads' In Dramatic Opener

The American Hockey League season officially kicked off Wednesday, October 4th when the Wilkes-Barre Penguins beat the Manitoba Moose in overtime 3-2. However, for many cities throughout the league, opening night didn't roll around until that Friday, October 6th. 14 teams squared off against one another that evening. Arguably the most exciting story comes out of Philadelphia, where the Phantoms posted a 5-4 victory in overtime over the Norfolk Admirals.

Of course hearing that Philadelphia won in overtime leads one to believe the game was exciting based solely on that fact alone. However, if you weren't witness to it at the Wachovia Center in South Philly you may not know that the Phantoms had overcome a 4-1 deficit to take the game.

All Admirals goals on the evening came from the right wing. Forward Carl Corazzini netted two goals, while Brandon Bochenski and Ivan Novoseltsev also added to Norfolk's tally. However, that would be where the scoring ended for the Admirals.

Matt Ellison and Alexandre Picard both contributed goals for the Phantoms, who through most of the first half of the game seemed to lack the speed and energy needed to keep up.

With the score sitting at 4-2 in favor of the visiting team, second year Phantoms forward Stefan Ruzicka took the reins. He scored three, unanswered goals, including the game winner 15 seconds into overtime to become the hero of the evening. He also wrote a new page in the Phantoms history book. His three goals resulted in only the third natural hat trick in the team's 11-year history.

" Stefan has unbelievable talent. He can make guys look silly any time he wants. He has great hands and he knows where the net is. He made some unbelievable plays there at the end of the game for us to get the win," said Ellison, a former Admiral who assisted on Ruzicka's first goal.

Days earlier in an exhibition game played in Northeast Philly, Norfolk skated away with a 4-3 shootout victory. You could say the Phantoms exercised some sweet revenge over the Admirals at a time when the games start to count and the rivalry between the two begins to heat up.

Bochenski, who netted a goal for Norfolk isn't too concerned.

"It's a tough loss. There are about five of us that just got here four days before this game coming from Chicago. The team needs a little time to group together and really become a team," said the forward. "It's the first game of the year, you aren't hitting any panic buttons, but you don't want to lose games like that. Especially to Philadelphia."

Yes, especially to Philadelphia. This meeting was the first of ten between the teams this year. The two teams play a similar style of game. In recent years, those two factors have combined to form a rivalry between these two East Division teams.

"Both teams play the same style. Both teams win games on defense. For that to happen you have to play hard every game. There's a lot of hitting, usually a lot of fights. It's just a battle all the time," said Ellison. "You've got teams like Hershey and Wilkes-Barre in this division that are a little softer and aren't as tough. Those are rivalries, but they are different rivalries. With Norfolk it's the same style of hockey; banging heads."

With nine more games to go against one another, it's going to be a long season. However, there's a little more work to do if these teams are going to be banging heads into the playoffs.

"If we're going to make a run and be a good team in this league we have to play better for 60 minutes," stated Ellison when reflecting on his team's come from behind victory. "It shows a lot about our team that we can come back in the last ten minutes for two goals and end up pulling it off and winning it, but if we're going to win a lot of games this year we've got to play solid for 60 minutes, not just 10 or 15."

The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in The AHL Beat copyright 2006 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.