Answering reader mail, even when there isn’t any

Courtesy of The Post-Star
Brrandon Manning of the Phantoms and Manchester’s Alex Hudson throw punches during the first period at the Glens Falls Civic Center on Feb. 17, 2012.

I’ll let you in on a little media secret. Every time a writer uses a column to answer mail, or even better, “clean out the mailbag,” it usually means they just don’t have a strong enough premise to carry a whole piece. Or they just ran out of time.

I cop to both those this week. With the Phantoms having played only four games, two of them in the far reaches of St. John’s, Newfoundland, there isn’t a whole lot of new material to cover.

So please forgive me for me turning to the old writer’s crutch of answering reader mail. Even better, I didn’t let the fact I don’t actually have any reader mail stop me.

It’s more fun when you make up the questions,as I learned from a columnist at a previous stop. Of course, if you have real questions, I’d love to hear from you at But for now, I’ll just dig into the mail…… ah, screw it.

Hey Timmy, you tell me all about this guy Ford and how great he gonna be, and now he can’t even get on the ice? Whatsa matter wit you?

– Tony in South Philly

Tony, how about we give the guy a couple more weeks? Capisce?

I remain high on Matt Ford, but the results haven’t been good over the first four games. The Phantoms have seemingly come out with new lines every game, and the latest shuffle hasn’t been kind to Ford.

Terry Murray dropped him from the first line with Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier before the first weekend ended, and when he split up the two NHLers onto different lines, Ford ended up on neither. He was a healthy scratch Saturday and looks to be on the inactive line this week in practice.

This is one of those situations where it hurts not to see the games. It’s hard to tell if Ford is struggling, or if he just hasn’t fit in with Murray’s system. But it’d be good to get someone else going soon.

Schenn has three goals through four games and it’s mildly concerning that he’s the only player to have scored more than once. Six of the Phantoms 11 goals this season — including an empty-netter — came on opening night.

Old news, but how come none of these NHL guys are captains? Why not Schenn and Couturier?

– Mike from Mayfair

My sense has always been they’ve wanted the Phantoms regulars to feel like this was still their team. Imagine if the NHL guys had been bestowed letters and then the lockout suddenly ended. Not knowing how long they’d be there made it tough to give players like Schenn, Couturier or Eric Wellwood those positions. Besides, they’re expecting those guys to be leaders and good influences just by their stature. They don’t need it to be formalized.

In Ben Holmstrom, they already had a captain, and there was really no reason to change the leadership. He’s a hard-working player and well-liked in the room, if not effusive with the media. As a veteran AHL-er, Danny Syvret was a natural choice as alternate. The pick of Brandon Manning as the other, however, did surprise some people.

Not me. One of the cool things about covering the AHL is you get to do a lot of players first interviews as pros. Usually, they go shakily. Even guys like Matt Read and Harry Zolnierczyk, who go on to become pretty good interviews, seem nervous, especially when they join the team mid-season. They just want to fit and not say the wrong thing.

But he first time I talked to Manning, who missed the first half of last season, I got no sense of nerves. He was a look-you-in-the-eye, firm handshake type. After tough losses, when a lot of eyes in the locker room would stay low, he’d always be willing to answer questions.

His play backed that up. Not a big guy by any stretch, he’d always be one of the first to intervene in scrums. He played and sounded like a captain, which he was in juniors.

Murray, who said he picked the three himself, must have seen the same things in training camp.

What’s there to do in Nowhereseville, N.Y.?

– Bob from Delco

Glad you asked, Bob.

Stat of the week (1). The Syracuse Crunch, the Phantoms’ opponent Sunday, have won 32 straight regular-season games.

Well, sort of.

Last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning had their affiliation in Norfolk, where the Admirals won their final 28 regular-season games — a pro hockey record — on their way to a Calder Cup title. Over the summer, the Lightning switched their affiliation to Syracuse, where the Crunch have opened the season 4-0. So while the record is officially dead, this core group of players hasn’t lost a regular season game since Super Bowl Sunday. The Crunch-mirals have beaten the Phantoms four times during the streak. Saturday, the Crunch rallied from down 5-0 to Binghamton after a goalie fight to win, 6-5, in overtime.

Amazingly, this year’s Norfolk Admirals are also 4-0. Must be some good karma left in that locker room.

Stat of the week (2). The Phantoms’ 55 penalty minutes are the fewest in the AHL. Didn’t expect that now, did you? Heck, that was a good weekend for Zac Rinaldo two years ago.

This week’s schedule. Friday, at Albany (Devils affiliate, 1-2), 7 p.m.; Saturday, vs. Rochester (Sabres affiliate, 3-2), 7 p.m.; Sunday, at Syracuse (Lightning affiliate, 3 p.m.).

How to watch and listen: Radio broadcasts are streamed online. Video of games available on pay-per-view basis at Single games cost $6.95. The site also offers multi-game packages.

Saturday’s game will also be broadcast on NHL Network Radio, which is Sirius 207 and XM 92.

– Tim