December 2, 2011

AHL Journal: Phantoms' Zolnierczyk bringing his 'A' game

Adirondack Phantoms forward Harry Zolnierczyk (photo: Dan Hickling)

By Dan Hickling

When someone calls out for “Z,” one thinks of the larger than life captain of the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

There are of course many others who answer to the short form of the last letter in the English alphabet.

Zach Hamill. Zdenek Kutlak. Zbynek Michalek. The list goes on.

But not to be forgotten is another “Z” -- Harry Zolnierczyk -- whom you'll notice has two of those zig-zaggy letters in his last name, which was splayed across his back for the four years he skated on the wing for Brown University.

During the last of those, he also had the captain's “C” stitched to the front of his sweater as he wound up a stellar Ivy League career.

Still, it may have come as something of a surprise that Zolnierczyk, who went undrafted by the NHL, has become something of an A-list player as a first-year pro.

Zolnierczyk, who inked a free agent contract with Philadelphia after wrapping up his term at Brown, has spent the first months of his initial pro season shuttling between the Adirondack Phantoms and the Flyers.

Which isn't bad for someone who flew below the radar while at Brown.

“I think it was super important to be the (guy) called up,” said Zolnierczyk, who played Tier II junior in British Columbia with future Brown and Providence Bruins player Devin Timberlake. “It shows they have that kind of confidence in me. Hopefully we'll keep it that way.”

The first show of trust came on Oct. 19, when Zolnierczyk, a native of Toronto, was hurriedly summoned to join the big club for a game in Ottawa.

“It's exciting when you call a guy who's worked that hard and tell him he's going up,” said Phantoms coach Joe Paterson. “He had a great preseason with the Flyers, and he almost stayed there.”

He had little time to savor the news when he was suited up for his NHL debut, in front of a full house that included his mother, who had managed to make the four-hour trip in time.

“I wasn't sure if I was playing or not,” Zolnierczyk said, “but then I was told I was in. She drove down right away. I'm glad I was there for that.”

It was a trip well worth making, too, as Zolnierczyk highlighted the Flyers' 7-2 win with a dazzling goal.

“It was pretty special,” he said. “I couldn't believe it went in. (Mom) had some tears in her eyes when I saw her after the game.”

To date it's his lone NHL marker, to go along with the eight he's potted in the AHL.

And while he isn't likely to make a career out of sniping, it's nice to be able to put one in now and then.

Still, it will be Zolnierczyk's other qualities – speed, smarts, grit – that will define his career.

“I have to keep working hard,” he said, “and hopefully I'll stay there for good.”

Around the AHL

While on the subject of undrafted college free agents, when the AHL handed out its end of month awards for November, the short list included Portland Pirates center Andy Miele. Miele, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner, was named Rookie of the Month, after having registered 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 10 games for the Bucs, while checking in at plus-7. Miele, who played his college pucks at Miami, signed a free agent deal with the Phoenix Coyotes. … Two of the three hottest teams in the AHL are found in New England, namely the Manchester Monarchs (currently riding a six-game winning streak) and Portland (6-0-1 in its last seven starts.). … It looks as though graybeard goalie Manny Legace will stay with the Springfield Falcons for awhile, which should be good news for the Birds. Legace, soon to be 39, racked up impressive numbers (2.17 GAA, .924 save percentage) in six November outings. … The slumping Providence Bruins (0-6-1 in their last seven) received a big boost this week from the big club in Boston, when the Stanley Cup champs sent down winger Jordan Caron and defensemanSteven Kampfer.

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.