Catasauqua Press

Friday, February 21, 2020

Willman gets his chance with LV

Thursday, February 13, 2020 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in Sports

Max Willman is a good hockey player, but throughout his career he’s been overlooked every time he hoped to make a step forward.

As a high school hockey player in Massachusetts, Willman wasn’t scouted by colleges, which is unusual because New England is a highly scouted area for colleges.

Since he wasn’t getting looks by playing for a public high school, he attended the Williston Northampton School and finally got noticed. The fact that he put up 44 points in 25 games got him a full ride to Brown University and saw him drafted, but not signed, by the Buffalo Sabres in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

He played at Brown, but suffered a torn ACL early in his senior season, which took him out of consideration for the NHL Draft.

Because of the injury, Willman was able to play a fifth season of college hockey and transferred to Boston University last season, making him a teammate of current Flyers forward Joel Farabee. An uninspired showing with the Terriers left him off the ice as the 2019-2020 season approached. As his agent looked to find Willman a team to catch onto, Reading Royals coach Kirk MacDonald called his agent and the two struck a deal for Willman to join the Royals.

“Basically, I was just looking to go anywhere and play at that point,” Willman said.

Early on, Willman didn’t see much ice time and was a healthy scratch in 10 of the first 11 Royals games, but over the next 16 games, he launched five goals and 10 assists for the Royals.

“It was kind of a bittersweet feeling, because I had a job, but I wasn’t playing,” said Willman. “All I could do was just bide my time and keep working so that I could take advantage of an opportunity if it came along and I was fortunate that it did.”

Willman received a Professional Tryout (PTO) contract with the Phantoms after a rash of injuries hit both in Philadelphia and at Lehigh Valley. As players started to get healthy, Willman has been able to make it through a myriad roster shuffles in which three other forwards have been sent to Reading recently.

During a Phantoms five-game homestand last month, Willman picked up his first career AHL goal against Syracuse and finished with five points in a six-game span. Just before the AHL All-Star Break, Willman went on a road trip with the Phantoms to Providence, which served as a bit of a homecoming. He had a number of family and friends on hand to witness him pick up two assists in the two-game trip.

“It’s been a battle to deal with the highs and lows, but it’s all worth it,” said Willman. “You never know what can happen, so you just have to stay ready and take advantage of any opportunities that you get.”

THE LYON RETURNS... With Carter Hart healthy and ready to return to action for the Flyers, goalie Alex Lyon was loaned back to Lehigh Valley. Lyon’s addition meant that Kirill Ustimenko was sent back to the Reading Royals.

Lyon played in three games with Philadelphia and picked up his first NHL win of the season in a 28-save appearance against Colorado on February 1.

With Lehigh Valley, Lyon has played 25 games and has a 9-13-2 record with a .916 save percentage, which ranks 11th in the AHL.

THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG... Steven Swavely was recalled to Lehigh Valley from Reading on Sunday just three hours before the Phantoms hosted Hershey in the third game of a three-in-three weekend for Lehigh Valley.

Swavely, a Reading native, scored his first goal of the season in the second period to cut Hershey’s lead to 2-1. It was Swavely’s 13th game of the season with the Phantoms and his first since December 29. The Phantoms lost the game 5-2 to end their six-game home winning streak.

FROST EXITS... For the second time this season, Morgan Frost was recalled by the Flyers. The move came on Friday and coincidentally or not, followed a practice that saw Shane Gostisbehere fling his stick over the boards after misplaying a shot attempt.

Immediately following the incident, Gostisbehere left the ice and didn’t return to practice. Both Frost and Gostisbehere play center, a position where the Flyers need help. Frost has eight goals and 12 assists in 30 games with the Phantoms this season.