Stepping out of the Phantoms dressing room at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, Kirk Furey had a few words to say when asked if he had a moment for an interview.
“Is the league that hard up for story lines?” Furey asked, something of a mix of surprise and mischief forming on his face.
The self-deprecating manner is the norm for the outgoing defenseman Furey, on the ice a strong skater who mixes grit and a touch of offense into his game.
The mood around the Phantoms last weekend matched Furey’s laid-back manner, particularly after Philadelphia pulled out a tough 2-1 win before a sold-out and rowdy Saturday night crowd in downtown Binghamton.
The Phantoms bottomed out this year with a 4-3 loss in Albany on Nov. 1 that left them in a 2-5-1-1 hole. Recalls, injuries and an adjustment period for a new roster left the Phantoms scrambling to take control of their season.
Now, though, October’s losses have given way to January’s Phantoms, a hardworking, feisty bunch that scratches out wins one at a time. After a few quiet years, the Phantoms have made American Hockey League teams work for their two points when visiting the Wachovia Spectrum.
“It’s a total team effort, and that’s what we’ve done in this stretch,” said Furey that night in Binghamton, taking a jab in the right arm and a barb from passerby P.J. Stock.
An extra infusion of talent, character and some swagger – the additions of Stock, Craig Berube, Jim Vandermeer and Furey providing it ^ to a solid cast in November helped reverse the Phantoms’ fortunes. A solid dressing room became that much stronger.
Stock, Berube and Vandermeer all hold National Hockey League experience to varying degrees.
Furey, who turns 28 on Jan. 28, does not, though he is no less of a character in the Philadelphia dressing room. With a Kelly Cup (ECHL) from last season staring back from his resume, Furey’s evaluation of the Philadelphia scene carries some extra weight.
“The big thing here with this team is it’s very close. That’s a start. Everyone has confidence in each other.”
“For one, it’s a great group of guys. You, anyone, is accepted. It makes it that much more easy.”
Furey’s teammates have accepted him. Using a second-half stint with the Phantoms last season as a springboard, Furey returned to the Phantoms in mid-November from Atlantic City of the ECHL, won himself a regular slot on the crowded Philadelphia blue line and has not looked back since.
Furey’s numbers (2g, 7a) in 24 games with the Phantoms are solid, and he has fit into the Phantoms’ mix nicely, enough so that he has earned time on the Phantoms’ power play.
Few hockey resumes in the AHL are as unique as Furey’s.
A stop-and-start stint in the Ontario Hockey League with Owen Sound in the mid-1990s gave way to three years of Canadian university hockey in Nova Scotia with Acadia University. Furey’s Acadia stint began when he was already 22.
Wondering whether he could eke out a pro career, he moved on and took his chances in the ECHL for the 2001-02 campaign. Furey, in other words, began his pro career at the ripe old age of 25.
He quickly made up for his lost time, winning a Kelly Cup last May with Atlantic City in his second ECHL season.
A blunt sort, Furey kept his own expectations reasonable to start.
“To be quite honest with you, when I first started, I just wanted to see if I could play at the pro level. It’s been a pretty enjoyable experience, winning a championship.”
Phantoms head coach John Stevens is confident enough with Furey to pair him with Randy Jones, a rookie defenseman and one of the brighter prospects in Philadelphia.
It would seem to be a nice tip of the cap to Furey, whose skating and poise on the blue line complement Jones well.
“It is,” Furey acknowledged. “But at the same time, I think they’re showing a lot of confidence in Randy. It is nice, to be an older guy and paired with a younger guy.
“Randy moves the puck really well, skates really well. He’s very poised.”
Furey’s role in the pairing?
“[I] try to err on the side of caution and keep it simple.”
Jones and Furey are both from the Canadian Maritimes, Jones a native of Quispamsis, N.B., and Furey coming to Philadelphia from the Nova Scotian burg of Glace Bay.
“A couple of Easterners there,” Furey laughed.
Then Furey veered back to discussing the dynamics of the Phantoms’ roster.
“When you get in the dressing room, there’s no Easterners, no Westerners, no Americans. You can put anyone together, and everyone feeds off each other. Every guy is there for each other. There is no animosity there. There is camaraderie. That should go a long way in the playoffs.”
Furey’s long road to the AHL has had more than its share of bumps and detours along the way. If it seems like he appreciates the perks of AHL life in Philadelphia and the Phantoms’ convenient set-up with the Flyers, it’s because he does.
“I can’t say enough. For me to be able to get a chance – they put me in some key situations. I can definitely say they’ve shown confidence.”