The first-place Phantoms will host the Soo Indians twice this weekend.
BOARDMAN -- The Youngstown Phantoms return to action this weekend with games against the Soo Indians tonight and Saturday at The Ice Zone.
Both games are at 7 p.m.
The Phantoms remain in first place in the North American Hockey League North Division with an 18-10-2 record.
"When you consider where we're at now, it's tough not to think ahead to April when the playoffs start," said Coach Bob Mainhardt. "But the competitiveness within our division easily brings the focus back to where it should be, which is this weekend."
After a 1-3-0 start, the Phantoms went 10-1-0 in their next 11 games. Rob Rassey registered points in each of those games, giving him the third-longest point-scoring streak in the NAHL this season. In that span, Rassey collected 10 goals and 11 assists. He is eighth in the league in scoring, with 15 goals and 24 assists, for 39 points.
The Phantoms' Marc Menzione set and still holds the league's longest goal-scoring streak of the season, with seven goals in six games.
"The first half of the season has confirmed what I believed in when we started," said Mainhardt. "That we have offensive depth and two-way skill, a defense that would improve with time, and two competitive goaltenders who can frustrate opponents any night.
"We had some injuries as the regular season started. Since then, we're pretty well healed up, aside from a couple players."
Defensively, the Phantoms have played well. Despite a roster that is down to five defensemen, Youngstown has the lowest team goals against average in their division at 3.07. Jeremy Smith has asserted himself with 106 penalty minutes, which is third-most in the NAHL and first among defensemen. He also has 14 assists and 18 points, which is seventh-best in the league among defensemen.
Goaltenders Jerry Kuhn and Tom O'Brien are both in the top 15 in goals against average and their three combined shutouts are tied for first among all NAHL teams.
"It is both a benefit and a challenge to have two good goaltenders," said Mainhardt. "They compete hard for ice time and that can only help the team."
Twelve of the Phantoms' next 13 games are at The Ice Zone, including the first ever NAHL Division Showcase Jan. 14-17.
The four-day, 12-game showcase will feature the Phantoms and their North Division rivals, as well as former division rival, the Springfield (Ill.) Jr. Blues, currently in the NAHL South Division.