Youngstown will defend its ranking against the U.S. Under-17 Team tonight.
BOARDMAN -- On Dec. 4, the Youngstown Phantoms grabbed first place in the North American Hockey League's North Division with a 5-3 win over the U.S. National Under-17 Team.
In the eight weeks since, the Phantoms have held tightly to the top spot, playing through a busier and more favorable schedule recently, including their last 11 games at The Ice Zone.
Youngstown now prepares for a challenge in the final third of the regular season. Both the U.S. and the Soo Kewadin Indians are only two points behind the Phantoms (21-13-3, 45 points) for first place in the division. The Phantoms can dissolve one of those concerns by defeating the visiting U.S. Under-17 squad (21-13-1, 43 points) tonight and Saturday at The Ice Zone. Faceoff for both games is at 7 p.m.
"This will be a great test for our team with first place up for grabs," said Phantoms coach Bob Mainhardt. "We're also two teams trying to secure playoff spots, so it will be a playoff atmosphere this weekend."
Youngstown has relied tremendously on goaltender Jerry Kuhn, who has been red-hot. In his last 10 games, Kuhn has a 2.03 goals against average, a .935 save percentage, and a shutout. For the regular season, Kuhn ranks in the top 10 among NAHL goaltenders in wins (15), goals against average (2.81), save percentage (.913), and shutouts (two).
Offensively, the Phantoms top line of Rob Rassey, Aaron Rhyner, and Anthony Canzoneri all rank in the NAHL's top 10 in individual scoring. But Mainhardt is quick to point the necessity of his entire team to contribute scoring opportunities.
"The U.S. team forces opponents to use their entire bench in order to beat them. We can't rely solely on Rob, Aaron, and Anthony to win it for us. We have other skilled forwards who are just as capable of creating chances and scoring, and we'll need their contributions this weekend."
Tickets for both games are available by calling (330) 965-7500 or visiting The Ice Zone, 360 McClurg Rd.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on WBBW-AM (1240).