Coaches were busy during a weekend without games.
By Tom Williams
A rare weekend off was anything but for the Youngstown Phantoms coaching staff.
Last weekend, the fourth-year USHL hockey team had no games scheduled, so head coach Anthony Noreen gave his players a four-day break.
Noreen and assistant coaches Brad Patterson and Rob Rassey had plenty to do even though there was no bench for them to patrol.
“We broke down some video on our [next] opponents,” said Patterson who is in his fourth season as a Phantoms assistant coach. “We also took time to do some [research] on players we’re looking to draft.
“It was great to sit back for a day or two with your family and friends,” Patterson said of the unusual hockey break.
Before scattering for mini-scouting trips, the coaches met to evaluate the first third of the season.
It’s been a roller-coaster season for the fifth-place Phantoms (9-11-0, 18 points). After starting the season with four straight wins, the Phantoms dropped 11 of their next 12 contests, then rebounded with another four-game winning streak.
“We took advantage of the break to do a little recruiting,” said Patterson who went to Columbus to watch, among others, Kiefer Sherwood who was with the Phantoms for seven games. “Rob went out East, Anthony did some scouting in Chicago.”
Patterson said they are recruiting high-school age players, but not necessarily players in high school programs.
“The majority of players now play club — travel teams,” Patterson said. “Often when we go to games, it would be to look at kids we’re looking at for down the line, to see how they might fit into our plans.”
Patterson said the coaches also focus on players who they’ve already drafted.
“We go out to see how they’ve progressed since the time that we drafted them,” Patterson said.
Second-year forward Todd Koritzinsky was among the Phantoms who took advantage of the break to visit family. He flew home to Verona, Wis.
“They were pretty excited but ...,” said Koritzinsky of his homecoming. “My Mom was just out here for Thanksgiving with my brother and cousin. And my Dad had a vacation planned with his high school buddies to go to Vegas. So he was actually out of town.
“But it was nice to be home,” Koritzinsky said. “I hadn’t seen my dog in a while so I spent some time with him.
Koritzinsky said his Siberian husky, Oakley, usually goes crazy on greetings.
“My Mom brought him to the [Madison] airport, so he was kind of distracted,” Koritzinsky said.
Koritzinsky said he had mixed feelings when he heard about the break during a winning streak.
“We’d been working hard, going at it every single day,” Koritzinsky said of the turnaround. “It gets to be quite the grind — a short break can do [good things] for a team. I think we’re ready to go for the weekend.”
The Phantoms will need to be at their best to extend their streak. Tonight and Saturday, they will play in Dubuque, Iowa, to face the Fighting Saints (17-3-1, 35 points), the hottest team in the USHL.
The Phantoms have motivation — the Saints’ snapped the Phantoms’ first winning streak with two wins at the Covelli Centre in October.
“We all want that weekend back — it’s almost like we’ve got a second chance this weekend,” Alexander Dahl said. “We get a do-over, and hopefully the outcome’s a little bit different.”
Koritzinsky said he’s getting used to the long bus rides to the Midwest.
“It’s nice were [traveling] the day before because you have time to get those bus legs out,” Koritzinsky said. “It feels like you’re home [in a hotel] once you get there.”
Noreen said the Phantoms need to make a statement.
“We want teams to know that they played us,” the second-year head coach said. “I don’t know if Dubuque left here a couple months ago really feeling that.
“We need to be tougher than we were, and I think we’ve taken a ton of steps toward that.”
After Saturday’s game, the Phantoms will leave for Chicago where they play the Steel (11-6-2, 24 points) on Sunday afternoon. Heading into the weekend, the Steel are in fourth-place, six points ahead of Youngstown.
It’s a much different schedule from last week.
“To actually have a weekend off where you didn’t have any games is pretty rare,” said Patterson of the midseason break. “I honestly don’t remember a [break like that] in my playing career.
“Over the last three years, we definitely have not had a weekend off except when Christmas fell on a weekend,” Patterson said. “It was different but it was a good time to reflect.”