By Tom Williams
As the third quarter of their season winds down this weekend, the Youngstown Phantoms are hoping that recent success on the road will continue.
The Phantoms (25-14-4, 54 points) are in fourth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. Three points ahead of them are the Dubuque Fighting Saints and Indian Ice, which are tied for second place.
The top six teams in the eight-team conference qualify for the postseason, but only the top four are guaranteed home games in the playoffs.
Last weekend, the Phantoms dropped a 4-2 decision to the Chicago Steel at the Covelli Centre then traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., for Sunday’s 5-4 win over Team USA. It was their fourth-straight win away from the Covelli Centre.
In the loss to the Steel, captain Mike Ambrosia set iup Alex Gacek and Sam Anas for the goals.
In the win, the Phantoms triumphed despite surrendering two shorthanded goals in 10 seconds. Soren Jonzzon and JT Stenglein each scored two goals and Gacek the other in Youngstown’s first win of the season against the Nationals. Goaltender Matt O’Connor stopped 27 shots.
This weekend’s road-trip begins in Nebraska on Friday when the Phantoms will play the Lincoln Stars (24-14-3, 51 points), the second-place team in the Western Conference.
On Saturday, the Phantoms will be in Dubuque, Iowa, to take on the Fighting Saints (27-13-3, 57 points).
The spotlight will be on the penalty killers in the Stars-Phantoms game as they are among the top three of the USHL’s most penalized teams. Lincoln has taken 964 minutes and Youngstown 869.
That game also will feature the league’s top goal scorer (Lincoln’s Kevin Roy, 35 goals) going against the USHL’s top playmaker (Ambrosia, 37 assists).
The Phantoms are one of the few teams who have enjoyed recent success against the Fighting Saints, the defending Clark Cup champions. Youngstown has won three of the previous four games against Dubuque.
On Feb. 3, the Phantoms won, 5-3, in their last trip to Dubuque. On Jan. 27, the Phantoms edged the Fighting Saints, 3-2, at the Covelli Centre.
A key for the Phantoms will be continuing to contain Fighting Saints captain Zemgus Girgensons, a projected first-round pick in this June’s NHL Entry Draft. Girgensons enters the weekend on a six-game point-scoring streak. However, he has failed to register a point in four games against the Phantoms this season.