Despite Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Indiana Ice, the Youngstown Phantoms clinched their first USHL playoff berth in their three seasons in the nation’s top junior hockey league.
While the Phantoms (29-15-5, 63 points) were losing to the Ice, the Muskegon Lumberjacks (15-25-7, 37 points) fell to the Chicago Steel, 3-1, to drop into a last-place tie with the Steel.
Although the Lumberjacks could still tie the Phantoms in points, the Phantoms own the tiebreaker (most victories).
“We didn’t come out from the drop of the puck with the effort we wanted,” Phantoms left wing Mike Ambrosia said. “They got three goals on us right away and kind of put us on our heels a little bit.
“Obviously it’s nice to know we’re in the playoffs, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
The loss knocked the Phantoms into third place in the Eastern Conference. The top six teams in each conference qualify for the postseason.
Dylan Margonari scored a short-handed goal to extend his point-scoring streak to 12 games and Sam Anas tallied one on the power play for the Phantoms, who were stymied by Ice goaltender Jon Gillies on all other attempts.
Goaltender Sean Romeo was pummeled with 53 shots. He stopped 48 of them.
First-place Green Bay (38-8-2, 78 points) and second-place Indiana (29-13-6, 64 points) also have clinched playoff berths.
The Ice and Phantoms are dueling for the second seed which earns a first-round bye.
In the opening round of the playoffs, the third- and fourth-place teams are guaranteed home games. The fifth and sixth seeds would only play at home if their opponent is within 300 miles.
Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said that because Youngstown is the eastern-most outpost in the USHL, the only opponent close enough for a traveling series is sixth-place Team USA (20-21-4, 44 points) which is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Iowa’s Dubuque Fighting Saints (28-16-4, 60 points) are in fourth place and the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (22-18-8, 52 points) are fifth.
Youngstown went 1-for-4 on the power play.