By Tom Williams
Who schedules a weekend off during a four-game winning streak?
“Bad timing,” Phantoms defenseman Ryan Lowney said after practice at The Ice Zone. “But hopefully we keep going [well] when we get back.”
Those four wins include last weekend’s back-to-back shutouts of Team USA by goaltender Sean Romeo.
“Our D was so good last weekend that it made it so easy for me,” said Romeo who tied the franchise record for shutouts with Friday’s 6-0 victory. (Jordan Tibbett and Matthew O’Connor each had a shutout as a Phantom.) Romeo then set a new mark on Saturday with a 3-0 triumph.
“They forced everything out wide, let me see everything so it made me look better than I had to be,” the second-year goalie said.
Lowney’s excellent week began the night before Thanksgiving in Indianapolis when he assisted on five goals in a 5-3 victory over the Indiana Ice. With 13 points, he’s the USHL’s third highest-scoring defenseman.
For their efforts, Romeo and Lowney became the third and fourth Phantoms to earn USHL’s Player of the Week honors.
Lowney heard of his honor in an unusual way.
“My sister [Carrie] texted me congratulations,” said Lowney of Redford, Mich. “I don’t know how [she found out first].”
Because they are idle until Dec. 7, Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen is giving his players a four-day break. Lowney is driving to Michigan while Romeo is flying to North Carolina to his home near Raleigh.
“All my friends will be at college so I’ll probably hang out with my brother [Luke], get some good family time in,” Romeo said.
What about shopping?
“Maybe a little bit if my Mom will take me out and I can buy some things on her credit card.”
Lowney said he plans to relax with his family.
“It’s just nice to have time off, recuperate, get some rest,” the second-year Phantom said.
Despite the team’s recent strong play, Romeo agreed.
“It’s good to have the break,” said Romeo who served as the Phantoms emergency goalie two seasons ago then got into the season finale. “We played four games in [eight days] so it’s good to get some time off, let our bodies get back into shape.
“It will help us a lot, I think, but it’s tough when we have the ball rolling and have all this momentum going.”
Before he left the Covelli Centre after Friday’s win, Romeo said he knew he would be back between the pipes on Saturday.
“Coach said I had the option of playing so I knew I was going to play,” Romeo said. “I tried to leave all my emotions at the rink when I left that night.
“It’s great to get a shutout, it’s great to win with the boys. But once you leave the rink, it’s over and it’s on to the next game.”
Romeo said his closest call to allowing a goal came in Saturday’s game when Team USA generated a 2-on-1 break.
“He shot a low shot to my glove side and I kind of had a bad read on it and [the puck] popped out to the middle,” Romeo said. “But I slid over and the guy shot it right into my glove. That was probably my best save of the weekend.”
After a 4-0 start to open the season, the Phantoms lost 10 of 11 games before starting the current win streak. They’ve climbed to fifth place in the eight-team Eastern Conference where the top four teams qualify for the postseason.
“When we were struggling, we had a lot of guys out with injuries and a lot of fluky stuff happened, like bad bounces,” Romeo said. “But I’ve got to give credit to our team — we stuck through it, kept working hard.
“And when our players got [healthy], we made a few changes in the lineup and we [became] a lot closer as a unit,” Romeo said. “It’s showing on the ice, everyone is working well together, a lot of good chemistry out there.”
Lowney credited high-energy performances for the Team USA sweep.
“We shot the puck a lot more and were able to get more chances on net,” Lowney said. “The pucks were going in, everything was going our way, Romer was playing amazing with those two shutouts.”
The Phantoms didn’t miss a beat even though last year’s top goal scorer, JT Stenglein, was traded to the Sioux City Musketeers last Friday.
“It was a little drama but at the end of the day we’re here to play hockey,” Romeo said of the commotion surrounding the trade. “We can’t [worry about] the front office, we just need to focus on the next day.”