Phantoms’ plan of alternating netminders paying dividends in 4-0 start to season
By Tom Williams
Off to their best start in their four seasons in the USHL, the Youngstown Phantoms have shaken up the formula in front of their net.
For the first time, the Phantoms (4-0-0) are alternating goalies rather than relying on one to carry most of the burden. So far, it’s paying off.
Sean Romeo, last year’s backup to workhorse Matthew O’Connor (Boston University), is 2-0-0 with a goals-against average of 4.50. Romeo’s save percentage is .833 (45 saves, 9 goals against).
Newcomer Patrick Spano also is 2-0-0, with a goals against average of 1.98. His save percentage is .927 (four goals allowed, 51 stops).
Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen says their styles “are as contrasting as you are going to find.
“Patrick is an athletic goaltender,” Noreen said. “He’s going to make some saves where he’s sprawled out and makes them because he competes so hard and is able to cover a lot of net.
“Sean is a technical, butterfly, New Age, lanky goalie where he sits tall and pucks hit him,” Noreen said. “You never really see him make a save that looks difficult.
“That’s not because he’s not battling, it’s just because he’s usually got himself in the right position.”
Romeo has been Noreen’s Friday goalie. His wins were against Omaha in the season opener (Sept. 28) at the Covelli Centre and last Friday’s 9-6 thriller at Waterloo, Iowa, against the previously undefeated Blackhawks.
Spano has been the Saturday backstopper, earning a 4-3 win at home against Des Moines on Sept. 29 when the Phantoms raliied to score twice with Spano pulled to force overtime.
Last Saturday, Spano stopped 29 of 30 shots in a 5-1 triumph against the previously unbeaten RoughRiders in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“They were both special in their own way,” Spano said of his first two USHL victories. “I don’t know if one is more special.
“The first [game], it was such a nice feeling to win,” Spano said. “But winning on the road with a packed house against a good team — it was nice to be able to cruise to a big win.”
Noreen said he will stick with the Friday-Saturday rotation this weekend.
“Both of them get the job done with their [different] styles — it’s just that they are pretty opposite the way they play the position,” the second-year head coach said.
Asked if the defensemen had to make adjustments because of their different styles, Eric Sweetman replied, “Not at all. Both are high-caliber goalies. We approach the game the same way every game no matter who’s in net. They make the huge stops that we need.”
Two seasons ago, Romeo was the Phantoms’ emergency backup when O’Connor reinjured his leg in February 2010. Last year, Romeo played in 16 games, going 4-5-2 with a 3.32 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.
Noreen praised Romeo’s development on and off the ice.
“Everything we talk about to develop people and players, he’s a testament to that,” Noreen said. “He came in as a scrawny kid, he looked to be about 12 years old a year-and-a-half ago. He almost looked lost amongst our guys.
“A year-and-a-half later, he’s grown up, he’s flled out, and he’s turned into a leader in our room,” Noreen said. “His play has spoken for itself so far.”
Romeo is from Cary, N.C., and has not made a college commitment. Spano is from Montreal put played for New England prep schools the past three years. He has made a commitment to attend Yale next fall.
“This is a very good league and I’ve learned a lot already,” Spano said. “The guys here are a little older and a lot bigger, too. The players see the game better and everything happens faster. Guys shots here are a lot better.”
Also on the roster is Jake Moore who tended goal for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres 18-under team last season. His record was 13-5-4.