By Tom Williams
Youngstown Phantoms defenseman Dan Renouf says the lessons learned during a stretch in which they lost 11 of 12 games are paying off.
Renouf, the USHL’s Defenseman of the Week for the third time this season, admits it wasn’t easy watching the team’s 4-0 start plummet to a 5-11 record.
“In a way, it’s good that we went through that hardship,” the second-year Phantom said. “We needed to learn how to lose, how to cope with it.
“We made a couple of changes and it’s definitely improved our off-ice chemistry.”
On the ice, the Phantoms (37-25-0, 74 points) are sizzling. Winners of their last four games, the Phantoms are tied with the Green Bay Gamblers (35-23-4, 74 points) for second place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
Saturday at approximately 10:15 p.m., the Phantoms will know whether they finish in second, third or fourth place, and who their first-round playoff opponent will be.
The Dubuque Fighting Saints (43-11-8, 94 points) have the Eastern Conference’s top seed.
Tonight and Saturday, the Phantoms close their fourth USHL regular season against the fifth-place Chicago Steel (27-31-4, 58 points). Green Bay closes at home with a two-game set against the fourth-place Muskegon Lumberjacks (31-21-10, 72 points).
Just like the Gamblers, the Lumberjacks are desperate for points.
Renouf says it doesn’t matter who the first-round opponent is, but the site does.
“There’s not a specific team we want, we’re not gunning for any team,” Renouf said. “We just want to finish as high up in the standings as possible, hopefully get home-ice advantage.”
Since they were 5-11 after a loss to Green Bay on Nov. 11, the Phantoms are 32-14.
Head coach Anthony Noreen says it’s been a blast.
“It’s been as fun of a year and group as I can ever remember being around,” Noreen said. “The run we’ve been on since that 5-11 point, it’s flown by. A lot of things have gone our way.”
The Phantoms, who are 7-0 against the Steel, need two more wins and help from the Lumberjacks.
Goaltender Sean Romeo, who holds the franchise record with 31 wins this season, also was honored on Monday by the USHL. For the fourth time this season, Romeo was named Goaltender of the Week after the Phantoms won three road games last weekend.
“I couldn’t be happier for Dan and Sean,” Noreen said. “They both put on impressive individual performances and more importantly, they helped the team pick up six important points.”
Renouf racked up two goals, three assists and five points and a plus-5 rating. Romeo won two of the games and posted a .955 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average.