By Tom Williams
Youngstown Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo of Cary, N.C., has never experienced the frigid temperatures that the Mahoning Valley has been shivering through since Monday.
“I’m trying to dress warm and battle through it,” the third-year Phantom said. “It’s actually not bad until the wind blows — that’s when it’s tough for me.
“It’s a lot different from the Carolina [winters] I’m used to.”
Head coach Anthony Noreen had a similar experience over the weekend in Chicago. The third-year Phantoms coach was lucky enough to fly back on Monday — almost all flights there were canceled.
“It was as cold as I’ve ever felt,” the Chicago native said. “It was 15-below and with the wind-chill I can’t even imagine what [the actual temperature] was.”
For other Phantoms, this week’s Arctic blast has sparked memories of home.
Assistant coach Brad Patterson grew up in Cranbrook, British Columbia, which is west of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Montana-Idaho border. Sub-zero temperatures are no strangers to that region.
“We’d get a spell for two weeks where it would be -25 [Celsius],” said Patterson, explaining that is similar to Monday night’s temperature in the Valley. “We’d get cold like this about twice a winter.”
Forward Ryan Schwalbe and defenseman Truman Reed are from Anchorage, Alaska, and have played in recent seasons for schools in Minnesota.
“Anchorage is cold and dry,” Schwalbe said.
Of his hometown, Reed said, “It’s a lot colder. The biggest difference is that it’s dark all day during the winter, except for two or three hours a day.”
They are witnessing newcomers joining their version of a Polar Bear Club.
“My roommate [defenseman] Tommy Parran told me this is the coldest [weather] he’s experienced — he’s from Cleveland,” said Reed, adding that his billet dad Mike Feschak of Poland said a similar thing.
Schwalbe said that after watching media reaction to the weather, “I was surprised it wasn’t colder.”
Because of school closings, the Phantoms conducted an earlier, extended practice on Tuesday at the Covelli Centre than what was originally planned.
“We were able to do a little bit more and get the guys out of here a bit earlier,” Patterson said.
Monday’s temperatures brought back memories to Patterson of playing hockey outdoors while wearing extra layers of clothes.
“We’d wear a toque — like a winter hat — and some guys would wear ski goggles, neck-warmers and [oversized] jackets,” Patterson said. “You’d try to be stylish and wear your hockey gloves but when it got [this cold], you’d wear a couple sets of winter gloves.
“We would play all day,” Patterson said. “I remember when it was [really] cold, we were young and dumb enough to play for an hour [or so], but there would be so few kids that it was a short day.”
Reed said Alaskans also enjoyed pond hockey, but not necessarily their parents.
“There were a lot of times where they would take me but just stay in the car,” Reed said. “I remember sweat freezing on my hair.
Schwalbe said the cold snap reminded him of Minnesota, but Reed said Monday’s bitter cold “felt a little more like home. You have to plug in your car every night so it will start in the morning.”
He said the difference between Anchorage and Minnesota is that “Minnesota is a lot windier — sometimes it felt worse.”
Patterson agreed all are grateful they weren’t traveling in the Midwest when the temperatures plummeted.
“We’ve got a really good bus, but if it’s really cold, the heaters can run all the time on high and it’s still not going to be real warm in there,” Patterson said. “We’ve never experienced a trip this cold.”