By Tom Williams
How intelligent is Phantoms defenseman Michael Karow? His playoff beard reveals his cleverness.
The Green Bay, Wis., native is a senior at Ursuline High School when he’s not skating for the Phantoms. Like all hockey players still skating at this time of year, the urge to carry on a hockey tradition is impossible to resist.
“Got the beard going a little early,” he said while scratching under his chin after a recent practice at the Covelli Centre. “With school, we’ve got to be clean-shaven so when I get the chance to grow it, I grow it.”
Ursuline has a no-facial-hair policy. What gives?
Karow lifted his chin to show stitches he received two weekends ago in the regular-season finale against Team USA.
Karow appealed to Nan Jacobs, the Phantoms housing coordinator who teaches at Ursuline. He told her that because of the stitches, he can’t shave.
“Gets me a pass,” Karow smiled.
Karow recently was named one of the USHL’s two recipients of USHL Scholar-Athlete Award. The Chicago Steel’s Graham Lillibridge is the other.
Karow, who also was named to the second team for the league’s Rookie team, is ranked 10th in his graduating class with a 3.9 grade-point average.
“Michael is an excellent and conscientious student,” English teacher Mary Bess George told the USHL website. “Though he has to miss days due to traveling with the hockey team, he makes up every assignment.
“His work is very well done, he has excellent writing skills, and both verbally and in writing he demonstrates insight and analytical ability.”
Next fall, Karow said skate for Boston College. Tonight, he’ll do his best to help the Phantoms stay alive as they trail the Steel 2-0 in their best-of-five Clark Cup playoff series.
“It’s really big to play in front of a home crowd for a playoff game,” Karow said. “It will be really big for us. Playing in a comfortable atmosphere should be good for us.”
Brandon Estes, his defensive partner, agrees.
“It’s huge,” said Estes who will play for Union next fall. “It’s must-win, obviously.
“Covelli is the nicest rink I’ve played in, for sure,” the Dallas native said. “We’re definitely lucky to have it.”
Thursday, Eric Ryan, the Covelli Centre general manager, said the Phantoms contract with the arena has been extended through the 2019-20 season. The three-year agreement reached in 2014 ran through the end of the current season.
Both blueliners said their teammates are concentrating solely on tonight’s game.
“Right now, we’re not even worried about Saturday,” Estes said. “We’re focusing on solely [Game 3]. “If we get to Saturday, we’ll worry about [Game 4].”
Karow chipped in: “We have to take it one period, one shift at a time and win that one.”
Adding to their task is that they will be without Nicolas Werbik, their top scorer in the regular season. Head coach Brad Patterson said Werbik is suspended for one game after he was given a game misconduct in Game 2 for a stick infraction.
“It’s going to be an opportunity for some guys to play a more significant role,” Patterson said. “You can never take somebody and fill Nic Werbik’s [role] and expect you’re going to get what Nic gives us.”
Patterson said the Phantoms have to avoid penalties and that there were positives despite the 6-0 loss in Game 2.
“You always learn from games. There’s stuff that we weren’t great at,” Patterson said. “Obviously, we need to shore those areas up.
“There are some things, maybe you wouldn’t see by the scoreline, that I thought we were very good at,” the first-year head coach said, “so we need to maintain those and get better in some other areas.
“We need to stay out of the penalty box, but we still need to play hard and play physical.”
Patterson appreciated that his players showed passion.
“It’s good to see that the guys still had fire and were upset with [the game],” he said. “But you’ve got to [play] smart.
“They are very deep — they have lines that can score [regularly]. They are very fast.”
Karow said the Steel “have good puck movers, they have a lot of skill guys. Obviously, we didn’t do the best job shutting them down.”
Estes said the Phantoms can recover.
“They get them to the net all the time,” Estes said. “We’ve got to not give them lanes, get back to blocking shots.
“Our kill can handle it if we just get back to what we do [well].”
While extreme comebacks are rare, Patterson is not fazed.