Phantoms back on the ice tonight against the Fighting Saints
After a first-round bye, the Phantoms host Dubuque tonight
By Tom Williams
During the regular season, the Youngstown Phantoms coaching staff spends the beginning of the week breaking down video of the next weekend’s opponents.
This week, the Phantoms enjoyed the first playoff bye in the nine-year history of the franchise. The time off was great for players to rest up and heal, but the coaches had to adapt on the fly.
That’s because the Phantoms weren’t sure until late Wednesday which of their three potential opponents (Muskegon, Green Bay or Dubuque) would be playing them tonight at Covelli Centre in the second round of the USHL’s Clark Cup Playoffs.
“We prepared like we were going to play all three,” Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson said Thursday.
Helping him scout were Jeff Potter and Nick Peruzzi.
The fifth-seeded Dubuque Fighting Saints simplified their task by completing a two-game sweep of the fourth-seeded Green Bay Gamblers on Tuesday night. Twenty-four hours later, the sixth-seeded Chicago Steel won the rubber match against the third-seeded Muskegon Lumberjacks, 5-4 in overtime.
The Steel advance to play top-seeded Team USA while the Fighting Saints are back in the Mahoning Valley.
“As the Chicago-Muskegon game was going, we were picking that game apart,” said Patterson. “When that game ended, our preparation [already] was done.”
Because only five points separated Muskegon (68) from Chicago (63) in the Eastern Conference standings, Patterson is not surprised the lower seeds advanced in the short series.
“Everyone finished close,” the second-year Phantoms coach said.
Patterson said the Fighting Saints “have a couple of high-end forward lines, they are very good on offense.
“And they can defend very well.”
Alexander Steeves scored 57 points in the regular season and Quinn Preston 55. Chayse Primeau, son of retired NHL player Keith Primeau, scored 41.
“The challenge is to stick with our systems,” said defenseman Jake Gingell, explaining that they are designed “to clog up the middle. “Our systems have built-in support.”
In the regular season, the Phantoms won the series, 3-1. They split two games in early January in Dubuque — both scores were 3-1.
On Jan. 27-28 at Covelli Centre, the Phantoms won 6-5 in overtime then 2-1 for a weekend sweep.
Defenseman Jason Smallidge, who started the season with last-place Central Illinois, will be playing the Fighting Saints for the first time this season because of a hip injury.
“I’m excited to get at it — it’s going to be fun,” Smallidge said. “This is nice.
“When you are out of it, there are guys frustrated,” he said. “Coming here, guys are clicking. It’s full steam ahead.”
Including last weekend’s games, Dubuque played four games in five nights. This weekend’s games at the Covelli Centre will make it six in nine days.
“You can look at it as them being tired or you can look at it like they’ve been competing,” Patterson said of potential fatigue.
Games 3 and 4 will be played on Tuesday and Wednesday in Dubuque’s Mystique Ice Centre.
If necessary, Game 5 will be at Covelli Centre on April 29.