Team USA, Phantoms set to face off
By TOM WILLIAMS
One of Team USA’s strongest 17-U squads is standing in the way of the Youngstown Phantoms qualifying for the USHL‘s Clark Cup Finals for the first time.
Tuesday in Plymouth, Mich., the second-seeded Phantoms will take on top-seeded Team USA in Game 1 of their best-of-five Eastern Conference Finals. Games 3 and, if necessary, 4 will be played at the Covelli Centre on Friday and Saturday.
The Phantoms advanced to their second Eastern Conference Finals by sweeping the fifth-seeded Dubuque Fighting Saints. The Phantoms clinched the series last Tuesday with a 3-0 victory.
Team USA needed four games and two overtimes to oust the sixth-seeded Chicago Steel, the USHL’s defending champions. After winning 3-2 in overtime on Thursday, the Nationals ended the series Friday with a 4-3 overtime victory.
Alex Vlasic scored the game-winner 3:48 into the bonus session. Goaltender Cameron Rowe stopped 38 shots to earn the victory.
“They are scary,” Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson said of the 17U squad. “They are extremely skilled.”
Team USA skates two squads in the 60-game USHL regular season while preparing for international competition. The 18U team has been competing at IIHF World Championship in Chelyabinsk & Magnitogorsk, Russia.
The 17s are coached by John Wroblewski, the Phantoms’ head coach two seasons ago.
The two Team USA squads dominated their USHL competitors, finishing 41-18-0-1, 83 points. The Phantoms (33-20-5-2) finished 10 points behind.
“There is a reason why they clinched the East [Conference],” Patterson said. “It’s not just the 18s driving it.
“In years past, it’s always been the older team. They are very, very good.
“[But] the younger [squad] is very skilled. They’ll put 10 [goals] up on very, very good teams.”
Patterson said the Phantoms went 2-2 against the 17U squad this season. Most recently at the Covelli Centre, the Phantoms won 3-2 on March 31 but lost 6-2 on April 12.