Phantoms to visit Chicago for two
By Tom Williams
In his nine seasons coaching for the Youngstown Phantoms, Brad Patterson can’t remember the USHL’s Eastern Conference standings being so tight.
The season’s final two-and-a-half months kick in tonight with five teams chasing three playoff berths. The quintet is separated by just two points.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a race like this,” the Phantoms’ second-year head coach said. “A good weekend can put you in [second], a bad weekend can put you on the outside looking in.
“So every weekend is a big weekend.”
The Phantoms (16-14-4-1, 37 points) are tied with the Dubuque Fighting Saints (16-13-4-1, 37 Points) and Green Bay Gamblers (17-14-2-1, 37 points) for fourth place. Ahead of them are the Chicago Steel (18-13-1-2, 39 points) and Muskegon Lumberjacks (18-15-1-1, 38 points).
The top four teams in each conference qualify for the postseason. With 45 points, Team USA has a six-point edge on the Steel for first place.
Matthew Barry, the USHL’s Forward of the Week after scoring eight points in three games last weekend, admits the Phantoms are lucky to be in the race after losing 10 of 12 games from Dec. 15-Jan. 26.
“We’re pretty fortunate after the slide we were just on,” Barry said.
The Phantoms climbed back into the race with Saturday’s 6-5 overtime victory and Sunday’s 2-1 triumph over Dubuque at the Covelli Centre.
Barry, who will play for Holy Cross in the fall, scored the winning goal in Sunday’s game. On a power play, his center, Michael Regush, sent a pass across the goal crease to set up Barry for a back-door opportunity.
Tonight and Saturday, the Phantoms will be west of Chicago to play the Steel.
“It’s a massive weekend,” said Regush, who is from Surrey, British Columbia. “They’re two points ahead of us. Win a couple of games and we can sling ourselves into second place.
“Obviously, we went through a rough patch there,” said Regush, who is committed to play at Cornell. “But we won the last two and we’re hoping to ride some momentum this weekend, hopefully catapult ourselves into a top-two spot.”
Regush and Barry have been together since the beginning of the season. After the Christmas break, Patterson put Chase Gresock on their left wing and the line has become the team’s most productive.
“They’re [creating] good chances,” Patterson said.
Barry said Gresock “brings an edge to his game. He just [hustles], he hits hard and causes a lot of turnovers, which allows us to ... set him up. He obviously has a great shot.”
Barry lead the Phantoms with 35 points in as many games. He has 13 points in the last 10 games. Gresock has a team-leading 17 goals.
“Obviously, Chase brings a lot to the line, a different look,” Regush said, adding that he and Barry are more pass-first players. “He’s an excellent shooter, a natural goal scorer.
“He’s definitely helped the two of us. Of the three [of us], he’s the No. 1 shooting option.”
Gresock said he’s not sure he’s best goal scorer.
“They set me up and I’ve had a lot of chances,” said Gresock, who is committed to Merrimack.
Goals will be a priority for the Phantoms, especially on the power play after the Phantoms on Tuesday traded their leading goal scorer with the man-advantage. All 10 of Matthew Thomson’s goals were scored on the power play. He’s now a Cedar Rapids RoughRider. The Phantoms received Dalton Messina in the deal.
Messina has four points in 15 games and could return to the USHL next season.
Thomson played left point on the power-play unit featuring the Regush line. Patterson said Tommy Parrottino will fill that role tonight against the Steel.
“It’s a big weekend,” Gresock said.