Bound for ice glory

Team USA’s best players overwhelm Phantoms

By Brian Dzenis


Team’s with three future first-round picks in the NHL Draft tend to do well in the USHL, especially against the struggling Youngstown Phantoms.

The Team USA development program’s top line of Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee picked apart the Phantoms on Monday afternoon at the Covelli Centre for a 7-1 win.

The Phantoms (14-12-1-1) now have three losses in their first five games in 2018. This stretch comes after closing out 2017 with a four-game losing streak.

“I thought after the break, we weren’t great — especially our first game,” Phantoms coach Brad Patterson said. “The others could have gone either way and that’s the way the league is.

“[The USHL’s Eastern Conference] is separated by a few points top to bottom. You don’t want to say ‘we’ve lost five in a row or we’ve only taken two of five.’ We have to turn it around.

“We have to dig in and it’s on the staff all the way down.”

All three of those aforementioned players are considered to be first-round talent. Wingers Wahlstrom and Farabee are eligible for the 2018 draft, while the 16-year-old Hughes can come out in 2019.

The line scored four goals and collected five assists to put on a show for a Covelli Centre crowd that included Pittsburgh Penguins assistant general manager Bill Guerin.

“We were flat, especially early and we didn’t answer they’re No. 1 line,” Patterson said. “They’re a great unit, but we need to be better against them.”

Hughes could lock up the No. 1 overall distinction by the time the 2019 NHL Draft rolls around. Some hockey scouting sites liken the 16-year-old to American NHL stars Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Austin Matthews.

Hughes’ older brother, Michigan Wolverine Quinn Hughes, is considered to be the best defenseman available in the 2018 draft.

Monday’s game was just 12th USHL game he’s played in, but he already shows a penchant for helping his teammates filling the net.

Hughes dished five helpers on Monday and now has four goals and 18 assists in a dozen games. For the season with the development program, he’s averaging two points a game with 14 goals and 44 assists.

“He’s a special talent,” Patterson said. “It’s easy to compare him to another player they’ve had in the U.S. program, [Phoenix Coyotes forward] Clayton Keller.

“He was undersized and people knocked him for it, but his hockey sense is as good as anybody, not only for our league, but at the next level.

It took Hughes one minute to impact the game, feeding linemate Wahlstrom for the quick strike. Seven minutes later, Hughes slipped a pass to defenseman Ty Emberson, who’s long-range shot took a friendly bounce off a Phantoms’ defender to take a 2-0 lead.

Youngstown cut the deficit to one goal five minutes into the second period when defenseman Jake Gingell’s shot deflected off the post into the net.

Wahlstrom’s unassisted goal was the first of four USA goals in the second period.

Farabee netted his first goal and five minutes later, Team USA scored two goals — one each from Farabee and Jake Pivonka — in nine seconds to close out the second period.

Wouter Peeters replaced Ivan Prosvetov in goal to start the third period and made six saves, the Flemish netminder conceding a goal to USA’s Jake DeBoer.

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