Phantoms’ Joyaux looks to keep pace with older brother


Phantoms’ Joyaux looks

to keep pace

with older

brother

By Tom Williams

williams@vindy.com

youngstown

Phantoms defenseMan Michael Joyaux’s older brother has thrown down the ultimate sibling rivalry challenge.

Matt Joyaux is a senior defenseman with the Ohio State University hockey team that has qualified for the NCAA’s Frozen Four Tournament.

For Michael to keep pace, his Phantoms need to qualify for the USHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, the league’s equivalent of the last four teams standing.

It’s a challenge the Phantoms are poised to embrace.

“We’re very confident,” said Joyaux of the second-place Phantoms’ three-point lead on the Muskegon Lumberjacks. “Everybody loves each other and wants play hard for each other.

“It’s hard not to want to go out there and do the best you can knowing you have a guy next to you who would do the same.”

The USHL’s revamped playoff format gives a definite edge to the teams who finish first or second in each conference. In recent seasons, only the top four teams in each conference qualified for the Clark Cup Playoffs and there were no byes.

This season, the top six teams in each conference make the playoffs, with the top two teams getting a first-round bye.

Brad Patterson, Phantoms head coach, said the bottom four qualifiers will play a best-of-three series at the top seed’s arena. Patterson expects those games to begin April 16, two days after the USHL season ends.

The second round will begin the weekend of April 20-21, meaning the top seeds could be facing teams who played three times earlier in the week.

“Those top seeds are huge, you’d get some time to prepare,” Patterson said.

Not to mention heal and rest.

The Phantoms (29-18-5-2, 65 points) have six games remaining, all against playoff contenders. After Friday’s trip to Plymouth, Mich., to play Team USA’s 18U squad, the Phantoms will return home to open a five-game homestand on Saturday against Team USA’s 17U squad.

The Phantoms also will play Team USA 17U on April 12 in a school-day game. Team USA (28-15-0-1, 77 points) is running away with the Eastern Conference.

“They are definitely big,” Joyaux said of the remaining games. “We’re [wanting] to finish the season on a high note to show the other teams we might play that we’re prepared to bring it to them.”

Patterson said the 18U team is consistently good. What’s different this year is how well the 17U team is playing even though some of the best players eligible for the younger squad are playing with the older unit.

“This year’s 18 team is the best 18 team I’ve seen in nine years,” Patterson said. “This year’s young team [is] very good in the USHL, very competitive. There is an elite level of talent at that young age.”

Patterson said the 17U team will be the one to play in the USHL Playoffs while the older squad competes in the World Junior Tournament.

The Phantoms organization will be watching closely when the Buckeyes play Minnesota Duluth on April 5 in the Frozen Four opener. Five former Phantoms are Buckeyes: goaltender Sean Romeo, defensemen Tommy Parran and Matt Miller, and forwards Luke Stork (alternate captain) and Austin Pooley.

Joyaux is from Bloomingdale, Ill., near Chicago and will play for Western Michigan next fall. He admitted he wasn’t aware that his brother was playing with so many former Phantoms until his billet family showed him Tuesday’s Vindicator, which featured a story on Ohio State’s Youngstown Connections.

“He’s really excited and happy to do it with the team that they have,” Joyaux said of Matt. “He’s never gotten [this] far or played on that great of a team.

“To see him do so well this year, it’s really exciting.”

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