Phantoms’ mission: deliver a crown

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Saturday night, after the Youngstown Phantoms had clinched their first Eastern Conference playoff crown to earn another banner for the Covelli Centre rafters, head coach Brad Patterson was asked how it felt to make history.

Patterson suggested that now is not the time to reflect on accomplishments.

“It’s special in the fact that we’ve had a long run together as a group,” Patterson said after the Phantoms ousted top-seeded Team USA with a 5-1 victory in Game 4 of their best-of-five series.

“I’d like you to ask me that question in two weeks,” Patterson said.

Friday night in Fargo, N.D., the Phantoms will open the best-of-five playoff series against the Fargo Force.

Game 2 will be played there on Saturday, then the series will shift to Ohio with Games 3 and, if necessary, 4 at the Covelli Centre on May 18-19.

If Game 5 is necessary, it will be played on May 23 in Fargo.

The Phantoms have qualified for the USHL’s Clark Cup Final for the first time in their nine-year history. Youngstown has played in the postseason five times — three when Anthony Noreen was head coach and two with Patterson in charge.

“For me, yeah, we’ve had a little bit of success,” Patterson said. “But the ultimate goal here is two weeks away.

“I know the guys are excited about it as our staff and organization and fan-base and city should be, as well.”

The Phantoms (33-20-5-2, 73 points in the regular season) finished second in the Eastern Conference, 10 points behind Team USA (41-18-0-1, 83 points.

The Force (37-16-3-4, 81 points) finished third in the Western Conference. The top two teams in each conference received a first-round playoff bye.

The Phantoms swept the fifth-seeded Dubuque Fighting Saints, then went 3-1 against Team USA for a 6-1 playoff record.

The Force swept the sixth-seeded Tri-City Storm in the best-of-three opening round, then ousted the second-seeded Omaha Lancers 3-1 in the second round.

The Force (8-2 in the postseason) needed four games to oust the top-seeded Waterloo Blackhawks.

“It’s unreal,” Phantoms captain Eric Esposito said of playing for the Clark Cup trophy. “We’ve been waiting for this.”

Esposito, who is completing his third season with the Phantoms, and Chase Gresock scored empty-net goals to seal Saturday’s win.

“Yeah, you get a little emotional, but Coach has been talking in the room that we’ve got to stay even-keeled — not too high, not too low after a win or a loss,” Esposito said. “That kind of what we’ve been doing — just trying to stay level.”

Dalton Messina, Michael Regush and Matthew Barry scored the Phantoms’ first three goals. Regush’s goal snapped a 1-1 tie and was set up by Barry with a brilliant backhand pass on a 2-on-1 break.

“Youngstown is a city that wants a champion, that wants to cheer for a champion,” Regush said. “We’re going to give them our very best. I think people are going to be excited and people are going to come out and support us.

“They want a winner and that’s what we’re going to try and [deliver].”

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