Returning players, newcomers open home schedule Friday at Covelli Centre
By Tom Williams
For three returning Youngstown Phantoms forwards, last season’s run to the USHL Clark Cup Finals was an experience to treasure.
“To push it to the limit was so much fun,” Joey Abate said Wednesday at the junior hockey team’s Media Day at the Covelli Centre. “That was probably the most fun I’ve had playing hockey.
“I’ll remember that for a very long time.”
Dalton Messina called the Phantoms’ first trip to the championship round “pretty wild. We felt good, but obviously we would have felt better to win it all.”
Craig Needham called the playoff run “a special time.”
Last spring, the Phantoms needed three games to sweep the Dubuque Fighting Saints, then four to oust Team USA, the Eastern Conference’s top seed. In the finals, the Phantoms split two games in Fargo, N.D., then lost twice to the Force on home ice.
“It stunk to come up short but it’s still an experience that you’ll always keep with you,” Needham said.
Abate said, “It was heartbreaking the way it ended, but for us to be able to have that opportunity playing in Fargo, playing in front of our fans, it was incredible.”
The Phantoms (0-2-0-0) have eight players back for their 10th USHL season. Also returning are forwards Jack Malone and Trevor Kuntar, and defensemen Gianfranco Cassaro, Steve Holtz and Liam Dennison.
The season began at the USHL’s Fall Classic in Cranberry, Pa., with losses to the Tri-City Storm (5-4) and the Fighting Saints (4-2).
“Both games were good,” Patterson said, admitting that he’d probably say the same thing if the Phantoms had won two close games. “They could have gone either way [with] the goalie pulled in both games. One, we hit a post [late].
“I liked their effort, but there are things we could be better at.”
Needham, who was with the Phantoms for the entire season in 2017-18, said he believes they have the “same type of team.
“I think we have a good mix of skill up front and some hard-working guys, and in the back we’re really strong,” said Needham who has committed to play for the University of Maine.
“And in the goaltender position, I think we’re just about where we were last year.”
Jon Mor and Justin Evenson have replaced Ivan Prozvetov and Wouter Peeters in goal. Patterson said he plans to play both goalies early.
Abate, who is committed to Nebraska-Omaha, joined the Phantoms last November after a trade from the Omaha Lancers. He says the team kicked into gear after Messina and Nick Cardelli were traded to Youngstown from Cedar Rapids in January.
“It [created] a different vibe in the locker room,” Abate said.
He cited a series against the Waterloo Blackhawks in mid-February as a turning point.
“They were the most talked-about team at that time with a 21-game point streak and we swept them,” Abate said. “Then we all knew we were the real deal. From that time forward, it was [on].”
Messina credited Tommy Parrottino, his friend from Illinois, and assistant coach Nick Peruzzi with helping him adjust.
“You could definitely see that they were trending in the right direction,” Messina said.” They had a lot of talent here and it was a pretty smooth transition.”
Peruzzi was one of the Oakland Junior Grizzlies coaches when Messina was on the team from 2014-16.
“I had a lot of people on my side here so that was great,” Messina said.
The Phantoms (33-20-5-2, 73 points) finished in second in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re a lucky team with eight guys who were on the team last year,” Abate said. “We’re all leaders and it’s [easier] when you have a bunch of leaders. We have eight guys who know what it takes to get where we want to be.”