Phantoms host Fighting Saints in Clark Cup playoff series
By Tom Williams
Last spring, the Youngstown Phantoms competed in the USHL’s Clark Cup Finals for the first time.
The road to a repeat will be a little more challenging.
In the 2017-18 season, the Phantoms finished second in the Eastern Conference, earning a first-round bye.
They swept the fifth-seeded Dubuque Fighting Saints, 3-0, then eliminated top-seeded Team USA, 3-1, to advance to the Finals.
This year, the Phantoms (36-21-1-4, 77 points) missed a first-round bye by a point and a tiebreaker. They have the third seed and will play sixth-seeded Dubuque (28-26-4-4, 64 points) in a best-of-three series that begins tonight at the Covelli Centre.
The reward for earning the higher seed is hosting all first-round games.
The Phantoms clinched third with Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Team USA 17s at the Covelli Centre. They beat the same team by the same score Friday in Plymouth, Mich.
While the Phantoms rested on Sunday by watching scouting videos, the Buccaneers traveled from Iowa.
The Phantoms won the season series with the Fighting Saints, 3-1.
“All very close, all one-goal-type games,” Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson said. “They are a very good opponent, very deep. It should make for a good series.
“It’s going to be a huge test.”
The Phantoms’ 4-2 loss came at the USHL’s Fall Classic in Cranberry, Pa., on Sept. 30. It was part of the Phantoms’ 0-5-0-1 start.
Their first win was at Dubuque on Oct. 19, a 4-3 shootout win. The other wins against the Saints were by scores of 6-3 at the Covelli on Oct. 26 and 4-3 in Iowa on Dec. 30.
Connor MacEachern, who scored a goal and set up two others on Saturday, said the Phantoms are much improved.
“We’ve done better as the year has gone on,” MacEachern said. “We’re going to be ready.”
He admitted to being a bit foggy on playing the Fighting Saints.
“It’s been a while but I do remember we put the puck in the net against them,” MacEachern said. “I think we are all ready for the challenge.”
The Phantoms closed the season going 12-3. Two of the losses were to the Team USA 18s who are representing the USA in the world junior tournament. That squad has eight players projected to be selected in the first round of June’s NHL Draft.
The other loss came on April 4, 4-1, to Sioux Falls at the Covelli.