Phantoms split season-opening weekend
1st-year head coach Ryan Ward happy with his team’s progress heading into off week
With the eyes of the hockey world focused on the United States Hockey League for a weekend, the Youngstown Phantoms got some well-needed experience.
The first weekend of the season is in the book. After two games, the Phantoms sit at 1-1, losing to Waterloo in the season-opener before responding the next day with a victory over Des Moines as a part of the USHL Fall Classic, held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township, Pa.
“Overall, it was a great learning weekend for us,” Youngstown Phantoms coach Ryan Ward said. “I think from a standpoint of our team, there were a lot of positive feelings about our preseason. I think we can build on that. But at the end of the day, we have a young team that needs this experience and needs to grow through it together.”
Saturday’s season-opening contest was definitely the first game of the season. Everyone was still getting used to their spots and playing at full speed.
“I thought we had moments where we did stuff, but overall I think we got away from our identity a little bit,” Ward said after their season-opening loss on Saturday. “That’s a good team, I give them credit. I thought that we really really got away from our tracking gap pressure and we got beat up the ice all night.”
Then in game two, things definitely changed for the Phantoms as they amended an issue from game one and capitalized on the power play twice to push the team past Des Moines, 2-1.
Compared to Saturday’s game, Ward mentioned the pace of the team had improved as well.
“We did some good things,” Ward said in a postgame interview Sunday. “I thought we played with a little more desperation and urgency. We have to manage the puck a little bit better, but our power play came up big, our penalty kill was great. When you win the special teams battle, usually it goes your way. (Today) I thought our guys dug in and did a great job.”
Goaltender Colin Winn picked up his first USHL victory Sunday. He and returning goalie Jacob Fowler are going to be battling for the top goalie slot.
“(Winn) is a competitor,” Ward said in a postgame interview Sunday. “He likes the big moments, they’re not too big for him. I thought he was outstanding, made some huge saves down the stretch. He’s going to keep getting better. The internal competition (with Fowler) is going to be something that drives him. We’re really excited about Colin.”
Andrew Strathmann received league honors Wednesday morning, being named the USHL Defenseman of the Week for his performance over the weekend.
Strathmann recorded three points (1 goal, 2 assists) in the two games. He scored a goal and tallied an assist in the loss to Waterloo, then recorded another assist on the opening goal against Des Moines.
“He’s a 2005-born defenseman that is coming off a year where he didn’t play a ton, and now he’s going to be thrust into a role where he is going to be one of our cornerstone defenseman,” Ward said. “I think his response to the weekend was great. I was really, really happy with his maturity and defensive play. Obviously, with him playing so well defensively, I think that led to some offensive opportunities that he cashed in on. He had three points in two games and I think that’s kind of what we look for in him this entire year. (We want him) to be a well-rounded 200-foot defenseman that can be both offensive and be extremely tight defensively.”
Three Phantoms have recorded three points so far in this young season, with William Whitelaw potting two goals and an assist, and Matthew Perkins tallying three total assists across the two games. Whitelaw has fired 12 shots on net so far this season, boasting a 16.7 shooting percentage.
The Phantoms have the upcoming week off and won’t hit the ice for a game again until Thursday, Oct. 13 when they host the Madison Capitols in the first of a two-game set.
In the meantime, the Phantoms are going to continue working on instilling the team’s culture and keep letting the kids get to know each other and gel. They’re the second-youngest team in the league, so for Ward, “letting the kids be kids” is super important.
Puck drop at the Covelli Centre is set for 6 p.m. for Thursday’s game. Friday’s game begins at 7 p.m.