Phantoms forward Nathan Lewis stellar in return

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Phantoms forward Nathan Lewis prepares a shot during the team's contest against Madison on Saturday.

YOUNGSTOWN — After missing much of the season due to injury, forward Nathan Lewis’ return to the ice has been a shot in the arm for the Youngstown Phantoms.

In his nine games since returning to the lineup, Lewis has been a major impact piece for the team. Averaging just over a point-per-game pace (6 goals, 4 assists), the Ohio State-bound forward is thrilled to be back on the ice.

“The first nine games (back) have been really good,” Lewis said. “I’ve felt great. It’s been good to get back and back to playing with the boys. It obviously sucks not to be on the ice with the guys and playing with them all year. It’s been good getting back into game shape and seeing how it is on the ice with the guys and on the bench. It’s been really fun.”

His addition couldn’t have come at a better time. With the postseason fast approaching, the intensity Lewis brings to the ice every game is something coach Ryan Ward thinks has been sorely needed this year.

“He’s something that we were missing during the season,” Ward said after Saturday’s game against Madison. “I think just being a leader in the locker room and (Lewis), he brings a little bit of snarl to the game. When Nathan’s on the ice, there’s no funny business going on.”

“No funny business” has been at the center of Lewis’ game for a while now, and he’s showcased it so far in Youngstown. Not afraid to use his 6-foot-5 frame, the physical, emotional games are what Lewis thrives in.

“I love those kinds of games,” he said. “When they get heated, I feel like it gets you in the game a little more. Helps you focus a little more, and you kind of just want to go out there and work harder, and then obviously playing the right way, the scoring comes with it. … I’m not going to let anyone mess around with my teammates and my teammates aren’t going to let anyone mess around with me. I think it’s just a big thing we’ve focused on a lot, sticking up for each other and not letting anyone mess with us.”

It’s turned out to be a match made in heaven for both the Phantoms and Lewis. After the departure of Shane Lachance, the Phantoms needed another big-bodied power forward that could do a little bit of everything. Lewis was searching for a fresh start at the end of last season and requested a trade.

So far, the pairing has worked extremely well, and Lewis has been everything the Phantoms wanted when they brought him in.

“Nathan is a ‘Swiss Army knife.’ He can score, pass, play on the power play, and kill penalties,” Phantoms co-GM Jason Deskins said in the trade announcement back in June. “Nathan is a game changer for us that we fully expect to fill the large void left with Shane Lachance’s departure for Boston University. We couldn’t be happier to bring Nathan to the Phantoms and are anxious to see him with the Phantoms logo on during our quest for another Clark Cup.”

It was a long road to recovery for Lewis.

The forward underwent surgery just four days before the Phantoms’ first home game, and didn’t join the team for another month after the fact.

“I got surgery on September 26, and during my first month, I had to stay home and I actually couldn’t really move from the couch. I had to be in a sling and not do anything at all,” Lewis said. “Then after the first month, around the end of October, I came back here and that’s when I started hanging out with the boys and getting back to work.”

While not being able to play, Lewis immersed himself in the locker room and took on a mentorship role as a leader on one of the youngest teams in the league.

Guiding the younger players and being around the team made the recovery process a little smoother.

“Being around the guys, and being around everybody really made it a lot easier than just sitting back at home and doing nothing but waiting,” Lewis said. “(Guiding the younger guys) was kind of what I was trying to do. Just giving advice to some of the younger guys. Take them under my wing and talk to them here or there. I wanted to be the best teammate that I could even though I wasn’t on the ice.”

Lewis is set to join Ohio State for the 2024-25 season. While in the midst of recovery, Lewis took a campus visit to Columbus. After that, the decision was easy.

“When I went there, it was so welcoming and warming,” Lewis said. “I mean the campus is beautiful. It made me feel at home. And just the coaching staff, the way they play, the way they hold themselves to high standards and the way they play for each other and work hard every day, I loved every second.”

The Phantoms have a three-game homestand starting on Thursday against Green Bay. Lewis will be absent from the lineup on Thursday, serving a one-game suspension due to a slew-foot penalty that occurred against Madison.

Have an interesting story? Contact Brian Yauger by email at byauger@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @_brianyauger.


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