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Phantoms still building chemistry

Currently 4th in Eastern Conference with a record of 8-7-0-2, despite several new faces

Staff photo / Brian Yauger Phantoms forward Jaden Grant skates down the ice with the puck during a contest last season against the Chicago Steel at the Covelli Centre.

YOUNGSTOWN — After a few weeks of the 2021-22 United States Hockey League season, the Youngstown Phantoms are sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and just like every year, the team has a glut of new faces, but the roster isn’t entirely fresh.

Returning to the lineup are forwards Kenta Isogai and Winter Wallace, defenseman Bayard Hall, goaltender Kyle Chauvette and captain Jaden Grant.

The rest of the lineup is new to the team and coach Brad Patterson is still trying to figure out who goes where.

Despite that, Patterson, who is in his sixth season as the man behind the bench, is happy with where the team is right now.

“We have some new bodies in town,” Patterson said. “Identifying strengths and weaknesses, stuff like that is always a work in progress, but the steps that we’ve taken, our consistency levels have been very good as of late. Some of the younger guys that are new to the league have taken some big steps and we’re excited about the group.”

One of those new faces that’s doing quite well in his first year with the Phantoms (8-7-0-2, 18 points) is Adam Ingram, who joins the team after being selected No. 153 in the 2021 USHL Phase II Draft. He leads the team with 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) and is tied for third in the league.

“(Ingram) comes to us from Manitoba and he’s had an exceptional start for us as a scoring forward,” Patterson said. “He’s committed to St. Cloud State and is on the NHL Draft list for next year.”

Grant, the team’s captain this year, is second on the team in scoring with 15 points (8 goals, 7 assists). He’s committed to Bowling Green.

Rounding out the top three in scoring is Ryan Alexander, who was traded from Dubuque in a deal involving the top Phase II Draft pick. He has 13 points (10 goals, 3 assists) and is committed to Arizona State University.

With every team being so different year-by-year, each team has its own identity. The Phantoms this year, according to Patterson, offer a little bit of everything, so what sets this team aside is its competitive level.

“We got some guys that are consistently on the scoresheet in terms of scoring and you obviously need solid goaltending,” Patterson said. “For us it’s the compete level. You need to go into a puck battle and more often than not, win that puck battle, whether that’s through skill, whether it’s your work ethic, or whether that’s through physicality. That’s something that each and everybody is different with.

“Every player on our team has a little bit of a different skill set, but merging it all together. So, ‘by committee’ I guess would be our identity. We need everybody checking in on a consistent basis, whether that’s on the score sheet or on the physicality aspect, whatever it is. Everybody knows their role and has bought into it and that’s where our success will come from.”

One major difference in this year’s team and last year’s is the bonding. The Phantoms did everything in their power last year to limit contact between players. While obviously the right move to protect the players’ health and safety, there’s an argument to be made that the lack of connections impacted the on-ice results.

Now, with looser regulations, the players are much closer to each other, which has produced better results.

“The difference to me with our group this year versus last year’s group and it’s not that we had bad kids or kids with a bad mentality, it was just hard to get that team feel,” Patterson said. “Like ‘one family’ type stuff and I feel we do have that. Like anything it takes time to see the best in it, but that from the get go has been tremendous.”

Due to scheduling conflicts, the Phantoms only have seven home games in the 2021 portion of their schedule. That does have its benefits however, like strengthening the team bonding like Patterson mentioned. It also gives the team more games at home as the season winds down and wins become more and more important.

The Phantoms have one more home game in 2021, Friday against the Chicago Steel.

Chicago is the defending league champs and have a ton of talent, including the league’s top two scorers Jackson Blake and Adam Fantilli, who is currently projected as a top prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. at the Covelli Centre. To come out on top over the Steel, Patterson wants the team to stay the course and keep going with what’s working

“I think we have a group that everyone’s going to chip in in some sort of fashion and that’s what you want in a team,” he said. “Everyone’s important and it’s not just two guys that are going to be the guys that we have to lean on every single way.

“Everybody does something extremely well and brings that skillset to the table. This is probably our biggest point that we’ve had success with over the past couple weeks and we just hope to keep it going.”

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