When the Youngstown Phantoms open up their United States Hockey League Eastern Conference final series with the Dubuque Fighting Saints tonight in Iowa, it might seem like they're looking into a mirror.
The top-seed throughout the playoffs shares many of the same qualities as the Phantoms, according to coach Anthony Noreen. The biggest similarity is both teams' depth.
"The three things that win in the playoffs: depth, goal tending and special teams," Noreen said. "That's the type of team Dubuque is, and that's the type of team we are. It's going to be a really interesting matchup as far as depth because I know that's something they pride themselves on - playing all four lines and having depth up front."
Dubuque has zero qualms about playing its third and foruth lines, and it showed during the regular season. The Saints had 16 players record at least 20 points over 63 games. In comparison, the Phantoms had 12 players do so.
Down the stretch and in the playoffs, Youngstown's third and fourth lines have stepped up. Players like Alexander Dahl, Markus McCrea and J.J. Piccinich scored pivotal goals in the Phantoms' 3-1 series win over Green Bay. These players will be key for Youngstown's chances in this series.
"Everyone's got to be doing their roles," defenseman James Mazza said. "The top guys got to be scoring, our bottom guys have got to be grinding... Everyone's got to be playing their position the right way out there."
Even though both teams have a lot of depth, the Phantoms are hoping that their conditioning will play factor in each individual game and in the tight space in which the series will be played.
During the regular season, Youngstown outscored its opponents in the third period and overtime by 26 goals.
"We've taken pride in our conditioning all year," forward John Padulo said. "Our third period (play) has been great all year. We're going to try and wear them down, and come the third period, hopefully they'll be dogged tired."
Also, with the possiblity of playing four games in five days like in the first round, the Phantoms hope to use a secret weapon on the trip from Dubuque to Youngstown.
"Our bus, we're going to take advantage of that," Padulo said. "We have the sleeper bus - we can sleep throughout the night on the way back."
Despite being the lowest seed still left in the Clark Cup playoffs and taking on the team that had the best regular season record, the Phantoms don't view themselves as underdogs. In fact, they expect to steal at least one on the road and have a chance to clinch the series at home come Monday or Tuesday.
"We like our matchup," Padulo said. "We might be the underdogs if you look on the Web site or whatnot, but we're going to approach it like we're the better team."