Pooley, Phantoms ready for playoffs

First-year Youngstown Phantom Austin Pooley may be new to playing for the team, but he already has a history with them. He also isn’t new to the USHL, for that matter, as the Phantoms mark the third team Pooley’s played with in his four USHL seasons.

Now, Pooley will look to do something that he proclaimed after becoming a Phantom last summer-win the Clark Cup. The prestigious Clark Cup is the USHL championship that the Phantoms have yet to win in their nine years in the USHL.

However, the Phantoms (74 points) recently clinched a spot in the posteason and will take on the Eastern Conference regular-season champion Chicago Steel.

“Obviously that was our first goal was to make the playoffs,” Pooley said. “It was good to see that, but now is when the real teams play. So, we’re extremely excited for an opportunity to go out and win a Clark Cup.”

When asked about the Steel, Pooley reiterated the sentiments echoed by his head coach, Brad Patterson. Pooley says that Chicago is a very skilled team and he believes that if the Phantoms players come out and play their style — and not Chicago’s — Youngstown will have a great chance of taking that next step this postseason.

To some, the Phantoms making it back to the playoffs with just a handful of returning players and a new head coach would be a surprise. Even more surprising would be the fact that a newcomer like Pooley would emerge as the team’s vocal leader.

However, Pooley practiced with the Phantoms as a midget player in the past, and unlike most of the other Phantoms players just starting their USHL journey, this is already the fourth year for Pooley.

Year four marks Pooley’s last year of USHL eligibility, and already, his most successful. After limited playing time with the Omaha Lancers in 2013-14, followed by two years as a contributor with the Fargo Force, Pooley has been a breakout star in 2016-17, notching a team-high 21 goals.

“I’d say just consistency overall and how hard and smart you have to play every night to have success,” Pooley said of his greatest USHL improvements. “The league is so good, the parity in the league is so good, that you can never take a night off.

“There’s no bad teams in this league, and the difference between players is so small — a little something here, a little something there. And just enjoying the moment, it goes so fast and you’re all looking back on it and I’m pretty much done with Juniors, besides this run here. It goes so fast, just enjoy it.”

Pooley’s passion for the game essentially started from birth, as he comes from a full-on hockey family. Austin’s father, Perry, was a former minor league hockey player, while his uncle, Paul, is the associate head coach for the Notre Dame men’s hockey team and briefly played in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets.

His cousin, Scott, meanwhile, currently plays hockey at Holy Cross. For Austin, the advantages of coming from a hockey family are immense, but it’s also brought pressure along with it.

“It’s huge. My grandma and grandpa on my dad’s side called me and wished me good luck in the playoffs. They’re huge hockey people, they live two hours outside of Toronto, huge Maple Leafs fans,” Austin said.

“They call all the time and we just talk about hockey, so they’re very involved in the hockey community. We have a good hockey family and I’ve learned a lot from them, and just like how they carry themselves and how they approached every day. They were such good players, (and) you want to be a good player (too).”