Phantoms’ year ends in despair

YOUNGSTOWN — In heartbreaking fashion, the Youngstown Phantoms dropped both games at home and fell to the Fargo Force in the Clark Cup Finals, losing 4-2 in Game 4.

The Force, who lost Game 2, were impressive on the road and took the series, 3-1.

“There’s never quit in the guys,” Phantoms coach Brad Patterson said. “They poured their heart and soul out there. You look at the last three games, they’re all one-goal games. It can go either way. We got the first one, a bad bounce breaks us last night and tonight was the same idea. One play makes the game. It’s not that the guys didn’t execute, or didn’t do what we asked, they did it all, and that’s the hard part.”

Fargo captures their first Clark Cup championship in franchise history with some help from two former Phantoms.

Griffin Loughran, who played nine games for the Phantoms last season, scored seven goals on Fargo’s journey for the cup, and was named the playoff MVP after the game.

“It’s unbelievable,” Loughran said. “Me and (Ty) Farmer played here last year, so it’s even more special, especially on this ice.”

Ty Farmer scored the go-ahead goal for the Force. Farmer spent three seasons with the Phantoms and now heads off to the University of Massachusetts a USHL Champion.

“It means a lot,” Farmer said. “I spent the majority of my time in this league here. This is the closest I’ve ever been to a championship, and I couldn’t have done it with a better group of guys.”

There was no scoring in the first period, despite many chances. The lack of offense can be attributed to the on-ice conditions. Due to a mix of the weather, a power outage earlier in the day, and the pregame pyrotechnics, a fog covered the ice, which obscured visibility for the duration of the period.

The game was halted three times by referees so players could clear the benches and skate around to try and thin the fog.

When the second period kicked off, so did the offense. Five minutes into the frame, Force defenseman Evan Bell got a shot past Ivan Prosvetov for the opening goal. A few minutes later, University of Michigan commit Garrett Van Wyne redirected a shot from Spencer Meier into the net giving the Force a 2-0 lead.

With their backs against the wall, however, the Phantoms refused to quit. In the waning seconds of the second period, leading playoff scorer Matthew Barry got a goal to cut the lead to 2-1, giving the Phantoms some momentum heading into the third.

Then, 2018 NHL Draft prospect Curtis Hall shined when it mattered most, tying the game up at 2, early in the third period. With NHL scouts in the building, and playing the final game in his USHL career, Hall gave them a show, with his strong two-way play and scoring ability. Hall is expected to go in the second or third round of June’s draft.

Fargo scored the Clark Cup-winning goal with 3:54 remaining in regulation. Farmer came flying through the neutral zone with speed and split two defenders after taking a touch pass from Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup. Farmer fired a wrist shot from the hashmarks that beat Prosvetov over the glove to put Fargo ahead 3-2. Jon McDonald scored on the empty net with 0.7 seconds remaining in regulation to make up the final margin.

Despite the outcome of the season, this is still a historic moment in the history of Youngstown hockey. Neither the Steelhounds or the prior Phantoms teams made it to their respective championship games.

“There’s a special group here,” Patterson said. “As much as I can tell the guys that I love them to death and I’m proud of them, it doesn’t really resonate right now. In the future though, they’ll see how hard they played and how much respect they had throughout the league. I couldn’t have asked for anything other than what the guys gave me on a daily basis. They love each other, they showed up to the rink every day and worked hard. We had tremendous support from our whole organization and that’s huge. When you have that, good things are gonna happen.”