Phantoms stay upbeat despite skid

It’s difficult to stay upbeat during a losing streak.

Nobody likes losing, but when losses start piling up, players begin to lose faith, expressed through a depressive atmosphere in the locker room or players becoming irritable. Neither of these cases are good for team morale.

Considering the Youngstown Phantoms are currently riding a nine-game losing streak, it’s easy to see the young players falling prey to those feelings of despair and animosity, but talking earlier this week with some of the players on the team, it doesn’t seem like the Phantoms are tearing themselves apart.

In fact, they’re very much upbeat.

Much of that positive nature comes from Youngstown coach Anthony Noreen, who said his players display the right attitude on a daily basis, even during this losing streak.

“My mindset and what I’ve said from Day 1 when I’ve gotten here is: I’m not going to be any different whether we win 10 in a row or lose 10 in a row,” Noreen said. “I was hoping we’d never get to that point to have to prove it, but if you ask our guys in the room right now, there’s nothing different. We’re working to get better every day, and that’s the bottom line.”

How can Noreen be so optimistic? It’s not his first rodeo. Noreen was at the helm last year when the Phantoms lost 11 of 12 early in the season, but that team managed to turn it around, qualifying for the playoffs and making a run to the Eastern Conference finals.

Noreen said he’s seen signs of how the 2013-2014 team can pull off something similar, as during this losing streak, the Phantoms have lost three games in overtime and lost by more than two goals just three times.

“Once this team wins a game, wins a couple games, I feel like we’re going to win a ton of games,” Noreen said. “It’s no different than what I felt about the group last year when we went through losing I think it was 11 of 12 or whatever it was. We knew that team was going to win just like we know this team is going to win.”

In order to get the ball rolling, however, Youngstown needs to end this losing streak. Right-winger J.J. Piccinich said the solution is simple for Youngstown, which has plenty of chances to take care of business during a seven-game homestand that will keep the team in town until Jan. 24.

“We’ve been kind of going away from Phantoms hockey,” said Piccinich, who leads the league in power-play goals with 10. “We’re a blue-collar team, and I think we just need to stick to working hard. Just make sure we keep getting pucks to the net, stuff like that – just keep the game simple. We’ve tried to be a little too pretty sometimes.”

Still, even if the Phantoms manage to turn things around quickly, the odds are stacked against them making the playoffs this season. Youngstown sits in last place in the Eastern Conference, 10 points behind seventh place and 14 points out of a playoff spot. The team needs a run of epic proportions and a little help in order to make the postseason for the third-straight season.

That doesn’t seem to damper Noreen’s spirit, however.

“Until the day that door (on the playoffs) is closed, it’s still going to be a goal something that we’re shooting for, and that’s still something everyone in this room believes we have a chance to do,” he said.

That door won’t stay open for long.