Phantoms advance to Clark Cup final

YOUNGSTOWN — With a 5-1 win, the Youngstown Phantoms are officially USHL Eastern Conference Champions for the first time in franchise history.

“It was playoff hockey to a tee,” Phantoms coach Brad Patterson said. “A lot of momentum swings. I felt our guys, after being up there for Game 2. We had 20 minutes where we weren’t great and the guys realized that we can get through anything — being down five or six goals and being within a post of making a comeback in that game.”

The Phantoms quickly found themselves down 1-0 after a goal by Erik Middendorf. Coach Patterson’s words rang true as the team tied the game at one just a minute later. Four more unanswered goals would follow, including two empty net goals.

Dalton Messina opened the scoring, with a quick back and forth down the ice with Max Ellis, leaving Team USA goalie Cameron Rowe stranded. With the net left open due to the goaltender’s positioning, Messina snapped the puck between the pipes.

Matthew Barry added to his ever-growing playoff point total with a goal coming from a front net scrum. Barry snuck the puck past Rowe, who thought he had the save made.

Cornell commit Mike Regush scored off of a slap shot to the top corner that revved up the crowd.

The final two were empty netters, first by Eric Esposito, and in the waning seconds. Chase Gresock followed as he flipped a puck up from behind the blue line and it slid into the net.

The front net play for the Phantoms was key Saturday on both ends of the ice. Ivan Prosvetov had 32 saves on the night despite Team USA peppering him with shots. Even if Prosvetov was caught out of position, a Phantoms defender was there to clear the puck.

“They had their chances,” Regush said. “You have to give a lot of credit to Ivan. He made the big saves when we needed them. We were better down the stretch with our puck management and sticking to our system, but I think they played a good game, outshot us, but give credit to our goalie and our coaches, and we ended up closing it out but it was tough.”

Patterson spent more than a decade in Youngstown, with time as a player for the Youngstown Steelhounds for two seasons, and nine seasons in the Phantoms organization — the last two as coach. With many people passing through the organization, Patterson and his team have been supported by a long list of people along the way.

“I can’t tell you how many different guys from the past decade have reached out to me over the last week,” he said. “Guys that are playing in the NHL Playoffs, guys that are working on Wall Street, wherever they are, they still follow us, and they’re a big piece of what we are. The group in there gets the accolades right now because they’re playing the game, but there’s a big foundation that was built before them.

“Whether that’s people that worked in the front office or coaches. We say ‘Phantom Phamily’ with a ‘ph’ and we mean it because there’s been so many people through here.”

The Phantoms are three wins away from a USHL Clark Cup Championship where they will face off against the Fargo Force. The winner of this series will win their first Clark Cup in franchise history.