Phantoms assistant says team set for stretch run

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — The Youngstown Phantoms are currently in the middle of a six-game homestand and with a 2-1 overall mark, anxiously awaiting the start of this weekend’s three-game series with the Green Bay Gamblers and the team directly in front of them in the United State Hockey League’s Eastern Conference standings.

Phantoms assistant coach Jeff Potter, currently in his fourth season with the team, told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center that playing 12 of their first 34 games against the top two teams in their conference — Chicago Steel (27-4-1, 55 points) and Team USA (22-12-1, 45 points) — has definitely prepared Youngstown (14-15-4-1, 33 points) for the stretch run of the season.

“Team USA is exceptional once again, but the Chicago Steel is on pace to break the USHL’s all-time regular season wins mark, which is 48 and was set by the Des Moines Buccaneers during the 1998-99 season. That’s a really special team,” Potter said. “The Waterloo Black Hawks sit atop the Western Conference right now with 49 points, and there are several other very good teams, but in my humble opinion and mine only, the East is the tougher conference this year.”

The Phantoms feature forward Trevor Kuntar of Williamsville, New York, the league’s top goal-scorer with 23 tallies in 28 games played. He also has 15 assists and with 38 total points, is tied with two others with for third place in the league’s scoring race.

Of the league’s top-five overall point producers, Kuntar is the only non-Chicago Steel player with Sean Farrell (12-goals, 30 assists for 42 points) tops and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (17-22-39) second.

Tied with him at 38 points are the Steel’s Sam Colangelo and Mathieu De St. Phalle, each of whom has 19 goals and 19 assists on the campaign.

Kuntar, who is considered one of the top 150 North American players overall in the most recent rankings, was set to play in Monday night’s USA Top Prospects game at USA Hockey Arena in Detroit.

“The game was also to be televised on the NHL Network and is great exposure for both Trevor and the Youngstown Phantoms,” Potter added. “He wasn’t drafted last year but should get a long, hard look and drafted this year.”

According to Central Scouting rankings, goalie Colin Purcell, who is 17 years old and already 6-foot-6 tall, is listed as the sixth-ranked goalie overall.

“We currently aren’t in the league’s top half nor are we a bottom half team,” Potter stated. “We’re in the middle of the pack, however, trending in the right direction. We’ve had an up-and-down season thus far, and while we have done all right, we need to do better the last half of the season with the goal to make the playoffs. These are young kids and in junior hockey, kids make mistakes, so once you get to the playoffs anything can and usually does happen.

“Any team in this league on any night, from top to bottom, can be beaten. There’s no difference on the road or being at home. Look at Game No. 7 of the recent NHL playoffs where the road team has held the upper hand. I’m not so sure you want to be the home team.”

The Phantoms have made the playoffs all three years with Potter on staff, advancing to the Clark Cup finals two years ago where they finished runners-up to the Fargo Force,

Potter said getting right winger Ben Schoen back is going to help the Phantoms over the last half of the season.

“Ben suffered a broken collarbone the second week of the season and has been sidelined ever since,” he said. “Having him back in the line-up will be a big plus.”

The top-six teams in each conference qualify for the playoffs with the top two teams earning a first-round bye. The regular season ends on April 18 with playoffs set to begin the following week.

Next Monday, YSU head baseball coach Dan Bertolini is the guest speaker.