CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — In the first game of the team’s new era, the Youngstown Phantoms are still putting it all together.
With three goals early in the third period, the Waterloo Black Hawks shattered the Phantoms’ chances of gaining momentum, as Waterloo beat the Phantoms 5-2 in the 2018 Fall Classic. USHL, held at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.
“I thought we had times where we did things, but overall I think we’ve drifted a bit away from who we are,” said Phantoms coach Ryan Ward. “It’s a good team, I give them credit. I thought we really got away from our tracking error pressure and beat the ice all night. We’ll clean up here and move on and look forward to tomorrow.
Waterloo (1-0) got on the board within the first two minutes of the game as defenseman Aaron Pionk, brother of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Neal Pionk, beat Phantoms goaltender Jacob Fowler.
They would score again early in the second period, this time Gavyn Thoreson beating Fowler.
Rollovers were a problem for the Phantoms (0-1) on Saturday. This unpredictability with the puck turned the team upside down.
“We mishandled the puck several times today,” said Ward. “I think when you’re not predictable in the way you play and where the puck goes, I think that throws everyone out of sync a bit and I think that’s something that we’ll definitely look at and address here. “
However, there were plenty of opportunities at the net. Forward William Whitelaw had seven shots on goal, connecting in the back of the net in the third period. Andrew Strathmann also scored on his Phantoms debut, netting one late in the second period. He scored four shots on goal.
The aggressiveness from the offensive zone that paid off on those two goals is exactly what Ward has been preaching since he got the job.
“That’s part of what we talked about. It’s going to be a staple in our game. said Ward. “Go to the net and be heavy in front of the net, in any league. Every coach tells his guys that. The two times we’ve done it we’ve had success and I think going forward we have to be much better. We weren’t hard at their net today and that’s something we need to clean up.
The big thing about Saturday was the experience. There are a lot of younger players on the Phantoms roster and playing the Fall Classic gives them a unique experience. NHL scouts from across the league were in attendance along with representatives from dozens of Division I colleges.
With that clash out of the way, Ward expects Sunday’s contest to be very different.
“I think we’ve had some spurts and I think some of our young guys have gained experience,” said Ward. “I think that’s the most important thing. Every time you come here for the Fall Classic and put a ton of eyes on you, for the young guys it’s something a little different and something they have to adapt to. I think now that we’ve sorted that out, hopefully we can get back to playing hockey here.
The Phantoms play again today at noon against the Des Moines Buccaneers. As the Phantoms become more comfortable, expect to see aggression increase and play at 100%. According to Ward, they only showed about 40% on Saturday.
“We have to start playing (in our own way) again at the end of the day”, said Ward. “It was 40% the way we can play. Without taking anything away from Waterloo, they had a great game, they were ready to go. We need to get back to playing our brand of hockey and staying true to who we are.
“Good teams have to bounce back. You never want to lose two in a row. Must be a must here this year. We’ll review it, we’ll clean it up, and we’ll come back to it.