Three-game series precedes hockey’s holiday break
By Tom Williams
After winning just once in their first eight games, the Youngstown Phantoms have climbed back into the USHL Eastern Conference’s playoff chase.
“Feels good to get back to where we are,” forward Craig Needham said. “We’re very excited to get this ball rolling this weekend.”
Tonight, the Phantoms (9-9-0-3, 21 points) open a three-game series with the Chicago Steel (13-8-1-0, 27 points) at the Covelli Centre.
“Big weekend,” forward Brett Murray said. “Not a great start — once we got that feeling of what it’s like to win, I think we stuck to what we were doing right.
“We’re back to .500 and hopefully keep climbing.”
The Phantoms have won seven of the past 11 games.
Brad Patterson, Phantoms head coach, said Christian Stoever will get tonight’s start in goal.
“He’s very agile, never quits on pucks,” Patterson said. “His compete factor is probably as elite as we’ve had.”
The team’s Christmas break will begin once Sunday’s game ends.
“We’ve been talking the last few a weeks about going on a roll [before] the break,” Needham said. “This weekend, we have a big chance.”
Murray’s father is in town and will drive him back to their home in Bolton, Ont.
“[Home] is about a 30-minute drive to Toronto,” Murray said.
Early Monday, Needham will fly home to Medford, Mass. Both said Thursday that they will take a few days off the ice.
“Three [games] in three [days] is always tough for any sport, especially hockey,” said Murray, whose linemates tonight will be Conner MacEachern and Matt DeMelis. The latter is replacing Jack Malone who is representing Team USA.
Needham said he’ll “definitely take a few days [off], just get out of my skates. Three-in-three is always tough on the body.”
Both have non-traditional holiday traditions. Murray said his family makes homemade sushi.
“That’s a fun thing to do,” the first-year Phantom said.
The Needhams channel Cleveland.
“Only real tradition we have is on Christmas Eve we go to Mass around 5 p.m. [then] we order Chinese food for back home,” Needham said of his family gathering. “It’s not often we’re [all] together.”
“A Christmas Story” will be part of the party.
The team reports back Dec. 26. Needham is flying that morning, as he did last year the day after Christmas.
“It was pretty hectic — there were a lot of travelers,” Needham said.
Murray said he and his Canadian teammates (Liam Dennison, Liam Robertson, Conner MacEachern, Gianfranco Cassaro) have to allow extra time to cross the U.S.-Canadian border.
“Very unpredictable,” Murray said. “Sometimes you’re stuck there for two hours, other times, there may be two or three cars and you’re in in 15 minutes.”
Patterson, a native of British Columbia, will celebrate with his visiting parents who will spend their first Christmas in the Mahoning Valley. Blueberry donuts from Canfield’s Whitehouse Fruit Farm and a trip to Kraynak’s Christmas Tree Lane in Hermitage, Pa., are on the agenda.