As Phantoms return home seeking first Clark Cup, Covelli Centre has been the best for Youngstown
Youngstown led the USHL with 23 home wins this season and the Phantoms are off to a 4-0 start at the Covelli Centre in the playoffs
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As the Youngstown Phantoms return home with a commanding a 2-0 series lead in the Clark Cup Finals, they know the Covelli Centre has been very good for them.
The Phantoms can win the Clark Cup with one more victory in the best-of-five series. The series resumes at 6:05 p.m. (CT) Friday night in Youngstown, with an if-necessary game at 6:05 p.m. (CT) Saturday. Game 5 would be back in Fargo at 7:05 p.m. (CT) Tuesday.
The Phantoms finished the regular season with a 21-7 record in their $42 million, 5,700-seat arena. Officially, Youngstown is 23-7 at home, but that includes a Dec. 2 victory over Green Bay at Bill Gray's Regional Iceplex in Brighton, New York, and an outdoor win Feb. 23 at FirstEnergy Stadium — the home of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Contrasted to Youngstown’s ho-hum 15-12 road record, the Phantoms' 23 victories as a home team led the USHL this season.
“The support from Youngstown has been phenomenal and I think the fan base has really got behind us,” Youngstown head coach Ryan Ward told The Rink Live. “So we have the support, the guys love being here and I think we have a great routine at home. It probably sounds cliche, but we’re just really comfortable playing at (the Covelli Centre) and our guys have really fed off the fan support.”
Following a 3-1 preseason mark, Youngstown had a rough start at home, losing the opening series to Madison and suffering a shootout loss to Dubuque.
“We started the preseason on fire and everyone was talking about us,” forward William Whitelaw said.
Since the two losses at home to open the season, the confines of the Covelli Centre have been good to the Phantoms.
“We have great fans there,” Whitelaw said. “It’s our barn and we protect our barn. Obviously they have good energy here and that brings them up a little bit. We try to weather that down and our fans give us energy and we build on that and up our game to another level. I think that’s why we’re so good at home.”
And the Phantoms are on fire once again. Youngstown has won seven of its first eight playoff games and the Phantoms are 4-0 at home in the postseason, finishing off Cedar Rapids in two games and Chicago in three, all at Covelli.
“We went to Chicago to get a split last round and then go back to the Covelli Centre where we set a franchise record for home wins,” Ward said. “And the message is the same here. I think in the playoffs you have to have a short memory and it’s a race to three (wins). It’s a series for a reason but if you’re able to steal a game and get some momentum going back home, that’s huge.”
Ward's club took two wins in Fargo, where the Anderson Cup-winning Force put up a 20-7-1-3 mark during the regular season.
The Phantoms now have the opportunity to hoist their first Clark Cup in front of their fans. The Force will have to run the table to do the same at Scheels Arena.
"It'll be another good team bonding moment for us, getting on the bus, longest trip we'll have on the year, for sure," Force head coach Nick Oliver said. "They're a really good team at home. Obviously, their home record speaks for itself. They've done a really good job on their home ice all year. For our guys, it will be a fun challenge. It will be a fun experience. We've got to go out there with the mindset that we've got to get Friday night done."
Jordan McAlpine of The Rink Live and Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald contributed to this report.