Jacob Fowler leads the USHL between the pipes, leads Youngstown closer to its first Clark Cup
Jacob Fowler was named the USHL Goaltender of the Year after a dominant regular season. Fowler has won seven of his first eight playoff starts and has been a huge part of the Phantoms' success
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — The Youngstown Phantoms are one win away from their first Clark Cup in franchise history and can clinch it on home ice this weekend.
After a relatively slow start, the Phantoms finished the regular season 38-19-4-1 — which included a league-best 23-7-0-1 home record — and have been one of the league’s most consistent teams throughout the second half.
The Phantoms have won seven of their first eight playoff games and thanks to a pair of road wins at Scheels Arena last weekend, Youngstown holds a 2-0 lead over Fargo in the Clark Cup Finals.
“We had an up-and-down start and there was a lot of change with the new coaching staff and a lot of new faces around the organization, so there was a little bit of a feeling-out process. But I think that start honestly helped us grow as a group,” Youngstown goaltender Jacob Fowler told The Rink Live.
“Since Thanksgiving we’ve been the hottest team in the USHL and we don’t plan on stopping that any time soon.”
Last year I came in as a young guy and just tried to survive in the league but I think now I have that confidence and composure and know what to expect in this league.
It’s been quite the season in northeast Ohio and frankly, Fowler is one of the biggest reasons why. The USHL Goaltender of the Year has blossomed into one of the league’s top draft prospects and between his play and Youngstown’s stellar team defense, the Phantoms have been one of the league's stingiest teams.
Youngstown allowed the league’s second-fewest goals (173) during the regular season and has outscored its opponents 24-13 through eight playoff games.
Congratulations to Jacob Fowler for being named the USHL Goaltender of the Year! pic.twitter.com/RC2w83uEfT— Youngstown Phantoms (@YtownPhantoms) May 4, 2023
Individually, Fowler led the USHL in wins (27), save percentage (.921) and GAA (2.28), and his five shutouts were tied for the league lead during the regular season.
That success has followed him into the postseason, too, as the Boston College commit is 7-1-0 through eight postseason starts with a 1.51 GAA and .948 save percentage. He made 29 saves in Game 1 and another 30 in the Game 2 overtime win last weekend in Fargo.
“I know it sounds simple but honestly I’ve just tried to do my job and give our team a chance to win every night,” Fowler said. “Playoffs are the best time of the year and we’re really clicking right now. It’s fun to come to the rink every day and when you’re having success it makes the mood in the locker room that much better. It’s been unbelievable to be around this group all season.”
“Good goaltending is arguably the most important thing at this time of year and Jacob has given us that,” added Youngstown head coach Ryan Ward. “Jacob has been a stalwart in net the entire season and has earned his reputation as one of the top goalies in the world in his age group.
"He’s a competitive kid and you can certainly see he wants to elevate his game at this time of year and we expect him to do exactly that.”
However, getting to this point didn’t happen overnight. Fowler’s rapid ascent has been fascinating — going from not even being picked in the USHL Draft to being the fifth-highest-rated North American goalie in Central Scouting’s final draft rankings.
He was signed to Youngstown’s affiliate list after participating in a mini camp and played 18 games for the Phantoms last season. Fowler finished his rookie season 11-4-0-1 with a 2.18 GAA and .927 save percentage.
He said he focused last summer on the mental side of his game and came into this season wanting to prove he can be a No. 1 goalie in the league.
“Last year I came in as a young guy and just tried to survive in the league but I think now I have that confidence and composure and know what to expect in this league,” Fowler said. “Every single night you want to compete and I think the mental side has been a big part of my game too.
"You have to understand you’re going to give up goals and have some bumps in the road but you’re also going to make a lot of saves. So I've just wanted to give my team a chance every night."
“Jacob's been outstanding all year,” Ward said. “He's an unbelievable goalie but more importantly, he's an unbelievable person. His character is off the charts, he's a leader on our team and he's so poised in the net.”
While it’s been an outstanding season for Fowler, the same could be said about Youngstown's organization as a whole.
The Phantoms sit one win away from their ultimate goal and as he’s done all season, Fowler wants to do his part to make it happen.
“Coach Ward has been unbelievable with us and he’s really preached since day one that we can win every night if we play our game,” Fowler said. “Nobody in our locker room likes losing and we all know we have a job to do every night for 60 minutes and everybody has been pulling their own weight this season. And it’s worked.
“We’ve really shifted the culture this season and I think we’re a team the city of Youngstown has been able to get behind. Now we want to go out and finish the job for them.”