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Youngstown Phantoms Press Release

Phantoms continue home stand against Muskegon and Team USA

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - For the Phantoms, a little positivity can go a long way.

That has been the consistent message from head coach Anthony Noreen to his team, particularly this week, as the team tunes up for an important two-game home weekend, looking to put an end to their 0-6-3 streak once and for all.

Noreen said that he has seen nothing but optimism flowing from the dressing room.

"If you've been around our room, or our rink over the last couple of days, I don't think you'd know that anyone was in the middle of any sort of streak," said Noreen. "There's definitely been some pressing for some guys trying to get the most out of each other, which is what we want. We want guys to press each other, and we want guys to push each other."

In efforts to increase the intensity of practices, the coaching staff has structured some drills in the form of mini-competitions.

"I think it's been extremely competitive," said Noreen. "We've tried to do a lot of drills and a lot of competitions where we've tried to put stuff on the line, just to try to get guys having success and to get guys battling for wins and losses. I think it's been a good week of practice so far."

Another feature of the "mini-competitions" is that they are designed to help the team get back to having fun, something that the coaching staff has stressed of late.

"It's been a lot of [having fun], and it's been a lot of, again, what we've said from day one: just trying to improve," said Noreen. "We've worked on a lot of the areas that we think that we've struggled in at times. We've tried to work on our skill areas, we've tried to work on our systems, and we've tried to work on our overall game. All that is for naught if you're not having fun, if you're not competing, and you're not enjoying what you're doing. That's always going to be the main goal here."

A particular area of focus for the Phantoms this week has been the power play, which struggled in a 4-1 loss to Chicago last Friday. Using a top unit comprised of five forwards worked wonders the previous weekend, but against the Steel, Noreen commented that they were "outworked."

Forward Alex Rauter, the point man on that unit, said that Chicago was the first team to apply consistent pressure in efforts to create shorthanded breakaways the other way, which is a risk of a five-forward unit. JJ Piccinich, another valuable cog on the power play, remarked that he heard the Steel coaching staff calling out that the Phantoms were in a five-forward look. As always, adjustments were made during the week of practice.

"We worked on [the power play] at length yesterday, and I thought they were really good," said Noreen. "I thought they moved pucks, I thought they listened to the tips that the coaches gave them, and I expect them to be very good tomorrow night."

First up on the docket for the Phantoms is the Muskegon Lumberjacks, a team that Youngstown played recently, on December 29, falling by a 5-3 final at the L.C. Walker Arena. Coach Noreen said that the Phantoms could carry over a lot from that game into Friday night's affair.

"We realize we have to bury our chances. They have good goaltending, and they do a good job blocking shots out in front of their goaltender, and defending well down low, so I think we need to bury our chances when we do get them. On the flip side, I think we need to be aware of them stretching the ice and getting guys behind us. They scored a goal the last time we played them, I believe actually the last two times we've played them, on stretching a guy behind our defenseman, so that's something we need to be aware of."

One advantage for the Phantoms is that, as the home team, they will have the benefit of the last change-something that could be crucial in helping to shut down the USHL's leading shot-getter in Matt Iacopelli, who notched a hat trick during the clubs' last meeting.

"Without a doubt, it helps being at home, and it helps being able to get the matchup you want out there against a player of that caliber," said Noreen on facing Iacopelli and the Lumberjacks.

Following the game against Muskegon, the Phantoms will welcome the Team USA U17 squad to the Covelli Centre. Although the U17s are, by definition, a very young team, Noreen stressed the importance of not taking their skill lightly.

"I don't think you really look at the age when you play [the U17s]," said the Phantoms' coach. "If you look at the size and the strength of that team, and the overall skill, you have to throw the age out the window. They are as skilled of a team as you see, their power play is lethal, and they have guys where if you give them chances, they're going to put pucks in the net.

"You have to play the game the right way against that team. If you cut a corner, if you cheat a system, if you try to make one-on-one moves, or if you poke at loose pucks, they're going to hurt you. You have to play it the right way, you have to play physically, and at the same time, you have to be disciplined in every facet of the game to have a chance against them."

As it is, the Phantoms have two chances this weekend to end their losing streak. Rauter and Piccinich, like the rest of the squad, are optimistic that Youngstown can do exactly that.

"It's about playing 60 minutes," said Rauter, on what the Phantoms have to do to get back in the win column. "We have to do all the little things we need to win-block shots, chip pucks out, take good care of the puck. We can't afford as many grade A chances against. If we do that, and we limit Muskegon and Team USA's chances, we should have a very good weekend."

"These past couple of weekends, we've been getting away from being a blue collar team, which is what we're known for," said Piccinich. "That's Phantoms hockey. Personally.work hard, shoot a lot of pucks, and get pucks to the net, because that creates a ton of chances."

Game Schedule (all times ET)

Friday, January 10: Muskegon Lumberjacks at Phantoms, 7:05 pm, Sports Radio 1240/FASTHockey.com

Saturday, January 11: Team USA at Phantoms, 7:05 pm, Sports Radio 1240/FASTHockey.com

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