Win·ning /ˈwiniNG/ adjective 1. gaining, resulting in, or relating to victory in a contest or competition.

It’s been some time since this word has been thrown around when discussing the Youngstown Phantoms, so I thought we all could use a refresher. DAMN, did that feel good! It is often said that you cannot truly appreciate the good without experiencing the bad. For example, you cannot truly appreciate Red Lobster until you have eaten at White Castle. The Phantoms snapped a 10 game losing streak on Friday with not only a win, but a convincing win against the Dubuque Fighting Saints. This win was the icing on the cake that was a weekend of hockey that one year ago we didn’t get to watch.

This time last year, we were just starting to see the effects of a deadly virus that was ravaging the world. We thought we had a handle on what was going on. Maybe hockey will be back in a couple weeks. This is just a short speed bump, and things will return to normal soon. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. But, we didn’t know any better. When last season was postponed, we were able to get a few minutes with Andrew Goldman on the podcast we were recording that day. One thing he said in that interview has stuck with me for the past year. “Everyday, something happens that the day before, we wouldn’t have thought possible.” I felt like that line was tattooed on the inside of my eyelids for the past 52 weeks. Everyday, it became more and more true.

So back to my original point. One year ago, we sat in our homes. No one knew what was going to happen next. Hockey, our health, our jobs, the ability to sit down in a restaurant and enjoy cheddar bay biscuits. So much was unknown, and it was frightening. Fast forward to this last Friday. Positive cases are down across the country. There are 3 vaccines available, and millions are getting shots every day. Businesses are opening up, restrictions are being eased. And there was hockey at the Covelli Centre. More than any other game this season, this one felt special. And going through what we did a year ago allowed this weekend to feel that much more appreciated.

So with all of that being said, let’s get into the numbers.

Well, that was a weekend to forget. The Phantoms put up a goose egg in their trip to the land of cheese and cholesterol medication. I think it’s safe to say at this point that the best players available at the beginning of this June’s Phase I & II draft will be heading to Youngstown. The hole has been dug so deep that even the team’s trademark late-season pushes we’ve become accustomed to the past few years wouldn’t be enough to make any type of climb up the rankings. With only 22 games remaining, and the argument could be made that games that need to be made up could be forgotten about if a playoff spot or playoff seeding is not in play, the window on this season is closing fast. So at this point, just sit back and enjoy the fact there is hockey to watch. Because in a couple months the off-season begins and who knows what unsavory people will be sitting in our seats between then and the fall. 


 I made the point a few weeks ago that even though wins were still socially distancing themselves from the Phantoms, they were playing tighter games and were within striking distance late in games. That has all but gone away in the past couple weeks. In the past 6 games, Youngstown has only held a lead in two. It’s as simple as this, morale is low all around. Will this be the week when the losing streak ends? Let’s take a look at this week’s opponent.

Well, it's week... something. It's funny how days and weeks have started to blend together, and I'm one of the lucky ones who have had steady work since the start of this pandemic. I can't imagine those who have lost their jobs, or have otherwise had their whole lives turned upside down in the past year. Since then, hockey has returned. It's a little different but it, for me, was the one little bit of the old normal. So, yeah... I'm not enjoying the whole 10 game losing streak. This is probably the worst I've seen since I started following the team. 2013-14 was rough, but this might be worse.

But, with the one year mark of the last game of last season, a 3-1 home win in front of 2,467 fans over the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders who aren't even playing this season, it's hard not to look back and reassess. This weekend we are playing Dubuque in the "Irish Night" game, the same team and promo that was next on the calendar when last season was canceled. It's almost a full circle mark, except we are still have a long way to go in regards to the virus and a normal life. Still, some free green t-shirts and some hockey - regardless of the outcome - will be a small step forward for Valley hockey fans.

It's been a rough season. Overall, we're 6-21-3-2, 0-7-2-1 in our last 10. But hey, we're playing. As I mentioned, the 'Riders aren't. Their barn was damaged in a derecho last summer, many people lost their property and 4 people lost their life. Cedar Rapids isn't the only team not playing this season, also going dark was the Madison Capitols. The Caps could not sustain a season with no fans. They were struggling before the pandemic, and this was a major blow to their organization. Three other teams, Sioux Falls, Waterloo, and Chicago are biting the bullet and playing with no fans - 0 attendance. USA and Muskegon are both averaging less than half the Phantoms 532 people per game, 192, 234 respectively. Dubuque is not even tracking attendance.

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