The Ice are in a tight three-team race for the second-through-fourth positions in the USHL's Eastern Conference standings as the season hits the midway point.
Each of those positions is important. The second-place team gets a first-round playoff bye. The third and fourth-place teams host the entire first round. And one of the teams in the fight -- the Youngstown Phantoms -- will soon become a familiar foe to the Ice.
The Phantoms visit both Indy arenas -- the Pepsi Coliseum on Friday, the newly-renamed Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday -- for games this weekend, then return to Indy next weekend for another game.
The Ice have been strong of late, going 4-0-2 in their last six games and gaining 14 standings points in their last 10 games -- a .700 clip. But the Phantoms might be the hottest team in the league south of Green Bay, going 7-1-2 in their last 10 and having a winning streak snapped Wednesday night against Cedar Rapids -- but in a shootout.
While the Ice possess one of the USHL's top offenses -- and the top offense outside of Green Bay, which has put together an incredible team this year -- Youngstown has been strong defensively. The Ice are the USHL's second-highest scoring team, while Youngstown is fourth in the league both in goals scored and goals allowed.
The Ice's top two lines are lethal -- which shows in a power play that is hitting at more than a 30-percent clip -- with Daniil Tarasov, Sean Kuraly, Jacob Fallon and Robbie Baillargeon all in the top 12 in the league in scoring. Baillargeon is in the midst of a six-game scoring streak, which he continued with a goal Wednesday. Tarasov is the USHL's second-leading scorer with 34 points. He and Fallon are tied for second in the league in assists with 19. Kuraly is third (16) and Tarasov fourth (15) in the USHL in goals scored.
Meanwhile, Youngstown's J.T. Stenglein is ninth in the league with 13 goals. He didn't score, but had two assists in the teams' lone meeting so far, a 4-3 shootout win for the Phantoms on Nov. 5. Mike Ambrosia is sixth in assists (17) and 12th in points (25).
Two of the league's top goaltenders will match wits, with Youngstown's Matthew O'Connor posting a 2.40 GAA and the Ice's Jon Gillies right behind at 2.44. They're also the league's two busiest goaltenders -- Gillies leads O'Connor for minutes and wins, but they're 1-2 in both categories.
Youngstown Phantoms (16-6-2)
Indiana Ice (15-7-4)
Friday: 7:05 p.m., Pepsi Coliseum, Indianapolis, Ind.
Saturday: 6:05 p.m., Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
Season series: Phantoms lead 1-0
Nov. 5: Phantoms 4, Ice 3, SO (at Youngstown): Robbie Baillargeon 2G, Ian Spencer G, Jon Gillies 23 sv (Ice); Alex Gacek/Dylan Margoneri/Ryan Belonger G, J.T. Stenglein 2A, Matthew O'Connor 36 sv (Phantoms)
Tale of the Tape
Ice (15-7-4, 2nd USHL East)
Head coach: Kyle Wallack
GF: 93 (2nd). GA: 74 (8th)
PP: 30.5% (1st). PK: 85.2 % (3rd) PIM: 482 (13th)
OT record: 3-2 SO record: 1-2
Home record: 7-5-1
Leading scorers: Daniil Tarasov (15-19-34), Jacob Fallon (9-19-28), Sean Kuraly (16-12-28), Robbie Baillargeon (11-14-25).
Leading +/-: Daniil Tarasov (+15), Alex Barron (+13), Ryan Obuchowski (+12)
Leading PIM: Woody Hudson (67), Daniil Tarasov (55), R.J. Boyd (47)
Leading goaltender: Jon Gillies (14-5-4, 2.44 GAA, .923sv%, 1 SHO), Dalton Izyk (1-2-0, 3.77 GAA, .878 sv%)
Last 5: 3-0-2. Last 10: 6-2-2
12/28: at Muskegon (OTW 3-2)
12/18: at Muskegon (OTL 2-3)
12/17: at Chicago (W 6-2)
12/16: at Chicago (SOL 2-3)
12/10: vs. Dubuque (W 3-2)
Phantoms (16-6-2, 2nd USHL East)
Head coach: Anthony Noreen
GF: 83 (4th). GA: 66 (4th)
PP: 13.5% (14th). PK: 83.8% (6th). PIM: 413 (8th)
OT record: 2-0 SO record: 1-2
Road record: 7-4-1
Leading scorers: Mike Ambrosia (8-17-25), Austin Cangelosi (11-11-22), Ryan Belonger (10-9-19), J.T. Stenglein (13-5-18)
Leading +/-: Austin Cangelosi (+14), Jordan Young (+11), Michael Gunn (+11)
Leading PIM: Pat Conte (56), Ryan Belonger (44)
Leading goaltender: Matthew O'Connor (13-4-2, 2.40 GAA, .919sv%, 1SHO), Sean Romeo (3-2-0, 3.62 GAA, .875 sv%)
Last 5: 4-0-1. Last 10: 7-1-2
Ice next 5 games
12/30: vs. Youngstown
12/31: vs. Youngstown (Bankers Life Fieldhouse)1/7: vs. Youngstown
1/6: at Waterloo
1/6: at Waterloo
1/13: vs. USNDTP