Phantoms get second try at title

Mahoning Valley beat Topeka to advance to the championship game.

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — Derek Graham and Kurt Washnock had two goals apiece to lead the Mahoning Valley Phantoms to a 5-2 win Saturday over the Topeka Roadrunners in the semifinal game of the Robertson Cup Tournament.

The Phantoms advance to the North American Hockey League’s title game that will be against the St. Louis Bandits today at 6 p.m. at the Hardees IcePlex.

Alden Hirschfeld had two assists as the Phantoms advanced to the NAHL title game for the second straight year. Last May in Alaska, the Bandits won the Robertson Cup, defeating the Phantoms, 8-4.

“We know we have some unfinished business with St. Louis,” Phantoms coach Bob Mainhardt said. “We’ve been counting the days since last year, and both teams held up their end of the bargain, so it’s going to be a heck of a final.

“This is the type of effort we expected,” Mainhardt said. “We believed in this team all year. When we put it on the line like we did this weekend, good thing happen, and I couldn’t be more proud of this group right now.”

After killing off an early Phantoms power play, it was the Roadrunners who struck first with their own man-advantage. Josh Kamrass found Matt Hartmann streaking in towards the back door.

Hartmann one-timed home his second of the playoffs, over the glove of Phantoms goaltender Garrett Bartus, giving Topeka the 1-0 lead.

Quality goaltending at both ends kept the game scoreless for the next 25 minutes of action before the Phantoms finally started hitting on all cylinders.

Hirschfeld led a rush down the right wing before feeding Graham alone at the bottom of the right circle. Graham then slid his fifth goal of the playoffs between the legs of Topeka goalie Bryce Merriam to tie things up at 1-1 midway through the middle frame.

Minutes later, Hirschfeld and Graham struck again — this time to put the Phantoms on top for good.

After penetrating the zone, Hirschfeld found Graham in the left circle, who beat two Roadrunners and flipped a shot top-shelf over Merriam’s right shoulder for his second goal.

Midway through the third period, Derek Carr won a battle behind the net, and found Washnock in front to fire home his first career playoff goal and push the Phantoms lead to 3-1.

“Kurt is a kid that we have tremendous expectations for,” Mainhardt said. “He had a rough go of it early in the year with a couple of injuries.”

Minutes later, Miles Winter notched his third of the playoffs, finishing off a 2-on-1 with linemate Chad Boeckman.

The Roadrunners tried to mount a comeback with three minutes remaining in regulation. With the goalie pulled and on the power play, Josh Kamrass fired the puck from the slot off the left post behind Bartus, cutting the Topeka deficit to two.

But Washnock countered with an empty-net goal.

Bartus tuned aside 27 of the 29 Topeka shots he faced to earn his sixth win of the playoffs.

The Phantoms and Bandits went 1-1-1 against each other in their last three games.

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