By John Kovach
United States Hockey League
Youngstown captured its fifth straight win by holding off Green Bay, 3-2.
YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Phantoms began Wednesday night in a tie for fourth place in the East Division of the United States Hockey League, three points behind the second-place Green Bay Gamblers.
The Phantoms ended up the night in third place just one point behind the Gamblers and two points behind the first-place Chicago Steel, and in position to challenge for the lead this weekend.
How did it all happen?
Quality shooting and goaltender Matt Mahalak spelled the difference for Youngstown, despite being outshot by Green Bay in the game, 33-9, including 25-5 after the first period; and getting only one shot in the final period.
After building a 3-0 lead, the Phantoms barely managed to hold off the Gamblers, 3-2, for their fifth straight win in a Salute to Veterans game at the Covelli Centre before an announced attendance of 1,158 Veterans Day fans.
Youngstown made 33 percent of its shots while Mahalak turned in 31 saves in surviving a strong two-goal comeback by the Gamblers in the final period.
The Phantoms took a 3-0 lead on goals by Taylor Holstrom in the first period and Scott Mayfield and Brian Dowd in the second period, Mayfield’s score coming on a power play.
But the Gamblers (7-4-2, 16 points) finally solved Mahalak and broke their scoring drought within a span of just 2:35 of the third period, when Anders Lee scored with 13:25 left and Ryan Fure tallied at 10:50.
However, Mahalak braced for Green Bay’s final offensive onslaught and rose to the occasion to turn back threatening shots and preserve the win.
Coach Bob Mainhardt of the Phantoms (7-4-1, 15 points) said he hasn’t seen a 33.3 percent scoring percentage in a game “for a long time,” and said the Mahalak “was seeing the pucks well” and had the type of outstanding game “that he can put on his resume.”
But the coach said his team wasn’t able to generate an all-out offensive attack.
“We had great opportunities but we weren’t shooting at the net. The shots were going wide or being blocked,” said Mainhardt, also noting that the Gamblers’ “were tough in the D-zone” and that their offense just “outworked us.”
Mahalak, who improved to 3-1-1, credits his sharp performance to good coaching and vision on the ice.
“Jordan Tibbet, our other goalie, and our goalie coach, Shane Clifford, have been very helpful to me with their advice, and have helped me to grow as a goalie,” said Mahalak. “I was seeing the puck real well.
“It got to the point that I couldn’t stop every shot, but I did all that I could.”
The Phantoms and Gamblers will square off again tonight at the Covelli Centre at 7:15, after which Youngstown will take on first-place Chicago (8-4-1, 17 points) on Saturday at 7:15 in what could be a battle for first place.
Gamblers’ goalie Steve Summerhays had a rather tough night of it even though Youngstown took only nine shots. He had six saves.
Holmstrom’s goal on Czinder’s assist gave the Phantoms a 1-0 lead at 12:12 of the first, and then Czinder’s goal on assists from Dan Senkbeil made it 2-0 at 13:43 of the second.
Brian Dowd scored at 7:17 of the second on assists from Andrej Sustr and Mahalak to make it 3-0.
The Gamblers cut it to 3-1 on Lee’s goal with assists from Nick Jensen and Matt Stewart at 13:15 of the third. They tallied again at 10:59 on Furne’s goal with an assist from Lee.
SEE ALSO: Fieri, Fatone to appear at Phantoms game.