By John Bassetti
While celebrity chef Guy Fieri watched the game from the reception area on the Covelli Centre’s mezzanine level, things were cooking on the ice.
Youngstown’s Ryan Belonger scored at 7:57 to tie the game, 1-1, but exactly one minute later Muskegon’s Joseph Cox put the puck in the net for a 2-1 lead that finalized the scoring in the Lumberjacks’ USHL victory on Friday night.
It was the first loss at Covelli after three home wins for Youngstown.
Coach Anthony Noreen didn’t think his Phantoms (7-4-0) were caught off guard.
“It’s one of those things in hockey when you’re in the offensive zone a lot, you have a lot of pressure applied and they come back the other way,” he said. “That first shot after you have that is always the toughest one and I’m sure that’s one Matty [Phantoms goalie Matthew O’Connor] would like to have back.
“But, as a team, we were all over them. We had to keep them smothered and couldn’t give them that opportunity.”
It seemed like Cox struck in a blur after Belonger scored.
“They did a good job blocking the shot, then came down and countered it and the kid [Cox] had a nice shot,” said Noreen, who wanted his players to take advantage of power plays, but didn’t.
“We definitely wanted to be better on special teams and be better on our power play. It’s something we need to do to move forward and be better and kind of make teams pay when they go in the box,” he said. “We did a good job on our penalty kill, but we just didn’t capitalize on our power plays.”
Muskegon coach Kevin Patrick described the game as “sloppy with a lot of special teams.”
He didn’t feel it was so much a good defensive game as it was a failure to produce more offense.
“We tried to fight through it and stay with it and I thought the best thing was that we had a response when they tied it up late,” said Patrick.
Of the go-ahead goal, Patrick said Cox kept his feet moving and shot in stride.
“We try to work on that. A lot of players want to stop moving their feet and stick-handle before they shoot, so I think Cox caught O’Connor not expecting him to shoot the puck,” said Patrick.”
Friday’s game was between the USHL’s top two penalized teams entering the contest: Muskegon with 262 minutes and Youngstown with 223.
“We’re No. 1 [in penalties], but we try to play hard,” Patrick said. “We try to play disciplined. We talked a lot about that, potentially, being the difference tonight as we went in.”
Midway through the first period, Lumberjacks goalie John Keeney made a very good save of a point-blank shot at 11:00 and the same of O’Connor at 8:48.
O’Connor had another close call at 5:18, but managed to deflect it.
After Youngstown’s Pat Conte emerged from the penalty box after a two-minute rest for roughing, O’Connor survived another hectic assault in front of his net. Keeney, however, was just as sharp in the closing minutes of the first period. Muskegon had a 17-10 advantage in shots-on-goal in the first 20 minutes.
Ryan Lomberg put Muskegon on the board first with a left-handed shot from close range with 16:40 remaining in the second period.
At about the same time, defensively, Dylan Margonari stole the puck from Ryan Bullock and skated down with it, but failed to connect in goal.
After Alex Gacek served time in the box for holding, O’Connor had one more good save before the end of the second period, after which the Lumberjacks were out-shooting the home team, 26-17.
There were only five shots taken in the next 6:30: three by Youngstown.