By Tom Williams
As the Sioux City Musketeers turned up the heat in the third period, the hottest Youngstown Phantom burned them.
With 6:49 to play in regulation, J.T. Stenglein took advantage of a Musketeers’ giveaway, slapping the puck from the top of the faceoff circle past goaltender Matt Skoff to snap a 3-3 tie.
In the final minute, Ryan Belonger scored an empty-net goal in the Phantoms’ 5-4 victory on Saturday at the Covelli Centre. The win extended the Phantoms’ winning streak to four games.
Stenglein’s second goal of the game and seventh in the past six games ended up not being the game-winner. But it helped the Phantoms (12-5-0, 24 points) steal momentum from the surging Musketeers (6-11-0, 12 points) who had wiped out a 3-1 deficit.
The second-year Phantoms forward said defenseman Eric Sweetman deserved credit for setting up his long shot.
“Sweetman was playing really, really well all night, always making offensive plays,” Stenglein said. “He actually forced the defenseman [to] tip it right to me. I think he should have gotten an assist on the play because it was a great play by him to create space.”
Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen wasn’t surprised to see Stenglein score a big goal.
“He’s hot right now, there’s no other way to say it,” Noreen said. “We know he’s got the ability to score goals.
“Those two goals he scored tonight ... those were as big-time of goals as you’re going to see. Hopefully, he just keeps riding this hot streak.”
Stenglein’s second goal couldn’t have come at a better time. Early in the third period, the Musketeers tied the game 3-3 when David Henry lifted the puck over sprawled goaltender Matt O’Connor.
The Musketeers outshot the Phantoms 12-5 in the final 20 minutes.
“That’s the most impressed I’ve been with an opposing team we’ve seen this year,” Noreen said, “Their work ethic was relentless.”
Belonger’s second goal on a shot from just outside the blue line came with Skoff on the bench for a sixth attacker. The second-year Phantoms forward wasn’t worried about an errant shot.
“I was just hoping that the guys weren’t offsides,” said Belonger of his eighth goal. “I wanted to get it deep, no matter what so I just threw it toward the net.”
That goal was crucial because with 34 seconds to go, Musketeers defenseman Geoff Ferguson beat O’Connor with a shot from the point.
The Musketeers kept the pressure on, with Kyle Criscuolo firing the puck over the goal in the final seconds.
“They came out strong, but I think we weathered it pretty well,” Belonger said of the third-period storm. “We stayed calm, even when they tied it up.”
O’Connor (10-3-0) stopped 21 shots.
Stenglein’s first goal snapped a 1-1 tie with 6:49 to go in the second period. His shot from the top of the faceoff circle eluded Skoff’s glove hand.
Jordan Young assisted on that goal and on the one scored by Richard Zehnal that gave the Phantoms a 3-1 lead.
Belonger’s first goal came in the opening period when he pushed a rebound off Skoff under the goalies pad’s for a 1-0 lead.
Criscuolo and Brad Robbins scored the other Musketeers’ goals.