Steel penalty killers deliver game-changing goal
By Tom Williams
With a USHL-leading 19 shorthanded goals, no one understands the sting of insulting an opponent’s power play more than the Youngstown Phantoms.
That’s why Charlie O’Connor’s shorthanded goal in the third period of Friday’s game at the Ice Zone especially hurt the now-struggling Phantoms.
On a two-on-one break, the Chicago Steel’s O’Connor took a feed from Andrew Miller and beat Phantoms goaltender Matt O’Connor with a backhand flip to snap a 2-2 tie.
Charlie O’Connor added an empty-net goal to give the Steel a 4-2 victory that prevented the Phantoms from clinching home-ice advantage for the first round of the USHL playoffs.
“Shorthanded goals are definitely deflating,” Phantoms captain Mike Ambrosia said. “That was a big goal for them and it definitely put us back on our heels. It was definitely a back-breaker for us.”
Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen agreed.
“There’s nothing that deflates a bench or inflates a bench like a shorthanded goal,” Noreen said. “Look at the ones we’ve had this year. For the most part, they have been game-changing plays.”
With three games remaining, the fourth-place Phantoms (30-20-7, 67 points) are three points ahead of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (26-20-12, 64 points). Because the RoughRiders have just two games remaining, the Phantoms need one point to earn playoff games at the Covelli Centre on April 16-17.
“All we need to get is one point, so everybody is probably feeling frustration right now,” defenseman Chris Bradley said of the Phantoms’ five-game losing streak, the longest of the season. “We’ve been hit hard with the injuries and sickness, but it’s never enough to make an excuse.”
Against the seventh-place Steel who were playing only for pride, the Phantoms looked anything like a desperate team at the start. Two-and-a-half minutes into the game, the Steel successfully screened O’Connor, allowing Jeff Kubiak to blast a shot from near the blue line into the net.
Three minutes later, Kubiak tipped a shot by Chris Joyaux past O’Connor for a two-goal lead.
But just 21 seconds later, JT Stengelin, the Phantoms’ leading scorer, responded with a shot past Steel netminder Alex Sakellaropoulos. Dylan Margonari assisted on Stenglein’s 31st goal.
Late in the period, Austin Cangelosi pounced on a giveaway in the Steel zone, skated into the slot untouched and snapped the puck past Sakellaropoulos to tie the game with his 28th goal.
“Their goaltender was phenomenal tonight,” Noreen said. “Every time we’ve played Chicago — eight times — their goaltending has always been solid.
“Sakellaropoulos has definitely had our number this year,” Noreen said. “He made some huge saves, especially when it was a 2-2 game.”
Sakellaropoulos made 33 saves while O’Connor stopped 25.
“Our defensemen did a really good job standing up on their rushes, especially in the second period,” said Noreen, referring to Bradley, Jordan Young, Eric Sweetman, Daniel Renouf and Ryan Lowney. “We blocked a lot of shots and the ones that got through, Matt made the saves.”
Noreen said the Phantoms need to work past their frustrations.
His advice to a team that has 30 wins?
“Figure out how to fix it,” Noreen said. “You can’t complain, you can’t point fingers and you can’t feel sorry for yourself.”