By Tom Williams
The Youngstown Phantoms’ most successful season ended with a 4-3 shootout victory Saturday at the Covelli Centre.
In the fifth round of the shootout, Soren Jonzzon beat Gamblers backup goaltender Mike Rotolo with a shot low for the game-winning goal.
“I watched when Sammy [Anas] went and I saw that [Rotolo] opened up his five-hole,” Jonzzon said. “So I knew when I was coming down I was going to put it five hole. I faked the shot, pulled it back in and he opened up his legs so I slid the puck through.”
Next up is the first Phantoms’ playoff game in their third USHL season. On Monday and Tuesday at the Covelli Centre, the fourth-place Phantoms (32-11-7, 71 points) will face the fifth-place Cedar Rapids RoughRiders (27-21-12, 66 points) in a best-of-three series. If necessary, Game 3 will be played Wednesday.
Neither team used all of its weapons on Saturday. JT Stenglein, the Phantoms’ leading scorer, served a one-game suspension following Friday’s game ejection penalty for abusing an official. Healthy scratches included forward Dylan Margonari and defenseman Kevin Liss, who played on Friday after missing 10 games with a hip injury.
Among the players the first-place Gamblers sat were forwards Nolan LaPorte and Alex Broadhurst, the top players from Friday’s 7-1 win.
“This weekend [was] as tough of a weekend as we’ve ever had from the standpoint that they are tough games to approach,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “You don’t want to overdo it with your top guys because you want to get them rested for potentially seven games in nine days.
“And at the same point, you want to make sure that we are staying sharp,” Noreen said.
The Phantoms-RoughRiders winner will open the next round on Friday at either Green Bay or Indiana.
Jonzzon snapped a 2-2 tie early in the third period when he deflected a shot by Daniel Renouf past Rotolo. Jonzzon said he was battling Sheldon Dries for position when the puck arrived.
“I was able to get my stick on it and tip it toward the net,” Jonzzon said. “I don’t know where it went, but it snuck past him.”
With 4:49 to go in regulation, the Gamblers’ Grant Arnold responded with his third goal of the game, slipping the puck under Matt O’Connor’s pads for a 3-3 tie.
After playing 24 minutes on Friday, O’Connor replaced Sean Romeo at the start of the third period to earn his 28th win. He stopped four of the Gamblers’ five shootout attempts. O’Connor was glad for the extra work.
“I’ve been feeling great lately, I’ve had a lot of rest the last couple of weeks,” O’Connor said. “So I liked having a little extra time to get ready for the playoffs.”
In the first period, the Phantoms jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Alex Dahl smacked a rebound of a Ryan Belonger shot past Rotolo for the first goal. During a two-man advantage, Mike Ambrosia took a feed from Chris Bradley to make it 2-0.
Arnold tied the game with goals in each of the first two periods.
“No doubt about it, we wanted to head into playoffs on a positive note,” Noreen said. “O’Connor goes in and it’s a big turnaround from [Friday]. He needed that as did everyone.”