By Rob Todor
The 3,000 or so visiting students had no problem creating energy — loudly — at the Covelli Centre on Wednesday morning.
Transferring it to the Youngstown Phantoms on the ice? Well, that was another issue.
The Phantoms (21-13-3) were outplayed in the first five minutes of every period, resulting in a 3-1 loss to the Chicago Steel, their second in 11 days to a team struggling to avoid the basement of the United States Hockey League.
The Steel (13-23-1) have won four games in a row, though, riding the hot play of goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos, who stopped 32 shots Wednesday. Sakellaropoulos, not coincidentally, has been in goal for all four wins.
“He’s in a zone,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said of Sakellaropoulos. “His confidence is rolling and the team is playing well in front of him.”
The Phantoms, meanwhile, struggled to find a rhythm in every period. They were outshot 7-0 over the first 71/2 minutes of the game before J.T. Stenglein sent the puck at Sakellaropoulos.
That was nothing compared to the next two periods.
Ali Thomas of Chicago found a loose puck in front of the goal just 23 seconds into the second period and directed it past Phantoms’ goaltender Matthew O’Connor to tie the score at 1-1.
The Steel took the lead for good with only 29 seconds elapsed in the third period when Michael Fallon redirected a shot from the top past O’Connor to make it 2-1.
Chicago’s Alex Roos scored on another scrum in front of O’Connor with the Steel on a power-play with 15:25 remaining in the game to finish the scoring.
“We always preach we want to set the tone,” said Noreen, “but today, we let them set the tone. Especially in the first and third periods.
“I know it was an early morning game, but that’s no excuse. These guys have been playing morning games their whole lives from midgets. And, Chicago had to play too.”
Noreen said O’Connor played well, and that Fallon’s goal wasn’t all on his netminder.
“We talk all the time about transitioning from defense to offense,” he said, “and I think that was a case of a couple of our guys trying to get out too soon and it left us open.
“O’Connor played well,” Noreen added, “but their guy [Sakellaropoulos] played a little better.”
Austin Cangelosi scored the Phantoms’ only goal, getting behind the defense and taking a perfect pass from Sam Anas to beat Sakellaropoulos with 1:12 remaining in the first period.
The goal was Cangelosi’s 17th of the season (tying him with Stenglein for the team lead) and his fourth against Chicago in five games this season.
“We just didn’t have our usual energy and excitement today,” said Cangelosi. “We have to understand we need to have that every game. We can’t just turn it on and off.
“The kids [in the crowd] were awesome. There were a few times we couldn’t hear the [officials’] whistles. It was nice having them here.”