By Tom Williams
Despite his top goaltender being stuck on the bench with the flu and his top goal scorer suffering broken teeth, Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen says last weekend’s trip to Indiana and Michigan was not the worst the USHL team has experienced this season.
“Probably the second worst, though,” Noreen said.
Matt O’Connor, whose 26-10-4 record is among the junior hockey league’s best, has recovered from the flu that had him watching last Friday’s loss to the Indiana Ice and Saturday’s 4-3 overtime loss to Team USA.
Noreen said he would have preferred that O’Connor not dress for those games.
“[But] it was too late for us to get an emergency backup,” Noreen said.
In the third period of the loss to the Ice, JT Stenglein, who leads the Phantoms with 28 goals, was inadvertently hit in the mouth by the stick of Ice defenseman Trevor Owens and suffered cracked teeth.
He still found a way to finish the game.
“At this point of the season, you just have to push through the pain,” said Stenglein of Greece, N.Y., who will attend the University of Massachusetts-Lowell next fall.
Stenglein said he’s had to deal with cuts in his mouth, but nothing as serious as this.
“I felt the stick hit me and I rubbed my tongue over my teeth,” the second-year Phantom said. “The top half of both teeth were missing. Another was chipped. And one in the back has a stress crack.
“My visor was covered in blood — I didn’t really realize at that point that I had lost any teeth so I guess they fell onto the ice.”
Stenglein finished the game after trainer Jim Schroeder rubbed a liquid to “numb my mouth a little. Obviously, it felt really weird.”
Saturday, Stenglein awoke with a sore mouth and headache.
“Earlier in the season, it might have been [enough] to sit out a game,” Stenglein said. “But at this point of the season, you kind of have to play through whatever. Nobody is 100 percent healthy.”
Noreen said Team USA did not have the numbing agent. Stenglein played anyway.
“The thing that hurts so much is the nerve endings [are exposed to] water on your teeth and cold air,” Noreen said.
Stenglein’s power-play goal forced overtime against the Nationals, giving the Phantoms (29-15-6, 64 points) a point in the standings that tied them with the Ice (29-14-6, 64 points) for second place in the Eastern Conference.
On Monday, Stenglein’s dentist told him he would need a root canal.
“They said that if I wait, nothing worse can really happen so I’m just going to wait until after the season is over and get it fixed up at home,” said Stenglein who harbors no grudge against Owens.
“He obviously didn’t mean to do it,” Stenglein said. “It’s part of hockey ... especially if you play a physical style where you are always catching things in the face. It’s just matter of time, I suppose.”
It may seem hard to imagine a worse weekend, but Noreen says the week after Christmas was a nightmare.
SDLqWe still don’t know if it was flu or food poisoning,” Noreen said. “We played in Cedar Rapids [Iowa} on a Wednesday, played pretty well but kind of wore down by the end to lose a shootout.
“I thought we looked a little tired, first game back from break, maybe that’s what it was,” Noreen said. “But when we got to Indiana the next morning, it was one guy after another throwing up.
"That weekend [two losses to the Ice], maybe six or seven guys weren’t sick,” Noreen said. “The rest were — that weekend was the worst.”