The Phantoms scored first, led entering the third period and took some good swings in a second-period fight.
That might have been fine enough for a win in 51 other games of the season, against any team other than the top squad in the league.
However, the USHL-leading Green Bay Gamblers scored four unanswered third period goals to down Youngstown 6-3 on Friday night at the Covelli Centre.
“Honestly, I wasn’t happy with any of the periods,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “I would put it as one of the worst three or four games we played all season.
“Even when we were up in the first and second period I didn’t think it was our best effort from the very beginning. I thought the third period just capitalized that.”
The Gamblers (42-8-2) tallied 45 shots, 19 of which came in the third period when Nolan LaPorte, Alex Kile, Christopher Eick and Alex Broadhurst scored to put the game away.
“They’re a relentless team,” Youngstown right winger Ryan Belonger said. “They’re going to be on top of you, tracking down the puck for the entire 60 minutes. They do the right things and its paid off for them this season and in this game.”
Green Bay coach Derek Lalonde says that a game like that doesn’t come very often for his team.
“We’re usually tight and we have a lot of offensive guys that pass up a lot of shots sometimes,” he said. “This was a game that showed our depth. We never got to a line where we were over using players in the third was critical.”
It’s what the Phantoms lacked.
They played without normal high-impact players Mike Gunn, Richard Zehnal, Kevin Liss, Stephen Collins, Jonathon Liau and Sam Anas. The six players were held out due to sickness or injury.
“We definitely missed those guys,” Noreen said, “but the thing is, we have enough [quality players] in there to do it. No matter who you take out, we can’t change. The energy has to be the same.”
Only 34 seconds ticked away from the clock when Dylan Margonari scored his 19th goal of the season. He missed his first attempt off a breakaway before corralling the puck and shooting it past goaltender Michael Rotolo.
The teams traded goals for the rest of the period and it was tied at two entering the second. Pat Conte brought momentum back to the Phantoms (30-15-7) when he and Brandon Kirk dropped their gloves, squared up and fought at center ice. Just four minutes later, Belonger secured it for the time being when he netted his 16th goal to put Youngstown up 3-2.
“It was a big goal at the time,” Belonger said. “But they regrouped while we may have regressed. You can’t sit back on this team because they’ll always attack you and we kind of slipped down.”
Youngstown plays the Gamblers four more times in the final seven games of the season.
“I think that’s great,” Noreen said. “If we’re going to make a run at this thing, this is the type of team we’re going to have to get through. Why not use this in the next four times that we play them as motivation to see it through.”
Lalonde added, “It’s good to get familiar with them. I love their style of play.”