Phantoms surrendered three goals in the opening period
Green Bay, Wis.
The Youngstown Phantoms’ penalty-killing unit was the best in the USHL during the regular season.
But in their first chance in the postseason, the Phantoms were unable to stop the juggernaut that is the Green Bay Gamblers’ offense.
Already trailing by two goals late in the first period of Wednesday’s Game 1 at the Resch Center, the Phantoms need a big stop when forward John Padulo was whistled for slashing.
But with 34 seconds remaining in the first period, Kevin Irwin scored his second goal of the game, a back-breaker set up by Kyle Novak and Nick Schmaltz. The Gamblers went on to capture the game, 3-1, for a 1-0 series lead in the best-of-five series.
“I liked our first few minutes,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “I don’t think we were expecting them to trap as much as they did.”
Irwin’s first goal gave the second-seeded Gamblers a 1-0 lead about eight minutes earlier. Grigory Dikushin earned the assist.
Two minutes later, Nicholas Schilkey scored on an assist from Alex Kile.
“It took us a period to adjust to their trap and once we did, I thought we did a good job from there,” Noreen said.
The Phantoms’ Kyle Connor set up the only goal of the second period. The 16-year-old Ursuline High sophomore took a pass from defenseman Eric Sweetman then shot at the Green Bay goal. The puck deflected off Padulo’s skate past Green Bay goaltender Tony Kujava.
“It was a great play by Padulo on the forecheck hitting the guy and Sweetman ended up with the puck and made a good look to me,” Connor said. “I just shot the puck.”
Kujava stopped 27 shots while the Phantoms’ Sean Romeo made 22 saves in his postseason debut.
“I thought he was excellent in there. He made the saves he needed to and didn’t give up any rebounds,” said Noreen of Kujava. “That was probably one of the best goaltending performances we’ve seen all year.
“We were physical,” Noreen said. “We were aggressive. We did everything except put the puck in the net.”
The Phantoms went 0-for-2 on the power play while the Gamblers were 1-for-3.
“No matter what both coaches draw up Xs and Os, guys have to go out and execute,” Noreen said. “I thought for probably 50 minutes tonight we did a good job executing and for 10 minutes we didn’t and that’s not good enough to win a playoff hockey game.
“We need to execute for 60 minutes.”
Sam Anas, whose 37 goals in the regular season tied him for second in the league, said a better start is crucial as the Phantoms go for a series tie.
“A good start, that’s the main thing,” Anas said. “Once you get down in a playoff game, teams can trap and momentum can take over.”
Game two of the series will be played tonight at 8:05 at the Resch Center. The teams will travel to Ohio on Friday.
Game 3 will be played Saturday at 7:15 p.m. at the Covelli Centre. If necessary, Game 4 will be there on Sunday at 4 p.m.