Brown’s late goal keys ouster of Gamblers
By Tom Williams
Even with the score tied late in the third period, Green Bay Gamblers goaltender Tony Kujava scrambling to get back into position and the puck bouncing onto his stick, Phantoms defenseman Dan Renouf still wasn’t tempted to shoot.
Not when teammate Cam Brown was all alone at the other side of the net.
“Not at all — he’s the goal scorer,” Renouf said. “I could [not] not pass to him — he was so wide open.”
Brown buried the puck into the open net, sending the Phantoms to their first best-of-five playoff series triumph in their four seasons. Alexander Dahl added an empty-netter as the Phantoms defeated the Gamblers, 3-1, on Sunday afternoon at the Covelli Centre, ousting the defending USHL champions in a 3-1 series.
For Brown, it was his fourth goal of the series and third within 24 hours. In Saturday’s 4-2 victory, Brown scored two power-play goals. Sunday, he said he was fortunate to be in the right spot at the right moment.
“I don’t really know what happened,” said Brown of the goal-mouth scramble that created so much confusion around the Green Bay net. “It was mess in front. To be honest, I thought Dan was going to shoot it, but he waited an extra second.
“Everyone was looking right at him and he just gave me a gift, backdoor,” said Brown, who was traded to the Phantoms on Thanksgiving from the Sioux City Musketeers. “Wide-open, I was just saying to myself ‘don’t screw it up.’ “
Instead, the University of Maine recruit hit the target for a 2-1 lead with 5:52 remaining.
The Gamblers, winners of last year’s Clark Cup, weren’t finished, pressuring the Phantoms’ zone and forcing goaltender Sean Romeo to make several stops down the stretch.
With Kujava lifted for an extra skater, Dahl’s clearing attempted rolled on edge down ice and hooked into the empty net to seal the victory against the team that eliminated the Phantoms in a 3-1 series last year.
“It was the best feeling,” Brown said. “It was pretty dramatic [the way] it curved in. You could see the whole building stand up [to celebrate]. The place went nuts — it was really cool.”
Third-seeded Youngstown advances to the USHL’s Eastern Conference final against top-seeded Dubuque. The Fighting Saints defeated Muskegon, 3-2 in overtime, for a sweep of their series. Games 1 and 2 will be played later this week in Dubuque, Iowa. Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will be at the Covelli Centre.
For the third straight game, the Phantoms rallied after an early deficit. Head coach Anthony Noreen said they were fortunate to trail just 1-0 on Christian Wolanin’s goal. A few minutes before, defenseman Tommy Davis made a huge play to swipe the puck off the goal line behind Romeo.
“He came out of the crease and [Kevin Irwin] took a shot,” Davis said. “It hit [Romeo’s shoulder] and popped up and came down in the blue paint. I saw it at the last second and I instinctively whacked at it.”
Noreen called Davis’ play a game-changer.
“That was our momentum stealer,” Noreen said. “It should have been a 2-0 game.”
In the second period, Luke Stork tied the game, taking a sharp pass from Kyle Connor and beating Kujava’s glove side.
The Gamblers did not go down without a fight — three, in fact. After the opening faceoff, Renouf and Brandon Kirk brawled for 45 seconds. Two more were in the second period (John Padulo vs. Tanner Pond, Josh Nenadal vs. Alex Kile).