By Tom Williams
Ten seconds after the Youngstown Phantoms earned their 18th point of the season, they suffered their fourth extra session loss in 22 games.
As Friday night’s overtime began, the Phantoms needed 15 seconds to kill off a carryover penalty. However, Chicago defender Alec Vanko’s long shot eluded Phantoms goaltender Colin DeAugustine, giving the Steel a 4-3 victory at the Covelli Centre.
“Extremely unfortunate,” said Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen of the finish.
“Kind of weird,” said forward JJ Piccinich, who scored the Phantoms’ first two goals.
Midway through the third period, Kyle Connor tied the game with a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that fooled Steel goaltender Chris Nell.
“The puck came out into the neutral zone and [defenseman Kyle] Mackey made a great stab to chip the puck up to me,” said Connor, whose three points gives him a team-leading 27. “I just kind of threw it on net and it went in.”
The Steel killed off another penalty, then was awarded a late power play when Conor Lemirande was whistled for interference.
The Phantoms skated off the final 1:45 of the third period to earn a point in the standings. That joy was smothered by Vanko’s rapid goal, his second of the game.
“Obviously, it’s good to get the point but we have to start stringing together some wins,” Connor said.
Noreen said he was happy with how his players battled back from a 2-0 deficit.
“They out-shot us in the first, but we probably out-Grade A chanced them,” Noreen said. “They put theirs into the net, we didn’t.”
Eight minutes in, Vanko scored from the faceoff circle for a 1-0 lead. The Steel came close to getting another during a power play when John Ernsting stick-handled his way into the goal crease and tried to stuff a backhander past DeAugustine. The Phantoms netminder stayed with the Steel forward to stop the shot.
A minute later, the Steel led 2-0 when Robbie Payne deflected John Schilling’s shot into the top of the net.
The Steel outshot the Phantoms 13-9 in the opening period. It was a much different story in round two.
First, Piccinich beat Nell when he backhanded the rebound of a Connor shot past Nell, prompting fans to toss dozens of stuffed teddy bears in a Toys for Tots promotion.
A few minutes later, Piccinich and Connor teamed up for another power-play goal.
“Fred Larsson gave gave me a pass and their guys in the zone pulled up a little bit,” Connor said. “I drove to the net and [saw] JJ was wide-open back door. He did the rest.”
But the celebratory bubble was burst late in the second period when Connor Yau scored a power-play goal for a 3-2 Steel lead.
“The second period, we played extremely well, we carried the play,” Noreen said. “Credit [Nell] for playing really well.”
The Phantoms had a power play to start the third period but the Steel tightened up, allowing just one shot on Nell before Connor tied the game.
“We had chances to go ahead,” Noreen said. “It’s just extremely unfortunate that that type of hockey game had to end like that.”
Tonight, the Phantoms will be at home against Team USA’s 18-under squad.
“It’s must-win,” Piccinich said. “We’ve got to put together some wins.”