By Kevin Connelly
Team USA’s skaters were too skilled and goaltending was too good for the Youngstown Phantoms too put up much of a fight Saturday night at the Covelli Centre.
The Phantoms fell 6-2 to Team USA’s 18-under club. Unfortunately, the final score was overshadowed by the slew of chippy plays that led to 67 penalty minutes between the two teams.
With Team USA well in control leading 5-1 midway through the third period, forward Sonny Milano checked the Phantoms’ Tyler Spezia from behind into the boards. Milano was given a five-minute major penalty for boarding and a game misconduct — the second Team USA player ejected in the game for an illegal hit.
Spezia remained face down on the ice as the Phantoms’ medical staff attended to him. He was eventually helped off the ice and into the locker room.
“It’s unfortunate when you play them — and not that they wouldn’t like to, cause I’m sure they’d like to — but it’s unfortunate you can’t fight,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “I think tonight’s game’s a perfect example of why fighting needs to be in the game.
“All that chippiness from both sides would not have happened if a couple guys could’ve just squared it up and just fought.”
To clarify, USA Hockey, which is the governing body of the United States Hockey League, requires its players under the age of 18 to wear either a full metal or plastic cage on their helmets. So while the players on Team USA’s roster are forced to follow that rule, the USHL has a restriction of its own that prohibits any player with a full cage to engage in a fight.
Team USA coach Danton Cole expressed his displeasure of the events that overshadowed an otherwise impressive performance by his team.
“I thought it was awful. It was a horrible hockey game,” Cole said. “There were too many issues on the ice and I don’t think it was handled very well. I didn’t like it at all.
“It’s the kind of game the USHL doesn’t need,” Cole said. “If we don’t get rid of games like this then it’s a black eye on the league if we have hockey like this.”
Team USA got three goals from its league-leading power-play unit, while the Phantoms (7-12-4, 18 points) struggled on the man-advantage once again, going 2-12.
“You put them on the power play and they’re gonna make plays,” Noreen said. “The only way to kill off their penalties is just stay out of the box. They’re just too talented.”
It was evident from the opening drop the Phantoms wanted to neutralize Team USA’s skill players as Noreen sent his third line out to start the game.
It was effective early on until a hooking penalty allowed Team USA (15-11-1, 31 points) to put its power play unit on the ice that’s scoring at just more than 24 percent on the season.
At 8:27 of the first period Alex Tuch put the puck in a wide-open net set up by a one-touch pass from Milano from the side of the goal. Then, six minutes into the second period, Team USA extended its lead to 2-0 on a goal from Dylan Pavelek that was once again set up by crisp passing in the offensive zone.
The Phantoms’ Kyle Connor and JJ Piccinich each beat Team USA goaltender Edwin Minney.