When Jimmy Mazza left the bench after teammate John Padulo was bodychecked after scoring a goal in Saturday’s game at the Covelli Centre, the first-year Phantoms defenseman was pretty sure he wasn’t coming back right away.
The Phantoms trailed the Des Moines Buccaneers 3-1 in the second period when Kyle Connor and Padulo broke free for a two-on-one break. Padulo took Connor’s pass and slapped the puck past Buccaneers goaltender Nick Ellis.
After Padulo released his shot, Buccaneers defender Garrett Cockerill hunched down and crashed into him, flipping the Phantoms forward onto his back then to the ice. Padulo’s momentum carried him into the boards. In pain, Padulo immediately threw his gloves off and rolled in agony. Unwilling to put weight on his left foot, Padulo needed help leaving the ice.
No penalty was called and the Phantoms were furious. Mazza engaged Cockerill in a brawl. He didn’t win it, but he didn’t try to end it prematurely.
“I think that was the turning point of the game,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said. “Once that happened, our guys saw the willingness to stick up for each other. The whole momentum of the game changed.”
The Phantoms outshot the Buccaneers 53-15 in regulation and a five-minute overtime, then won the game in a shootout. Padulo returned to the game late in the second period.
Goaltender Jake Moore, who was making his second USHL start and stopped only 10 of the 15 shots he faced, was perfect in the shootout, stopping three Buccaneers’ shots and making Sam Anas’ shootout goal stand up as the game winner.
Without the fight, Anas said there might not have been a shootout.
“That was big, it showed [team] chemistry,” Anas said. “Those two are roommates sticking up for each other — the heart of the team, right there.”
Mazza said there was no question he was going to challenge Cockerill.
“We’re one big family, this team,” Mazza said. “These are the guys we want to go with the rest of the year.
“We can’t have guys taking liberties out there and I’d expect anyone else to do the same thing for me — especially Johnny,” Mazza said. “He’s my roommate and one of my close friends.”
At first, Mazza (6-fot-2, 185 pounds) wasn’t sure Cockerill (6-0, 190) wanted to fight.
“I yelled at him to come off the bench,” Mazza said. “He didn’t know if he was fighting me or Dan [Renouf].
“I just went after him,” said Mazza who took several strong shots from Cockerill and landed a few of his own. “Johnny is like a brother to me. We can’t have that happen to a teammate like that. He would do the same thing for me.”
When the fight ended, the Phantoms madly pounded their sticks against the boards to salute Mazza.
“It was a good thing to see the team respond like that,” Mazza said of the comeback.
Anas tied the game 3-3 with a power-play goal, but the game was far from over.
Anas later scored another power-play goal for a 5-4 lead. But the Buccaneers tied the game when Marcus Ericsson’s shot from near the blue line deflected off a Phantoms stick into the net past Moore. It was the second goal that Buccaneers scored by banking a shot off a Phantom defender.
Noreen credited Anas for adjusting his game.
“Sammy was a little frustrated in Friday’s 4-2 win],” Noreen said. “He was trying a little too much to try and beat guys one-on-one.
“[Saturday], he used his speed more to back defensemen off. That way, he got his chances and he used his skill,” Noreen said. “He’s a guy we expect to score goals and a guy we need to get hot down the stretch if we’re to have a chance.”
Despite peppering Ellis with so many shots, Anas said the Phantoms weren’t frustrated that they needed a shootout to win their fifth consecutive game.
“I wouldn’t say frustrating because we were getting so many chances. We were having so much fun out there playing. Last night, we didn’t have many quality chances and we were [able] to pull out the win.
“Tonight, we played a much more complete game. It was a good performance.”
After the game, revised scorekeeping credited Austin Cangelosi with three assists, giving him 95 career points in one-and-a-half seasons. That’s two more points than former franchise leader Mike Ambrosia.
Tom Williams is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.