ANN ARBOR, MICH.
Despite Sunday’s 4-2 loss to the U.S. National Under-18 Team, the Youngstown Phantoms clinched the franchise’s second straight berth in the USHL Clark Cup Playoffs.
The Phantoms (33-23-0, 66 points), fourth place in the Eastern Conference, were able to punch their playoff ticket courtesy of the Indiana Ice’s 6-3 victory over the fifth-place Chicago Steel.
Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said that although he would have preferred to earn the berth under winning circumstances, he was nonetheless pleased with his team’s accomplishment.
“When we set out to turn this franchise in the right direction, this is what we had in mind,” Noreen said. “It speaks volumes about how far our franchise has come over the past two years and how far this group of guys has come this season.
“I couldn’t be more proud.”
Despite playing their fourth game in six days, the Phantoms entered the final period tied 2-2, but Team USA (19-31-5, 43 points) notched a pair of goals less than four minutes apart.
Golatender Sean Romeo was a rock between the pipes for the Youngstown, turning away 41 of 45 shots.
Right wing Sam Anas scored both goals for the Phantoms while center Austin Cangelosi recorded an assist to extend his point streak to nine games.
“Our guys competed extremely hard, I really, really thought we did,” Noreen said. “From start to finish, I don’t think there was any point where our effort — or execution really — could have been questioned.
“The bottom line is that’s an extremely good hockey team. We knew we would need to be near perfect to beat them and we weren’t that close to perfect.”
The Nationals solved Romeo on its 18th shot of the game. JT Compher came flying down the right wing wall and fired a low wrist shot that kicked off Romeo’s pad and right out for John Hayden, who tipped it in to make it 1-0 at the 5:54 mark.
Anas knotted it up at the seven minutes later with Cangelosi was in the penalty box for slashing. Dan Renouf set up Anas for a short-handed 2-on-1 rush, and as Cam Brown drove to the net to draw the defender, Anas pulled off a slick deke and flicked a backhander top shelf on goaltender Thatcher Demko to knot the game.
USA went right back in front, finally capitalizing on a power play when Compher fired a slap shot through a screen from the left circle at the 14:39 mark for a 2-1 lead.
The Phantoms tied the game on a power play. John Padulo passed to Anas in the slot and he stuffed it past Demko for his 30th goal.
“For Sammy to score 30 speaks volumes about the type of season he’s having,” Noreen said.