Phantoms unable to gain as home streak is snapped
By Tom Williams
With a golden opportunity to gain ground in the Eastern Conference standings, the Youngstown Phantoms laid an egg in Friday’s 6-3 loss to the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders.
“It’s not very much fun to lose, especially at home,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said after his team’s eight-game winning streak at the Covelli Centre was snapped by the sixth-place RoughRiders (23-29-7, 53 points).
“We’ve been playing so well and so consistently, especially at home. It’s an odd feeling for us,” Noreen said after the fourth-place Phantoms (33-24-0, 66 points) were outscored 4-1 in the final two periods. “The bottom line is let it continue or nip it in the bud. And learn from it.”
With the game tied at 2, Mark Auk beat Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo to put Cedar Rapids ahead for keeps.
In the third period, Romeo made a kick save on a Gerald Mayhew shot, but Alec Marsh, fresh out of the penalty box, swooped in to backhand the rebound into the net for a 4-2 lead.
Thirty-two seconds after Phantoms defenseman Ryan Lowney was penalized for roughing, Dylan Steman tipped Ian Brady’s shot into the corner of the net for a three-goal advantage.
As if the loss wasn’t painful enough, Phantoms forward Cam Brown lost three teeth and part of another after he was struck by a puck in the final minute. The Phantoms’ net was empty for an extra attacker and Cedar Rapids had possession near the goal when Brown was hit.
“Twenty seconds, to go, two-goal game and he’s blocking the shot with his face — that’s Cam,” Noreen said.
One of the Phantoms’ few highlights came early when Sam Anas scored his 31st goal, tying the franchise record set by JT Stenglein last season.
“After that, we kind of went a little downhill,” said Anas who added that the players held a meeting after the game. “We’ve got to figure things out, get things turned around, get on the right page before playoffs. Because before we know it, the season could be over.”
The Phantoms have clinched their second straight USHL playoff berth but have a shot at finishing as high as second place. They did not help their cause as third-place Muskegon (30-20-10, 70 points) lost to the Chicago Steel, 4-3. Second-place Green Bay (34-20-4, 72 points) lost to Team USA, 5-2.
“We try not to focus on the other teams, but it’s tough for us to lose this game because [the RoughRiders] have no motivation except being a spoiler for us,” Anas said. “We just have to bounce back [tonight].”
The Phantoms and RoughRiders finish their weekend series tonight at 7:15. The Phantoms then will close the season with four of their remaining six games on the road.
Late in the second period, Anas had another shot at the record that RoughRiders goaltender Michael Rotolo stopped.
“It was a quick play and the puck was rolling on me,” Anas said, “so I really didn’t get a good shot off. It happens.”
With 5:30 remaining, Brown scored to slice the Cedar Rapids lead to 5-3. Nathan Walker had two close chances in the final minutes, but Rotolo stopped both.
Clay Anderson scored an empty-net goal with two seconds remaining,
“We weren’t good enough in any facet,” Noreen said. “We had spurts where we controlled the puck, we got chances.
“But the things we talk about doing, that we take pride in off the scoresheet, were not up to the standards this team has set.”
An unlucky ricochet led to the RoughRiders’ first goal. Jimmy Mazza’s pass from behind the goal line bounced off Mac MacSorley’s skates and deflected to RoughRider Dylan McLaughlin in the slot. McLaughlin wasted no time lifting the puck over Romeo’s glove.
Markus McCrea put the Phantoms back in front when his shot from the high slot surprised Rotolo.
The Phantoms came within a second of killing off John Padulo’s slashing penalty when David Goodwin danced over the blue line and found room for a shot that tied the game, 2-2.