By Tom willimas
For their ninth game of the season, the Youngstown Phantoms had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Kyle Connor, the USHL’s leading score, had just been selected to the U.S. Junior Select Team. And goaltender Sean Romeo, who last season set the franchise record for wins, was back in goal after missing eight games with a groin injury.
But the Phantoms skated onto the ice flatter than a Tea Party pamphlet promoting the Affordable Healthcare Act, allowing the Indiana Ice to spoil the party with a 3-1 victory Friday night at the Covelli Centre.
The Phantoms’ biggest disappointment came on the power play. Twice the Phantoms (3-5-1, 7 points) had a two-man advantage and didn’t score.
“We were badly outplayed on special teams,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said. “We probably went to the well one too many times on the penalty kill.
“On the flip side, you get two minute-plus 5-on-3s at this level or higher and you don’t score, you don’t deserve to win the hockey game.”
Youngstown was 0-for-8 on the power play; Indiana was 1-for 6.
Midway through the second period and trailing 2-0, the Phantoms were handed a golden opportunity when Indiana’s Joe Sullivan (holding) and Michael Preston (cross checking) were sent off at the same time.
But 75 seconds into the two-man advantage, the Phantoms were caught with too many men on the ice.
“You’ve got be to sharper,” Connor said. “I think the goals will come. On the 5-on-3s, we’ve just got to get more pucks on the net.”
Ice goaltender Jason Pawloski stopped 20 shots while Romeo made 15 saves.
“It was tough watching during [my recovery] so it felt good to get back out there,” said Romeo who won 31 games last season. “But it wasn’t the result we wanted.”
Noreen said it was “awesome” to be able to send Romeo onto the ice.
“He did a good job,” Noreen said. “I thought he looked like his old self. The presence that he brings to the net is special. That’s what makes him an elite goaltender, how calm he is.”
Late in the evenly-played first period, Ice forward Jason Salvaggio stole the puck in the Phantoms’ zone and beat Romeo with a shot from the top of the faceoff circle for a 1-0 lead.
“My body felt good, but I felt a little rusty at the start,” Romeo said. “That first goal kind of looked a little bad. Normally, I think I would have had that.”
Early in the second period, the Phantoms skated off a penalty, but the Ice (2-3-2, 5 points) maintained possession and Jacob Pritchard scored for a 2-0 lead.
One third of the way into the third period, the Phantoms spoiled Pawloski’s shutout bid when Kiefer Sherwood sent the puck to a streaking Luke Stork near the Indiana goal. Stork’s shot sliced the Ice lead to 2-1. Kyle Mackey also received an assist.
But two minutes later at the end of another Ice power play, Indiana restored its two-goal lead when Romeo was screened and Josh Jacobs beat him with a shot from near the blue line.
Noreen said the game was full of teaching moments for his young squad.
“More than a few,” Noreen said. “Our staff takes pride in teaching — that’s about the only thing you can do after a game like this.
“We’ve got to find a way to get better,” Noreen said. “That effort, that execution was not good enough.”