By Kevin Connelly
Shortly after he watched his team go 0-for-9 on the power play and get out shot 34-29, Youngstown Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen was all smiles outside the locker room.
The reason being was the only number on the stat sheet that matters was tilted in his team’s favor — goals.
Or more correctly, goal.
The first 60 minutes of hockey Saturday night at the Covelli Centre between the Phantoms and the Lincoln Stars yielded zero goals. However 48 seconds into the overtime period, Phantoms forward Kyle Connor found a streaking JJ Piccinich, whose wrist shot beat Stars goalie Michael Bitzer to give the Phantoms a 1-0 win.
“I loved our energy and I thought there was a ton of emotion on the bench,” Noreen said. “There’s no doubt in this franchise it’s become a habit.
“When you feel that energy on the bench you find a way to win games and that’s kind of what happened.”
The Phantoms (4-5-1, 9 points) wouldn’t have gotten to overtime if it weren’t for the play of their goaltender Sean Romeo, who was in just his second game since retuning from a groin injury.
“He’s an elite goaltender and he’s the type of guy who gives you a chance to win every night and that’s all you can ask for,” Noreen said.
Romeo stopped all 34 shots he faced to pick up his sixth career shutout and first of the season. At times it was more of a team effort, as guys laid out to block shots all night to preserve the scoreless tie.
There was no bigger play in the game than the one that came with less than 20 seconds remaining in regulation. The Stars (1-2-4, 6 points) won a face-off in the Phantoms zone, but Tyler Spezia threw his body in front of the puck to block one of the many shots that never reached Romeo.
“I think about 10 guys had big blocks this game and it helps a lot,” Romeo said. “When you’re getting plays like that and it’s a tight game, it’s easy to stay focused.
“It’s a lot of fun to play in those games.”
As for the struggles on the power play, Noreen said he’s switched up the lines the last couple games and he can tell guys are still trying to get comfortable playing with one another.
“I think we need to get to ugly areas more,” he said. “We need to get there and find those rebounds.”
The two teams combined for 63 penalty minutes, so the lack of special teams production was not one-sided. It’s still something that’s frustrating the Phantoms skaters — especially the goal scorers.
“We just stayed with it,” Piccinich, who leads the team with eight goals, said. “We knew what we were doing was going to work eventually and we were just really happy to see the outcome.”
The outcome came off the blade of his stick, but it was the pass from Connor to set up the game-winner that everyone was talking about.
“I almost feel bad taking credit for it,” Piccinich said. “It was just an unbelievable effort play, but I was glad to finish it off for an unbelievable play.”