By TIM CLEVELAND
Entering Friday night’s game with an eight-game losing streak, the Youngstown Phantoms were determined to win for the first time since Nov. 23. While they tied the game against Chicago in the second period, the Phantoms were unable to maintain the momentum, losing 4-1 to the Chicago Steel at Covelli Centre.
With a win, Youngstown would have pulled to within four points of Chicago for seventh place in the eight-team Eastern Conference of the United States Hockey League.
Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said the main thing to try and end the losing streak is for he and the coaching staff to keep things consistent and positive for the players.
“You do the same things you do every day,” he said. “You stay strong for the guys, you be positive. I’ve said it every time I’ve met with the team for the first time since I’ve been here. The first thing I’ve said is whether we win 10 games in a row or lose 10 games in a row, you’re going to get the same me. You’re going to get the same staff and we’re going to have the same goals.
“The bottom line is every goal that we have for our guys is still attainable. Our job is to prepare these guys for the next level, for them to get better. If we do that we’ll win games by default.”
The Phantoms (7-17-5, 19 points) trailed 1-0 in the second period, but tied the game as Josh Nenadal sent a wrist shot past Chicago goalie Chris Nell at the 7:07 mark. It was the third goal of the season for Nenadal, a 19-year-old Brecksville native.
“I saw my line mate, Conor Lemirande, was driving to the net hard,” Nenadal said “The defenseman dropped, so I I had no choice but to shoot it. Luckily, it found the net there.”
Noreen said the goal was the result of hard work by Nenadal.
“Just a hard-working shift,” Noreen said. “Josh is a guy who hasn’t scored a ton for us. There’s hockey karma. When you do things the right way — and Josh does the right thing day in and day out – guys like that get rewarded.”
It was a short-lived tie for the Phantoms, as Chicago (13-16-1, 27 points) re-gained the advantage less than 2 minutes later. CJ Smith gave the Steel the lead right back at 8:55 when he scored his 10th goal of the season, a power play goal past Phantoms goalie Sean Romeo.
Trailing entering the third period, the Phantoms played their best 20 minutes of the game, getting several good goal-scoring chances against Nell. The best opportunity came midway through the period as Kyle Connor got behind the Steel defense and earned a penalty shot. Connor, leading the Phantoms with 35 points and second with 13 goals, juked in on Nell but was denied, leaving Youngstown still down a goal.
“We had the best player in the league with a penalty shot to tie it and their goalie made a tremendous save,” Noreen said.
A deflated Phantoms the surrendered the clinching goal at 10:55 as Robbie Payne beat Romeo on a wrist shot from the left wing for his ninth goal. Chicago ended with an empty-net goal at 19:42 by Mason Bergh, his second of the game and fourth of the season.
“The biggest thing is to hang together as a team,” Nenadal said of how the Phantoms can get back on the winning track. “You can’t start pointing fingers and name-calling and stuff like that. You’ve just got to take the losses how they go and keep working hard and trying to get that win.”
Even with a nine-game losing streak, the Phantoms did out-play Chicago in the third period. Youngstown out-shot the Steel 15-9 in the final 20 minutes and was only out-shot 40-37 for the game.
“I thought we had a poor start, there’s no doubt about that,” Noreen said. “I thought we had a much better second and probably an even better third. We had our chances. I really liked our game in the second and third periods. But bottom line is 40 minutes and beyond at this level is not good enough; it’s got to be 60 and it’s got to be all 20 guys.”