For more than 40 minutes Friday night at the Covelli Centre, the You-ngstown Phantoms did more than just share the ice with Team USA’s under-18 squad.
They controlled it.
Unfortunately for the Phantoms and the energetic crowd of 1,764, Team USA’s offensive firepower proved to be too much for the shorthanded Phantoms defense, which allowed a trio of third-period goals to fall 4-2.
“Obviously they’re a very talented team, credit to them they buried their chances,” Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen said. “But I loved our 60 minutes and my message to the guys was this one wouldn’t hurt as bad if that was what we looked like every night.
“We were right with the best team in this league by far.”
With three defensemen scratched, the Phantoms (8-22-5, 21 points) played with just five skaters available on defense instead of the usual six.
“I think all the D-men stepped up today, but we could start to feel it” said Matt Miller, an East Palestine native. “A couple of us had a hard time breathing after a couple shifts, that’s for sure.”
It didn’t take long for the USHL’s leading goal scorer on the power play, JJ Piccinich, to add to his total with a wristshot that found its way past Team USA goaltender Blake Weyrick seven minutes into the opening period.
“Obviously I’m playing with great guys and thankful for that,” said Piccinich, who has scored 11 of his 20 goals with the man-advantage this season. “Honestly, we’ve just been shooting as much as we can to get pucks on net.”
Team USA (17-16-1, 35 points) scored the equalizer a little more than two minutes into the second period on Nolan Stevens’ third goal of the season.
Later in the period, Team USA found themselves on the penalty kill and eventually down two skaters, giving the Phantoms a 5-3 advantage for 27 seconds.
Kiefer Sherwood had two good opportunities on the power play — the first shot went just wide of the goal mouth, the other ricocheting off the crossbar.
As the physical play picked up, Phantoms forwards Zach Evancho and Luke Stork found themselves in a 2-on-1 break but Weyrick was up to the challenge, getting just enough of the puck to deflect it off the post.
That theme continued late in the second period as the Phantoms were on their fourth power play of the night. Weyrick again turned away shots from Piccinich and Kyle Connor.
Just 1:01 into the third period, Team USA’s Ryan Bliss ripped a shot over the left shoulder of Phantoms goalie Sean Romeo to put his team up 2-1.
Less than a minute later, Phantoms forward Trey Bradley redirected a Miller shot from the blue line past Weyrick to knot the score at two.
Later in the period Team USA’s relentless offensive pressure paid off. The team’s leading goal scorer, Jack Eichel, was rewarded for crashing the net as he put a loose puck in for the game-winning goal.