By Tom Williams
Kyle Connor, the Youngstown Phantoms’ top dawg in scoring, came oh-so-close to earning best-in-show.
Trailing by a goal in the third period, Connor put a nifty move on a Cedar Rapids defender and fired at the top corner of the net. Instead of netting a hat trick, the puck missed by inches, sailing wide.
“It was real close,” Connor said. “I tried to get [the shot] off real quick, maybe catch the goalie [Danny Tirone] a little off-guard.”
Connor’s try was one of several close calls the Phantoms generated in a 4-3 loss Friday night at the Covelli Centre during the team’s first “Hockey for Hounds” promotion that attracted approximately three dozen four-legged fans.
Phantoms penalty killers did well, skating off all but one of the RoughRiders’ seven power-play chances.
Even strength was another story as the Phantoms (16-34-6, 38 points) were trying to take a bite out of the second-place RoughRiders’ hopes for first-round home-ice advantage.
“Our penalty kill was very good all night,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen said. “Five-minute power play — I don’t think we surrendered a shot.
“And on the [30-second] 5-on-3, [we were] very good.”
Defenseman Scott Moldenhauer’s even-strength goal early in the third period was the killer for the RoughRiders (34-20-3, 71 points). It was his first of the season.
The Phantoms didn’t quit, first skating off two overlapping penalties that included a 30-second two-man advantage, then generating several scoring opportunities.
“Right down to the end, we were still pushing, creating chances,” Noreen said. “[Conor] Lemirande hits a post, we get a scramble there at the end and it doesn’t go.
“It’s obviously frustrating.”
In the final seconds, Kiefer Sherwood fired a shot that Lemirande deflected wide.
“I just tried to shoot it on net and ‘Lemir’ did a good job of tipping it,” Sherwood said. “Some days, the bounces don’t go your way.”
About five-and-a-half minutes into the game, Connor took advantage of a RoughRiders giveaway near the Youngstown blue line and escaped for a breakaway goal.
“J.J. [Piccinich] did a good job of pressuring the point, making him throw that pass all the way across,” said Connor, the Phantoms’ leading scorer with 70 points. “I was kind of cheating a little bit and it ended up right on my stick.”
Jason Kalinowski tied the game in the second period by pouncing on a rebound off Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo’s pads. The Phantoms then lost Josh Nenadal when he was penalized five minutes and a game misconduct for kneeing Judd Peterson.
The Phantoms skated off the first 3:50 of the major penalty, then Moldenhauer was sent to the doghouse, er penalty box for interference. During the 4-on-4, Andrew Poturalski beat Romeo with a low backhand shot.
The lead quickly evaporated on the Phantoms’ 5-on-3 advantage. Connor’s shot from the top of the faceoff circle eluded goaltender Danny Tirone for his 29th goal and a 2-2 tie.
“Melnick and I had a nice give-and-go,” Connor said. “There was nobody on me, I figured I had a lot of time.”
After Frederik Tiffels’ power-play put the rough Riders ahead 3-2, the Phantoms rebounded almost immediately when Trey Bradley scored.