By Tom Williams
Before the largest crowd for an evening game in the team’s five-year history, the Youngstown Phantoms were hoping to deliver a hard-hitting third-period comeback.
After being crosschecked in front of the Cedar Rapids’ crease, Phantoms captain Alfred Larsson provided the punches. But RoughRiders center Andrew Poturlski did not drop his gloves.
Larsson’s penalties (two minutes for instigating a fight, five for fighting and a game misconduct) with 9:33 remaining enabled the RoughRiders to score two late power-play goals and skate off with Saturday’s 4-1 victory.
“Awesome,” is how Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen described the crowd of 3,261 at the Covelli Centre. “There was great energy. Credit our fans — that’s what our goal is here.
“This team will make these fans want to come back.”
Cedar Rapids (35-20-3, 73 points) remains in second place in a race with Dubuque for home-ice advantage in their first-round playoff series.
The RoughRiders defeated the Phantoms twice in two nights (Friday’s score was 4-3), but Noreen felt his team (16-35-6, 38 points) held their own against one of the USHL’s top squads.
“The only thing we are mad about is the score,” Noreen said. “For six periods, we were a pretty good hockey team this weekend.”
In the first two periods, the Phantoms outplayed the RoughRiders, but could only manage a 1-1 tie. Kyle Connor’s 30th goal of the season in the second period was the only shot to get past goaltender Danny Tirone.
“We’ve played well lately,” Larsson said. “We had scoring chances, but were a little bit unlucky.”
With 13:46 remaining, Judd Peterson was perched just inside the faceoff circle to Phantoms goaltender Colin DeAugustine’s right. Kevin Shand sent him the puck from the point and Peterson snapped it into the far corner of the net to break the tie.
The Phantoms pressed for an equalizer and mayhem ensued when Poturalski shoved Larsson.
“He kinda crosschecked me and we both were pushing each other,” Larsson said. “I thought he wanted to go and I dropped my gloves.
“But he didn’t. When you stand there and you’ve dropped your gloves, there’s not much you can do. I kinda had to fight.”
Poturalski was given a two-minute roughing penalty.
“I was trying to get the boys going, but then I was a little unlucky getting a five-minute major and they score two goals,” Larsson said. “I wasn’t expecting to get kicked out of the game.”
He was hoping he would get two minor penalties and Poturalski nothing.
Phantoms penalty killers skated off the first 3:07 of the Larsson’s major penalty before Frederik Tiffels scored his second goal of the game from the slot for 3-1 lead.
Thirty-two seconds later, Andrew Gaus scored to secure Cedar Rapids’ fourth straight win and a season sweep of Youngstown.
Noreen had no trouble with Larsson’s actions nor his penalties.
“Their guy was doing what he’s supposed to do,” Noreen said of Poturalski defending the crease. “He shoved him in the face and took a swing.
“And Alfred Larsson does what a hockey player is supposed to do. He wasn’t dirty, he wasn’t taking advantage of a defenseless player.
“He thought there was a willing combatant and when it come push to shove, it wasn’t,” Noreen said. “I don’t fault Alfie for his decision.”