Phantoms flat in opening loss
By Tom Williams
A few days after The Hockey News proclaimed the Youngstown Phantoms the USHL’s top team, they struggled for the first two periods in the season opener.
The Central Illinois Flying Aces (formerly known as the Bloomington Thunder) took full advantage in Saturday’s 4-2 victory at the Covelli Centre.
“I’m disappointed in the outcome,” Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson said. “A couple of bounces maybe didn’t go our way but at the end of the day I didn’t feel we were at our best for 40 minutes.”
The Aces stung twice. They took the lead with a goal in the final two seconds of the first period, then scored for a three-goal lead about a half-a-minute after the Phantoms thought they had scored.
Patterson said The Hockey News poll “was a little bit of a surprise.” He added that he doesn’t put too much stock in preseason rankings.
“I don’t mean it negatively against The Hockey News, I don’t know how much they follow us,” Patterson said. “We have a good hockey club in here.
“Maybe the players read a little too much into it.”
Midway through the first period of his first USHL game, Phantoms defenseman Gianfranco Cassaro blasted the puck from near the blue line, beating goaltender Zach Stejskal. Matthew Barry and Tommy Parrotino assisted for the Phantoms’ 1-0 lead.
“The puck came up the wall and I just shot it,” Cassaro said. “If you shoot pucks, good things happen. I was just trying to get it on net, I got lucky. It’s pretty special.”
Ninety seconds later, Cameron Burke beat Phantoms goaltender Ivan Prosvetov for a 1-1 tie.
Two seconds before the period expired, the Aces’ Jamie Armstrong was directly in front of Prosvetov’s crease when Tyler Madden pushed the puck toward him. After a bounce hit his stick, Armstrong banked the puck off the 6-foot-5 goalie’s body for a 2-1 lead.
The Phantoms responded with a huge flurry at the start of the second period, pummeling Stejskal with five shots. He stopped them all, then Madden scored for a 3-1 lead.
The Phantoms surged, crashing the net and thought they had a goal before the net was knocked loose. The officials ruled the puck didn’t cross the line. Less than a minute later, Drew Elser beat Prosvetov for a 4-1 lead.
After those five shots to open the second frame, the Phantoms didn’t register another shot for the next 17 minutes.
“For 30 [minutes] of that first 40, I thought we were kind of flat,” Patterson said. Three-and-a-half minutes into the third period, the Aces were about to be penalized when the puck came to Chase Gresock unguarded beside the net. His tap-in goal sliced the Aces’ lead to 4-2.
Gresock said he was on a 2-on-2 break with Curtis Hall when Hall was pulled down.
“He got taken down, but dropped [the puck] back to Max Ellis, so we had a quick 2-on-1,” Gresock said.
Ellis found Gresock alone back door for “the easiest score I’ve ever had.”
With two minutes to go and the Phantoms on the power play, Prosvetov was lifted for a 6-on-4 advantage. Stejskal was up to the challenge.