Esposito scores twice as Phantoms roll Team USA
Esposito scores 2 in rout of Team USA
By Tom Williams
Team USA’s bus had a mechanical issue on the way to Covelli Centre on Saturday, delaying the start of the 17U squad’s game against the Phantoms.
But in the first period, it was the home team that looked like it was stuck in neutral.
Then in the second frame, the Phantoms hit the fast lane, scoring five times on the way to a 6-1 rout of the USHL’s Eastern Conference’s top team.
Eric Esposito scored two goals while Michael Regush, Nicholas Cardelli, Chase Gresock and Max Ellis had one apiece. The Phantoms swept a home-and-home series that began in Plymouth, Mich., on Friday with a Phantoms’ 3-2 victory when Youngstown defeated Team USA’s 18U squad, 3-2.
Goaltender Ivan Prosvetov made 31 saves for his 17th win.
The win reduces the Phantoms’ magic number to two points to clinch second place over the Muskegon Lumberjacks and a first-round bye when the USHL Clark Cup Playoffs begin in two weeks.
“Looking at the playoff schedule, it’s going to be huge if we can get [the bye] for the rest,” Esposito said. “That first round, second round [and] end of the season are all going to be pretty tight.”
The USHL regular season ends on April 14. The first round begins two days later with best-of-three series between the third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place teams. The second round kicks off the following weekend.
The Phantoms arrived home at 2 a.m. Saturday after Friday’s win. Team USA’s 17U squad did not play on Friday. Esposito said fatigue combined with a rare mid-afternoon start might have been factors in their slow start.
“The whole year, we’ve struggled some times to get going early,” Esposito said. “We’re great in the third period and usually great in the second, too.
“Definitely, that bus trip didn’t help.”
The Phantoms trailed 1-0 after the first period. Phantoms coach Brad Patterson’s message at the intermission for his players to simplify.
“The decision-making part of our game wasn’t great, we tried to get a little too cute,” Patterson said. “It didn’t feel like we went north with the puck all that much.” Four-and-a-half minutes into the second period, Esposito ignited the Phantoms’ rally with a back-door goal.
The Phantoms captain was perched to the right of Team USA goaltender Cameron Rowe and tapped in Ellis’ cross-ice pass from near the blue line. Michael Callahan also assisted on the goal that came 12 seconds into a power play.
About three minutes later, the Phantoms took the lead on Regush’s goal set up by Matthew Barry.
Five minutes later, Cardelli celebrated after his shot caromed off both goal posts and into the net for a 3-1 lead.
“I just shot it over the glove, it hit the post and came back and hit the other post and went in — a little bit of luck,” he said. “Never had a goal like that — it’s pretty cool.”
Cardelli also assisted on Esposito’s third-period goal.
Late in the second period, Barry, the Phantoms’ leading scorer, found Gresock unguarded just inside the faceoff circle and fed him a sharp pass to set up a point-blank shot.
Moments later, it was 5-1 after Ellis skated along the boards into the Nationals’ zone then slapped the puck past Rowe.