Strong defense lifts Phantoms
Strong defense lifts Phantoms
By Tom Williams
A wide smile spread across Youngstown Phantoms defenseman Michael Callahan’s face as he spoke about last week’s trade.
“I was really excited,” said Callahan, who until Feb. 7 was a Central Illinois Flying Ace. “Getting to come from a last-place team to a real contender was exciting.”
Half of the Phantoms’ defense corps in Friday’s 2-1 win over the Waterloo Black Hawks are new to the team. Jason Smallidge came to the Phantoms with Callahan in exchange for forward Alex Barber and defensemen Andrew Petrillo and Zach Metsa. John Larkin is a former affiliate player who started his second game.
“Good guys,” Phantoms captain Eric Esposito said. “They fit right in, they’re Phantoms. I think they are having a good time.”
The defenders’ strong efforts helped goaltender Ivan Prosvetov come within 11 seconds of his first USHL shutout. Ben Finkelstein’s shot from the blue line eluded Prosvetov for the Black Hawks’ only score.
“That was one of his best games of the year,” Esposito said of Prosvetov (12-7-2-0). “I know it sucks letting in that goal in the last seconds, but that was a shutout performance, for sure.”
Extremely impressive was the Phantoms shutting down one of the USHL’s best offenses which has been sizzling. The loss at the Covelli Centre was only the second in regulation for the Black Hawks in their past 11 games (8-2-1-0). Waterloo (25-12-3-1, 54 points) has the league’s second-best record, trailing just first-place Omaha in the Western Conference.
The win was the Phantoms’ seventh in their past eight games and keeps Youngstown (21-15-4-1, 47 points) two points behind Team USA and one ahead of Muskegon in the Eastern Conference chase.
“Ivan was great in net,” Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson said. “We really limited them [opportunities] and that is a tremendous team.
“They have as good of a forward group as there is in the league,” Patterson said. “You don’t want to turn it into a track meet, especially against a team like this.”
Late in the opening period, Chase Gresock snapped the scoreless tie with a shot behind Jared Moe (14-6-1-0) for his 19th goal. The power-play score was set up by Michael Regush, extending his scoring streak to nine games. Larkin also assisted for his first USHL point.
With 11:17 remaining, Esposito gave the Phantoms some breathing room with his 11th goal. Nicholas Cardelli and Curtis Hall had assists.
“There was a battle on the wall and Curtis came out with it,” Esposito said. “As strongside winger, I just tried to clear some space for him.
“He fired it over to Cards and I could see their [defenseman] pivot real slow, so I just kind of busted to the net and he made nice play, right on my stick.”
Prosvetov made 34 saves. The Phantoms killed off two penalties, including Smallidge’s roughing penalty with 8:49 to go.
“We knew we’d have to be tough, I mean, they’ve got a lot of skill guys,” Esposito said. “I think we brought that and the locker room is buzzing right now.
“Hopefully we’ll bring it [tonight] and get the sweep.”
Callahan called his defense partner Michael Joyaux “a solid two-way defenseman and it really helps me when he can make plays defensively and offensively.”