Strong finish puts Phantoms in first

Strong finish puts Phantoms in first

By Tom Williams


In the third period of Saturday’s game, the Youngstown Phantoms skated off a Waterloo power play for 4:49 seconds then scored three goals in 3:46.

Asked which was more satisfying, Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson hesitated, then decided, “You don’t score three in [four] minutes if you don’t have the energy from killing off the five-minute penalty.”

Max Ellis, Dalton Messina and Chase Gresock scored late in the Phantoms’ 5-2 victory at the Covelli Centre. Their eighth win in nine contests lifts the Phantoms (22-15-4-1, 49 points) into a tie for first place with Team USA. (To be fair, Team USA has six games in hand.)

First place looked a long way off in late January when the Phantoms had lost four straight.

“That’s huge, that’s what we want,” said Phantoms captain Eric Esposito, whose goal tied the game at 2 midway through the second period. “That’s the goal, to be No. 1.”

The score was the same early in the third period when Phantoms forward Nicholas Cardelli crunched Black Hawks forward Jack Drury into the boards and was penalized five minutes for checking from behind. He also was ejected and will sit out the Phantoms’ next game.

Playing for the second time in 27 hours, Phantoms penalty killers, who were missing one of their top guns, already were under fire when a running clock added to their challenge.

Patterson said there were two face-offs early in the kill then the Phantoms constantly cleared the puck down ice with no whistles.

“It was back-and-forth,” Patterson said. “They’d get it in [our zone], we’d clear it; they’d get it in, we’d clear it.

“Ultimately, you probably want a couple of face-offs, but everyone played their part. It was big.”

Before long, there were just 11 seconds remaining when Waterloo’s Peter Tabor was whistled for tripping.

“Especially on a [second] night, that’s tough on the legs, your wind,” Esposito said. “[Patterson] manages the bench well.”

The Phantoms defenders were shorthanded as alternate captain Jake Gingell was a healthy scratch for the second straight game because of a death in his family.

Defenseman Michael Joyaux was one of the defensemen jumping back and forth onto the ice.

“Five minutes is a long time,” Joyaux said. “We gained a lot of momentum.”

Esposito ignited the game-winner when he stole the puck at the Youngstown blue line, then led an odd-man rush into the Waterloo zone.

“Their defense was kind of cheating to [Ellis] so I took the shot,” Esposito said. “It popped up and I actually got a baseball [swing] on it and it landed. Me and Hallsie [Curtis Hall] were taking whacks at it and Ellis came in and tucked it home.”

Messina doubled the lead with a goal set up by Joey Abate and Jack Malone. Then 65 ticks later, Gresock beat goaltender Matej Tomek for his 20th goal set up by Trevor Kuntar and John Larkin.

Goaltender Ivan Prosvetov (13-7-2-0) stopped 27 shots for his second win of the weekend.

Two of his biggest saves came late in the second period, both off the stick of Drury. With 1:22 remaining before the break, Prosvetov launched his pads for a sprawling save on a point-blank shot, Then in the final second of the period, Prosvetov’s glove snagged another close attempt to preserve the tie.

The Black Hawks (25-13-3-1, 54 points) took early leads of goals by Ben Copeland and Jackson Cates. Both times, the Phantoms responded with goals 31 seconds (Joey Abate) and 83 seconds (Esposito) later.

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