Murray’s 34th goal delivers Phantoms' sweep
By TOM WILLIAMS
As the Youngstown Phantoms’ defense corps regains health, the team has hardly missed a beat.
The return of Gianfranco Cassaro this weekend and a recent trade for Jeppe Urup from Sioux Falls has bolstered the Phantoms, who swept the Green Bay Gamblers this weekend with Sunday’s 3-1 victory at the Covelli Centre.
Brett Murray’s 34th goal of the season snapped a 1-1 tie midway through the third period. Craig Needham’s empty-net goal secured the Phantoms’ fifth win in six games.
The Phantoms (27-18-1-4, 59 points) are one point behind third-place Cedar Rapids and three points behind second-place Chicago. All have 12 games remaining.
Youngstown also is five points ahead of Team USA, which has three games in hand. The top two teams in the Eastern Conference will receive first-round byes, while the third- and fourth-place teams will have home ice for all games in the first round.
“When it comes to playoff time, points are precious,” Murray said after the Phantoms’ four-point weekend. “Coming close to second place is really important.”
In his sixth straight start, goaltender Chad Veltri’s hot hand continued as he stopped 20 shots. Stellar play in front of Veltri played a key role in the tight game.
“We’ve been battling injuries all year, guys have had to step up in different ways,” defenseman Liam Dennison said. “G [Cassaro] is a huge part of our team offensively and defensively.
“Yureps [Urup], ever since he’s come to our team, has been a great defenseman and a great guy off the ice,” Dennison said. “Both of those guys can step up into whatever role they are needed.”
Matthew Barnaby gave the Phantoms an early lead when he stripped a Gambler of the puck and scored on goaltender Ryan Ullan, who made 31 saves.
Austin Heidemann’s power-play goal late in the first period tied the game.
Midway through the third period, Murray was behind the net when the puck came near him. The 6-5 skater said he’s not sure how he got the puck past Ullan.
“He was a little out of place so I just tried to get it around the net as quick as possible,” Murray said. “It hit his skate or something — I couldn’t tell if it went straight in.”
Phantoms coach Brad Patterson said defenseman Jason Dobay, who was injured March 2, should be able to play next weekend. Defenseman Steve Holtz might be healthy enough to play in the March 22 game at Muskegon.
“Those guys wanted more minutes, they got them and they did something very well with them,” Patterson said of Cassaro and Urup. “We added Jeppe at a time when we were short D and he’s been phenomenal.
“I’m glad he was rewarded with a goal [Saturday], but he does so many things that people don’t notice,” Patterson said. “He’s been a calming influence and a huge asset in our room.”
Patterson said Cassaro has worked hard in rehab “to come back early.
“He was very good this weekend,” Patterson said. “It felt like each shift got better for him.”