The second week of USHL action is in the books and the Phantoms put a pair of marks in the win column. Granted it was the U17 NTDP squad but the Phantoms looked impressive despite some mounting injury problems. Noah Lalonde and Garrett hall are both still sidelined and now team captain Tommy Apap missed the trip with an injury. Also, in addition to the injuries, Eric Esposito did end up with a 2 game suspension for the altercation with Brady Tkachuk from the previous game. This meant Sam Craggs finally got to see some ice time in a regular season game and affiliate Jack Malone got some USHL action early in the season.
Defenseman Marcus Joseph got things going for Youngstown on Friday. Just coming out of the penalty box and getting into the play, and with the Phantoms still with a man in the box, he took advantage of a Bode Wilde fumble on the blueline and took the puck up ice and slid a shot five-hole on USA netminder Keegan Karki 6:47 in. A little over halfway through the first USA failed to clear seveal times and Sam Craggs had a grade A chance go off the post and back out in front for Austin Pooley to pop in to make it 2-0. With 1:17 left in the frame, Evan Wisocky took a pass from Alex Esposito in the slot and despite a USA defender getting a stick on it, the puck found it's way behind Karki. Shots in the first period were 16-6 Phantoms.
The Phantoms went back to work in the second after USA almost got on the board, Joel Farabee being denied a shot by an agressive Ivan Kulbakov and the Phantoms defense clearing a puck laying still behind their netminders back. On an offensive zone faceoff, Pooley tied up his man and Chase Gresock moved in from the wing to grab the puck in the circle and snapped it passed Karki to make it 4-0. The NTDP would get on the boards a few minutes later with 5:08 left in the frame when defenseman Mattias Samulesson would get a rebound in the slot off a Farabee shot and burried it behind Kulbakov. Pooley would get it back with his second of the night with 1:11 in the second, firing a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Shots in the second were 11-4 in favor of the Phantoms, the NTDP did not register a shot on Kulbakov for the first 14:05 of the period. Coale Norris scored the only goal of the final frame when Jack DeBoer failed to clear the puck on a weak attempt and put it on Norris's stick and Norris launched a missile from near the blueline to add insult to injury. The final score was 6-1, shots in the 3rd were 14-7 Youngstown and 39-17 in the game.
Saturday's game started a little more even. Alex Esposito got us on the board ripping a shot from the right faceoff circle past NTDP goaltender Ryan Ullan on a powerplay 7:51 into the first. Brett Murray would center one from the corner to the slot for Nicholas Werbik to make it 2-0 with 5:56 in the opening frame. The Phantoms would take a 2-0 lead to the lockers with shots only 8-7 in our favor. Things would get massively lopsided again after that though.
Just 0:18 into the second Brett Murray would get a fortuitous bound in the slot and made no mistake slamming one home for his first USHL goal. Less than 2:00 later, Alex Esposito would dig the puck out from behind the NTDP net and center for Brad Cocca parked just atop the crease who made it 3-0. Curtis Hall would pick the puck up off the NTDP halfboards and laid a nice pass to the high slot for Jack Malone, an affiliate with no name on his jersey, to put into the far side, top corner of a flailing Ullan at 3:11 of the second. USA took their timeout to regroup. The Phantoms would not let up though. Despite the NTDP getting a big penalty kill the Phantoms would keep the pressure on and kept them pinned into their own zone on an extended shift. Ty Emberson made a weak clearing attempt that Chase Gresock was able to snag downnear the top of the left faceoff circle and send a pass to Austin Pooley parked off the right goal post for an easy goal at 9:29 of the second. Max Ellis would capp off a 5 goal frame with his first regular season USHL goal on a powerplay, launching one to the far top corner from near the blueline that went around a lot of traffic in front of Ullan ar 13:33. Shots were 17-5 Phantoms in the second period.
John Gruden would break the shutout for Phantoms netminder Darion Hanson when, despite being tripped on the play crossing the blueline and a delayed penalty siuation, when Joel Farabee followd dug the puck out of a couple Phantom defenders in the high slot area. Gruden got himself up and took a pass from Farabee and ripped it past Hanson. That was the extent of the comeback, USA managing to outshoot the Phantoms 13-6 in the frame but the final was 7-1. Shots in the game were 31-25 Phantoms.
This weekend showed a lot of improvement over last Saturday's game, albeit against the U17s opposed to the U18s. The most impressive part, especially the second night, was the attack zone dominance and the ability to keep pucks in the attack zone. We stopped so many clearing attempts short of making it past the blueline and were able to hem the puck in the attack zone. This put the pressure on their defense and netminders and took the pressure off of ours. I'm sure Darion Hanson appreciated it after last weeks game. Ivan Kulbakov was aggressive and solid in net on Frday as well. Brad Cocca really stood out as a player who is getting better each game. No one on defense really stood out and I consider that a good thing, it means a lot less mistakes were made. With Tommy Apap out Eric Esposito and Austin Pooley seemed to get more ice time and both are turning into dominant players, especially Pooley who is tied for first in the leage for goals scored and second for total points in the early season race. That's a nice boost from a guy more noted for defense. With 3 games played in the season he's equaled his total goals scored for last season and halfway to his best USHL season mark. Our PK was 9 for 9 on the weekend and scoring a short handed goal plus after going 0 for 5 the prior night, we scored 2 goals on 4 powerplays Saturday so our special teams looks to be improving. We're also top of the league in total goals scored with 16. On the downside, talented young forward Griffin Lougren took a late high stick in Friday's game and did not play on Saturday. We'll see how that plays out.
And best of all, we're at home next weekend. Home openers are always a good lift for the team if you start out with a couple road weekends. It'll also be our first test against a regular USHL team, the Madison Capitols. Apparently Friday is also Sparky's last game as the mascot is retiring. I'm hoping to see a bigger than usual home crowd this year to kick the season off. I had some difficulties getting decent highlights, I need a new phone. I'm waiting to see how the LG V20 looks. Until next week, here's the ones I did get.
Edit: Removed incorrect information about our PK % and corrected spelling errors.
Sam Craggs hits the post, Austin Pooley finishes it.
Brad Cocca to Alex Esposito to Evan Wisockey for a goal.
Coale Norris unassisted.
Alex Esposito on the powerplay.