A pattern is starting to emerge with the Phantoms, a very bad pattern. That pattern is late third period goals against us. Last weekend we were ahead in both games with only a few minutes left and we gave up a point in the standings and let a conference rival get an extra point because of them. Last night it cost us at least a point on a night Youngstown played a gutsy game against a RoughRiders team that out matched us for a good portion of the night.
The Cedar Rapids team is returning a massive 15 players from last season. That kind of experience is invaluable, especially early in the USHL season. On the Phantoms side we have some injuries, suspensions and other scratches, depleting our already less experienced defensive squad. D-man Kyle Mackey served the second game of his suspension, he has two left. Alex Carle was scratched for his second straight game, injury related according to Bart Logan's tweet. Also scratched on defense was Blake Christensen. The Phantoms called up affiliate Carson Vance, a 1996 birth year who has 3 assists in 7 games for the Janesville Jets of the NAHL. Bobby Palzar warmed the bench again as Jake Moore's emergency backup in the absence of starter Sean Romeo.
The 'Riders experience showed in the first period as the held the Phantoms to just two shots on goal the whole frame while getting ten of their own. The defense and Moore did what they could to contain them but Andrew Oglevie, in his 3rd USHL season and 115th regular season game, scored the only goal of the period on a powerplay. After being stifled on offense so thoroughly in the first, the Phantoms came out with a good jump in the second. However, after a nice initial push Phantoms defensman Matt Miller got caught out of position and the 'Riders took a 2-0 lead just 2:25 into the period. With Miller backpedaling way too far to the middle of the ice near his own blueline, Andrew Poturalski hit and unabated Jason Kalinowski with a stretch pass going up the right wall. The Cedar Rapids forward went right around the Youngstown defense and in one-on-one with Moore. Moore looked to make the stop but The 'Riders forward plowed over the Phantoms goaltender and the puck somehow went over the line as the net was dislodged. The ref, who was in position to see it, deemed it a good goal.
The Phantoms responded quickly on a powerplay. Kyle Connor was denied on a shot but JJ Piccinich stuffed home the rebound to halve the deficit. Then with just under 5 minutes to go in the period the Phantoms evened it up, again with Connor leading the charge up ice. He managed to get the puck to Ryan Schwalbe who then passed it laterally over to Maxim Letunov who scored his 2nd goal of the season. The Phantoms managed to match the 'Riders in shot total for the period at eleven.
Cedar Rapids went back to smothering the Phantoms offense early in the 3rd and scored a little over 3 minutes into the final frame. 'Riders forward Nathan Widman took the puck behind the Phantoms cage and went for the wrap around shot. Moore seemed in control and made the initial pad save but the the rebound went back off the handle of Moore's stick and just inside the far post. Later in the period though, the Phantoms would tie it again when Kyle Connor came charging down the wing and started to make his way behind the net. He threw a pass to JJ Picchinich, who was hovering around the crease in front of the net, and Picchinich put it in the basket for his 5th of the season. Connor also picked up his 3rd assist of the night. The Phantoms held the fort and seemed to be heading towards overtime and a point in the standings. Unfortunately, this wasn't in the cards for them Friday night. Late in the period the 'Riders entered the Phantoms zone on a 2-on-2 after Alfred Larrson was stopped on a breakaway attempt the other way. Instead of making a move or a pass, Andrew Poturalski just took a shot on more from the circle and beat Moore with 1:14 left in the game and that was it.
So frustratingly close but yest so disappointingly far away. With less than a minute and a half, we gave up a goal that shouldn't have happened. There were far more chances for Cedar Rapids that could have gone in but Moore or the defense somehow kept it out. I would think that even getting a point in the standings with a regulation tie would have been an emotional victory for the team but now they go into Waterloo empty handed. What's worse is that there is no rest in sight for Moore. Very little has been mentioned about Romeo's injury and his name almost seems taboo from the official sources. The best note we got is that the injury is 'nagging' and I'm no doctor but that doesn't sound too descriptive. With no one being called up in earnest to give him a night off, he's had to shoulder the entire load, starting from preseason. It's hard to fault him on the last goal even though it seemed like a stoppable shot. He's faced a lot of rubber this year after playing in only 8 total games last season, 2 of those in relief. He's looked to get stronger every game despite the load. I guess tonight's game in Waterloo will show us how he and the rest of the team handle a loss like that and if last weekend was any indicator, it should be a good game at least.