The second game of the USHL Fall Classic went quite a bit different for the Phantoms. Some minor changes to the lineup and some tweaks to the game plan, and the game against Tri-City looked like night and day over the previous game against Cedar Rapids, earning the Phantoms their first regular season win in Cranberry. (Which actually goes back to an Oct. 10th, 2015 loss to Chicago)
The first frame was pretty even, the Storm holding a slight edge in shots, 12-9, but neither team cracked the others force field in goal. The Phantoms struck early in the second on the powerplay. An Aiden Gallacher point shot on Storm netminder Joe Sharib left a rebound in the crease, giving multiple Phantoms second chance shots, and Arseni Smekhnov put in home at 2:35 of the second. A few minutes later, Trevor Kuntar was next to take advantage of a rebound from a Gallacher shot. After the defenseman drove into the right faceoff circle leading the rush and got a nice shot on Sharib, Kuntar swooped in and whipped in the second goal of the night at 5:14.
The Phantoms took a 3-0 lead before the Storm really even started to push back. On the powerplay once again, Matthew Cassidy carried the puck up the left wing boards. Josh DeLuca got behind Storm defenseman Calvin Dybicz, and Cassidy laid an aerial saucer pass right to the tape of DeLuca's stick. DeLuca had just enough time and space to drag the puck to his forehand and net the first true highlight reel goal of the season at 9:01
The Storm would add a pair to make it interesting going into the third. Benji Eckerle threw a shot from the point with another Storm player skating in front of Colin Purcell. The obstructing forward did not get a stick on it but may have screened or distracted Purcell. In any event, the goal was the first of the season on Purcell at 11:04. Later, a failed clear on the Phantoms penalty kill lead to a shot on goal that Purcell sprawled out to make the save. He was unable to get back into position and in the chaos, Colby Ambrosio put in the Storm's second at 14:34. Shots were 12-12 in the second period.
The Storm were within a goal, but the Phantoms owned the third frame, starting with another Trevor Kuntar goal. Jayson Dobay put a pass from the point into the middle slot for Reilly Funk. Funk attempted to move the puck to the other point but the pass was tipped. However, the puck seemed to find it's way to the stick of Kuntar, who wheeled around on the backhand to roof a spectacular goal just 1:16 into the period.
Smekhnov tallied his second of the year, a laser shot on the rush at 9:11 of the third. The Storm never found enough traction to get back in the game. Head Coach Anthony Noreen never even attempted to pull the goaltender, electing to take a 3 goal loss. Shots in the period were 12-9 Phantoms making the shot total an even 33 a side.
So that was what we wanted to see. The Phantoms looked a lot more ready to start the game and took the momentum early. Even when the Storm pushed back in the second, the Phantoms went right back to work in the third. And a pair of goals from Arseni Smekhnov is a great sign for this team. He only had 1 goal and 2 assists in 49 games last season. Getting secondary scoring from a player like him could be a huge lift for this team.
Purcell seemed to play well for his first USHL action. With the team more ready in front of him than with Basse, I won't make any conclusions to who is the number one netminder. With the possibility of seeing Dorr in Youngstown, I'm very interested in seeing how this goaltending situation plays out.
Tomorrow is the home opener. We'll see how well rested the team is after playing two games in Cranberry. The Capitals will be in the same shape so it evens out I guess. I'd like to see a good crowd to start us off. Now, some highlights.
Matthew Cassidy saucers a pass to Josh DeLuca for an amazing goal!
Trevor Kuntar spins for a wicked backhander!
Arseni Smekhnov with the laser!