I knew it would be an entertaining game when I sat down and saw Blake Christensen wearing the #25 jersey for Muskegon about a day after wearing #88 for the Phantoms. When the Lumberjacks come into town, throw out things like records and standings, winning or losing streaks, because neither team is going to care about that for at least 60 minutes. The focus will be all on winning in-game battles and the final score. You can also throw out old allegiances and Christensen was now the enemy. Also to keep the storyline interesting, F Keifer Sherwood and D Fredric Larsson were back in the lineup after injuries.
The 'Jacks didn't waste any time getting to work. On the first shift of the game, the Phantoms turned the puck over to Robbie DeMontis behind their own net. He put a beautiful pass out front to Matt Iacopelli, who was skating through the face-off circle and into the slot. Phantoms netminder Colin DeAugustine was unable to move laterally quick enough and the 'Jacks leading scorer ripped it right by him just 1:22 into the game. The Phantoms managed to regroup and take some of the momentum back quickly and started to get to work themselves. They managed to tie it up at the 13:03 mark of the first period when Josh Melnick took a shot coming down the right side with Zach Evancho skating to the net who deflected the puck past Muskegon's goalie, Jordan Uhelski. Maxim Letunov would put the Phantoms ahead just 0:18 later. Defensman Kyle Mackey managed to slip a shot in from the point and the rebound ended up at the feet of Letunov. The 17 year old Moscow, Russia native was facing away from the goalie but managed to chop the puck behind him on the backhand and past Uhelski. The Phantoms ended the period outshooting the 'Jacks 16-5
The Phantoms took the 2-1 advantage to the locker-room along with some momentum. A jovial Covelli crowd watched that all disappear quickly in the second. 2:19 into the period defensman Tommy Parran was whistled for a 'questionable' roughing penalty. The politically correct, official recap called it questionable, to me there was no question. I was watching the play and could see the action very clearly and there was nothing that could be considered roughing by this leagues standards, or in T-ball for that matter! To compound it, coach Noreen took an unsportsmanlike penalty for arguing a call that should have been argued. This gave Muskegon a 5-on3 PP for a full 2 minutes. 1:02 into the penalty the 'Jacks tied it when Blake Christensen beat his old team on a shot through traffic. That was as close as they would get to taking back the game though.
The Phantoms would score two PP goals a little over 3 minutes apart, both from the stick of Letunov. The first at the 9:05 mark of the period when Uhelski made a save on a JJ Piccinich shot from the right side. The puck came to the left post where Letunov was poised for the rebound and made no mistake. The rookie forward also made no mistake with the Phantoms back on the man advantage and Kyle Connor feed a beautiful pass from near the top of the faceoff circle, cross ice to the backdoor where Letunov again beat the Muskegon netminder at 12:14 to complete the hat trick. On the second PP the Phantoms changed things up and ran with 5 forwards and the puck handling was exceptional with a lot of give and go play to set up the pass. The Phantoms closed the period out, again out-shooting their opponent 12-8 and up by a deuce.
The 'Jacks weren't done yet though. They would get another PP goal from Cooper Marody at the 5:48 mark of the final frame to bring it to within a goal. Both teams played hard the rest of the game and Letunov has multiple chances to make it a four goal game but Uhelski and the 'Jacks defense shut the door. Fortunately, the DeAugustine and the Phantoms also committed to shutting down the opposing offense. The Phantoms got pucks in deep, good line changes and did all the little things you need to shut a team down. They played disciplined, smart hockey and turned aside Muskegons best efforts. The final blow came in the waning last minute with the 'Jacks trying to get control of the puck and get their netminder off the ice. After getting Uhelski off briefly they returned him for a faceoff just outside their blueline. The Phantoms got control in the Muskegon zone and eventually Ryan Schwalbe took the puck to the front of the net. Jacks defensman Robbie DeMontis, who is 3 days younger than Letunov, partly in desperation and partly out of frustration, hooked Shwalbe to put his team down a man with just 0:58 left. Muskegon would eventually get Uhelski off the ice for an extra attacker to even up the skaters but with 0:02 Kyle Connor put the last nail in the coffin with an empty net goal. The Jacks outshot the Phantoms 11-9 in the period but needed at least one more to get to OT.
It's the little things that made me the happiest - traffic in front of the net, contact with the opposing teams goalie, cutting down on turnovers at bluelines, etc. You start doing that and pucks start finding their way between bodies and past the opposing goalie. Maybe sometimes it isn't pretty or glamorous but there isn't a stat category for pretty goals. We also needed someone to add a little spark to get the fire going and that was undoubtedly Letunov. I'll downplay that he made the NHL Central Scouting Report along with a few other Phantoms since I think it's heap of garbage but if Maxim plays continues to play like this he'll definitely be someone to watch for in the NHL draft.
Now the next four games are on the road and the Phantoms won't be back at the Covelli until December 6th. Between Fasthockey being way too expensive for the crappy service and my work schedule, I'm not sure how much I'll be able to keep up with as far as games and recaps. I don't like giving recaps based off of radio, Pointstreak or Twitter. I don't want to go a couple weeks without content either so we'll see what I can manage. I hope to see another good crowd on the 6th for the Chicago Steel, who have reloaded like a boss since our last meeting. We're only a half game better than they are, which is the bottom of the East so it may be a desperate battle for 'not last' place. Until then drop me a line if you have any questions or want to contribute.