A win in Ann Arbor is a rare feat for the Phantoms. Prior to last nights game I'd been to the Ice Cube four time and seen four losses. In fact, I had to go back to the 12/13 season to find a game we won. One game in the past two seasons was it. One out of the past nine games including this years season opener. I don't care how old these kids are, it's still hard to win in Ann Arbor. Last night was the fifth time I made the trip up and last night I was well rewarded. Yes Phantoms Phans, we won! This despite a delayed start. We got to the A2Ice3 box office only to be told the teams bus had broke down and the game was pushed back an hour. Hey, it gave us a little time to take a fruitless quest around the city for some Tim Horton's... but that's another story.
The Phantoms had an "at least we made it!" attitude when they hit the ice for warm-ups and Chris Birdsall got the start, his first in the regular season as a Phantoms. The first period was a scoreless one and more or less even. There was a little bit of feeling each other out and the late start may have dampened both teams emotions. The Phantoms may have taken their opponents a little lightly to start but after the U17s gained a little confidence by winning a couple physical battles, we quickly became serious. Both Birdsall and the USA goalie, Joseph Woll, were tested and both made good saves to keep the first scoreless.
The shutouts ended pretty quickly in the second, Birdsall's just 0:17 into the frame. The NTDP's William Lockwood was left alone and was able to step into a pass from Grahm McPhee in the bottom of the faceoff circle just to the left of Birdsall. Lockwood one-timer slap-shot overpowered the Phantoms netminder. The Phantoms quickly responded as Tommy Parran picked up a USA turnover just inside the USA blueline and wristed a shot through traffic that eluded Woll. Just over a minute later, Bryan Lemos would put the Phantoms ahead with his first USHL goal. Trey Bradly got a shot onto the net and Woll gave up a rebound out front and the Phantoms rookie winger did not hesitate to put the puck in the back of the net. The Phantoms notched the third and eventually game winning goal on the powerplay just over the half-way point of the period just after Chris Birdsall made the save of the game. USA forward James Sanchez sprawled out for a sweeping poke check that cleared the puck back just outside the Phantom's blueline where Keeghan Howdeshell scooped it up for a clean breakaway and with only Josh Melnick between him and another USA attacker. Howdeshell tried a little stick coming across from Birdsall's left to right but the Phantoms goalie made a great save. Kiefer Sherwood would eventually get the puck back and head up ice, feeding the puck to Kevin Conley who wristed one by Woll to make it 3-1.
Woll would go on to make a great stand-up save on a Kyle Conner breakaway and the NTDP would cut the lead by half with just about two minutes to go in the 2nd when Lockwood would make a nice behind the backpass to hit a trailing Clayton Keller who put it past Birdsall. That was it though as the Phantoms would add two insurance markers in the third. The first was off the stick of Josh Melnick who took a weak clearing attempt by USA just outside the USA blueline. He Somehow managed to time it so he was onside and caught the U17s flatfooted and skating backwards. He weaved through them and roofed a nifty backhand behind the far-side corner bar for his first of the at the 13:27 mark. Any hopes of a comeback for the U17s was quashed by Ryan Lomberg with 1:21 left. Lomberg had quite a few prime scoring chances including a couple breakaways earlier. He would make his third chance by sending Taylor Best up ice with a nice outlet pass coming out of the Phantoms zone. Best would draw a defender to him crossing the USA blueline as Lomberg tore up ice eventually overtaking the man covering him, Graham McPhee. Best laid a nice cross ice dish to Lomberg who was now well in front of McPhee and barreled in on Woll. Woll would make the initial save but McPhee could not stop short and steamrolled his own netminder, knocking the puck across the line and rewarding a very deserved Lomberg with a goal.
Lomberg's goal would cap the night off. The Phantoms out-shot the U17 sqaud 31-22 and pretty much dominated the game after the first USA goal. Lomberg was undoubtedly the best offensive player and realy stands out as a team catalyst. I guess this is why his jersey was sporing a nice large letter "C" on it, as it looks like he's our captain for now. Kyle Connor and Kiefer Sherwood wore the assistants "A" as well. Tommy Parran's goal was no surprise either, he seems to have developed a shoot at any chance attitude and I like to see pucks coming in from the blueline. Chris Birdsall looked solid and made a lot of good saves.
This takes us to the game in Bloomington tonight. It'll be interesting to see this new team in action, albeit only on Fasthockey. This is our first non-NTDP game of the season. Then we're back in Ann Arbor next Friday against the U18s before coning back for the home opener against Bloomington.
Josh Melnick shreds the defense and roofs a backhander
Ryan Lomberg breaks in on the goalie (and gets a little help)