The Phantoms were back in action at the Covelli Center for a Friday tilt in a game you could argue was one of the biggest moments in the teams history. Last nights Penguins night featured a lot of great Pens alumni, the mascot Iceburgh and some sweet giveaways but the evenings fever was fueled by one thing, Lord Stanley's Cup. The holy chalice of hockey was on hand and the area fans turned out in response, 3,329 strong. With a record crowd and a tangible energy in the air, the Phantoms set to face off against the USA NTDP U18 squad. This was the fifth and final meeting between the two teams and going into the game the record was 2-1-1 in favor of USA. The U18's won in two meetings in Ann Arbor in weeks 1 and 3 before a back-to-back two weeks ago at the Covelli where we lost in a shootout before finally winning one. Many of the games have been physical, chippy and just plain ugly at moments, even going back to preseason there have been some confrontations. One of the more frequent names involved was Matt Tkachuk. This game would be one of those games.

The Phantoms would get off to a quick start. Bryan Lemos would make an absolutely superb aerial dump pass from inside the Phantoms defensive zone to the offensive zone to a rushing Taylor Best, who had managed to get around and beat Joseph Masonius to the puck and cut in on NTDP goaltender Michael Lackey. Best backhanded the puck five-hole on Lackey to put the Phantoms up a goal just 3:41 into the game. Matt Alvaro would find Kiefer Sherwood alone coming down the slot for another five-hole goal 3:26 later. The Phantoms kept the ball rolling and with Ryan Lomberg ending up in a big collision with ex-Phantoms Steve Ruggiero that sprung Max Letunov up ice with a little patience to wait for Lomberg to get back into the play to poke in a one-timer at the 13:30, ending the night for Lackey. With just 3:46 left in the frame, Josh Melnick banged home a lose puck off of a Lomberg shot past Luke Opilka, now in in relief of Lackey. However, USA would start the fight back just 0:37 later when Troy Terry managed to fight and get the puck behind the Phantoms net and put it out front for Christian Fischer to knock past Colin DeAugustine, making his first appearance in net in almost a month.

If the Phantoms loss Friday night to the NTDP U18 squad showed us that even a few moments lapse during a game can eliminate even a four goal lead in mere minutes then last night's game proved that working hard and sticking to your game for 60 minutes is a recipe for victory. The loss in the shootout must have left the Phantoms feeling they had to prove to themselves that they could beat this team after taking just 1 point in the first 3 meetings. To help fuel the fire, after a dismal crowd on Friday (742), the Covelli was rockin' with a official attendance of 2,015 for a combined promo night featuring scout night, the teddy bear toss and military appreciation night. The latter promo was highlighted by the Phantoms sporting some orange and purple camo pattern jerseys that looked absolutely ugly in that way that only truly awesome hockey jerseys can.

Not much changed overnight as far as rosters were concerned. Tommy Parran came off of suspension and was back in the mix, Lukas Craggs was a healthy scratch. Chris Birdsall got the nod again in net, his fifth straight start. I don't know if we're just riding a goalie with a hot streak going or if something is wrong with Colin DeAugustine. Team USA went with Michael Lackey in net to start. Once again the Phantoms would come out of the gate with a fury, this time scoring on the first shift with a Matt Miller shot rebounding off the boards behind Lackey and landing on the surefire stick of Kyle Connor. Connor, standing on the goal-line to Lackey's left, ripped the puck from a bad angle and past the NTDP netminder who was unable to get over quick enough to make the save and the rain of stuffed critters commenced just over a minute into the game. USA would tie it up about 8 minutes later unassisted on a rush up ice, firing from the bottom of the faceoff circle to Birdsall's left to tie it.

I'll just say this, the Phantoms can't seem to catch a break against this team. Last nights tilt went 65 Minutes plus a shootout but you can boil down the loss to a 3 minute lapse in the third and add insult to injury from Matthew Tkachuk which has my blood boiling, but I'll get to that later. All in all it was our best performance on the past couple seasons against the NTDP U18 kids, but we still left a point out there we could have had. Despite tweets from the USHL that coach Anthony Noreen was suspended, we had a full compliment of staff on the bench, including our sometimes wound too tight head coach. Carson Vance also returned giving us 6 dressed defenseman. And with Chris Birdsall facing Luke Opilka in net, the USHL's only 2 NHL CSS"B" ranked goalies would be dueling it out. Needless to say, it was an exciting game none the less.

The Phantoms started out the night flying. Trey Bradly would open the scoring just 2:15 into the game. Bryan Lemos would hit the young forward with a nice outlet pass coming up the middle of the ice. Bradley would fake a shot coming down the slot before shifting the puck to his backhand and roofing a beauty over the sprawling Opilka. Taylor best would find a loose puck in the low slot traffic jam and fire it home to make it 2-0 late in the frame. Bradley would add his second of the night and fourth in four games less than 2:00 into the second. The 3-0 score would carry into the third where Ryan Lomberg would tally his third shorthanded goal, wristing one past the USA netminder from the faceoff circle just 3:10 into the third frame.