Better defense, better offense, and a Ben Schoen hat trick earn the Phantoms their first win at home this season.Well, two home games in the books, and this time we recorded our first home win of the 20-21 season. These little milestones seem so much larger this year. This game was special in that we saw the return of some familiar names, including Ben Schoen, who's return to the ice was a week or so sooner than we anticipated. The question was if he would make an significant impact so soon after returning to the ice. Yeah, you know the answer to that. 

Facing the same opponent as the night before, the Muskegon Lumberjacks, the Phantoms needed to do two things different from Friday to get back in the win column - play better defense and play better offense. That's simple, right? Everything said, our defense wasn't that bad Friday, save for the amount of shots on net. The Phantoms showed they got that point in the first. The Phantoms held the 'Jacks to just 5 shots on goal, a huge improvement over the night before. However, the Phantoms only mustered 5 shots themselves and the first period ended with the same score as it started, 0s across the board.

The 'Jacks scored first, early in the second. On a powerplay that carried over from the first period, Christophe Tellier hit Dylan Wendt with a pass in the low slot. Wendt deflected the puck in through some traffic in front and trickling through Phantoms netminder Kyle Chauvette at 1:31. The Phantoms would respond late in the frame. Georgi Merkulov lugged the puck up ice deep into the Muskegon zone where he laid a pass back to Jack Malone in the right faceoff circle. Malone one-touch passed the puck to Cole Burtch on the other side of the ice for a  one time shot that the 'Jacks goalie, Christian Stoever, could not stop at 16:52. The 1-1 score held into the intermission with the shots 9-8 in favor of Muskegon in the middle frame.

The third saw the Jacks score early again to take the lead. Cameron Berg skated 1-on-4 into the Phantoms zone and sent a laser of a wrist shot from just inside the blueline that hit off the post stick-side and in, surprising Chauvette at 2:28. The Phantoms would tie it again after the 'Jacks took a pair of penalties just 6 seconds apart setting up a 5-on-3 powerplay. Ben Schoen got his first of the season, an attempted pass from the left faceoff circle back door to Merkulov that took a fortuitous deflection off a Muskegon skate and in the net at 11:40.

Schoen gave the Phantoms their first lead of the weekend, with Jack Malone getting the puck around a defender in the neutral zone and heading up the right side boards. Schoen jumped on for a 2-on-1. Malone laid a pass that Schoen scooped onto his stick and snapped it by a stretching and sliding Stoever at 14:00. However, Muskegon tied it with just :48 seconds left, their net empty and 6 skaters on the ice, most in front of Chauvette. Chauvette looked to have made a good save on a shot by Christophe Tellier but the puck trickled through and was somehow put behind the line in the chaos. Shots were 10-10 in the third period.

The Phantoms owned the ice in the 3-on-3 OT. Christian Stoever had to make a few really solid saves but it would come down to the final seconds for the Phantoms to win. With 'Jack defenseman Tyler Dunbar pinched down low in the Phantoms zone, Ben Schoen stripped the puck from the 'Jacks star forward Danil Gushchin and was off to the races with Jack Malone jumping in on a 2-on-1 with 'Jacks forward Christophe Fillion as the lone defender. Fillion did the right thing and limited Schoen's options, holding him to one side while preventing the pass to Malone. However, this was Ben Schoen looking for a hat trick in his first game of the season. Schoen had waited months to play, and he out-waited Stoever with a little stick deke that put Stoever down and another to get him to slide, letting Schoen slide it five hole with 3 seconds left in OT. Kyle Chauvette made a decent pair of saves in the frame. The Phantoms outshot the Lumberjacks 28-26, the first time we've outshot an opponent in a game this season.

There is still room for improvement, but between Schoen getting back into the lineup, a few more players returning, and whatever Coach Patterson sold them in the locker room, we saw a good improvement over the night before. Hopefully we'll see more next week as well.

So, it was $1 beer night, the first of the season. Last year, it was a wild, rambunctious promotion that injected a lot of energy into the building. However, this year with CovID-19 mitigation it needed to be tempered with some caution. Friday night was largely successful from a safety standpoint. Some YSU kids Saturday put things a step back. We saw a few security interdictions to enforce spacing and mask wearing. It reached it's head in the third when a large group was ejected, I believe after being told to make sure they had their masks up when they were cheering. Hey Pinkshorts, if you're reading this - and yes, that is what I am calling you - just pull the damn mask up. You can set one of those beers down, you don't need to hold 2 at all times. That's all they were asking, pull it up while you are shouting, which is spewing your noxious breath droplets all over. Don't cheer yourself heading out, you look like an idiot.

Okay, that aside, most of the 580 fans behaved and enjoyed themselves. They got to see a fantastic ending, Pinkshorts and his crew did not. It's hard for me to say what a good crowd is in these times but this weekend looked right to me. Seemed good for Ben Schoen, here one of his 2nd period goals for a highlight.

Ben Schoen finishes on a 2-on-1!