Sunday afternoon games are sometimes hard for players and fans to get up the energy for. Couple that with both teams playing games the previous two evenings and you would expect a low key game on the ice. Then, add in the fact that it was Halloween and many people were busy with that (or a competing big NFL game) and you would expect the stands to be pretty low key as well. You'd be right on both accounts. With the defending champions and current league leading Chicago Steel coming to town, we were hoping the Phantoms could find a little sugar rush in their candy bags.
The Steel gave the Phantoms a treat early when the puck took an unexpected bounce off the side boards during a routine Phantoms dump in. As the Steel netminder, Gibson Homer, went behind the net to stop the puck, it instead took a hop towards the slot. Homer managed to dive back to the top of the crease to try to stop the puck, but Kyle Bettens came streaking in and got enough of the puck that it trickled through the floundering goaltender just 0:48 into the game.
The Phantoms held the momentum for most of the period, not really dominating but clearly keeping their pace just above the Steel. Kyle Chauvette, starting his second game in less than 24 hours, made several stellar saves as the period progressed. As the first neared it's end, Tyler Catalano dislodged the puck from the Steel's Michael Emerson following a dump in. The puck went straight to the stick of the Phantoms Grant Porter in the high slot, who wasted no time snapping home his first USHL goal with 0:38 left in the period. The Phantoms took the 2-0 lead to the intermission with the shots 10-9 in favor of Chicago.
The Phantoms controlled the second the same as the first, but weren't able to extend their lead until late in the second. Again, Kyle Chauvette making more than a few exceptional saves. It looked like the Phantoms would extend their lead to 3 when Stivan Sardarian tipped in a rebound off a Justin Varner shot at 16:56. However, Homer made the save with his mask which fell off as the puck was entering the net. The goal was disallowed but 0:12 after the ensuing offensive zone faceoff, Jaden Grant tipped a Chase Pietila shot from the point for the 3rd goal. Shots were even at 8 for both teams in the second and the score 3-0 after 40:00.
The Phantoms pushed the lead to 4 early in the third when Evan Werner carried the puck in on a two-on-one with Ryan Alexander. Werner hit Alexander, who dragged the puck for a split second as Homer committed to the shot, then fired home his 6th goal of the season at 1:56. Despite a few more big saves from Chauvette, the Steel spoiled the shutout bid late on a powerplay. Jackson Blake danced his way into the low slot and managed to feed the puck to Adam Fantilli who poked it in at 17:47 Justin Varner added the empty netter for the Phantoms and the final buzzer sounded with the score 5-1. Shots were 10-8 Phantoms in the third and 28-25 Phantoms for the game.
It might not have been the most exciting game, but the Phantoms had just enough left in the tank to coast to what looked like an easy win over a team that leads the USHL and has won the previous 2 Anderson Cups. That has to feel good for the Phantoms. After snapping the skid the night before, this was overall a really good weekend for the Phantoms, minus Friday's game which we still were in contention despite playing poorly for 40-45 minutes of the game. One of the big factors for the Phantoms was only giving up 2 powerplays the whole game. The Steel scored on one of those, but not wearing yourself out on the PK and not shooting your momentum in the foot certainly helped.
There were less than 300 fans in attendance last night, but the diehards got a real treat to finish a long weekend. Again, this wasn't unexpected but it was a little worse than I thought it would be. Next up is a road trip to Muskegon, the worst team in the league. But before that, here are some highlights.
Kyle Bettens must think it's Christmas not Halloween!
Grant Porter nets his first USHL Goal!
Werner to Alexander for a goal!