The Phantoms returned to the Covelli to kick of 2022. But with the new year comes a new wave of Covid virus issues. Last weekend it hit the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, who had to postpone a couple games while the Phantoms played somewhat shorthanded to finish out 2021. The good news for the Phantoms was players like Trey Taylor, Adam Ingram, and Ryan Alexander were cleared to play this week. The bad news is that Jaden Grant, Kyle Bettens, Bayard Hall, Kyle Chauvette, and several others were added to the list leaving the Phantoms scrambling to call up enough players to hold the game. The good news is that we managed to fill enough gaps and the 'Riders still had issues of their own. The result was a great game and a big win for the Phantoms.
It was the 'Riders who scored first. Martins Lavins nabbed his first of the season and USHL career at 11:04 of the first, throwing a harmless looking backhander at a sharp angle from the left faceoff circle. Owen Bartoszkiewicz seemed to have the post well defended, but the puck seemed to roll up off him and in as he lost his footing, falling backwards trying to handle it.
The Phantoms tied it later in the period on the power play. Trey Taylor danced around the 'Riders perimeter defense from the blueline to behind the goal where he threw no-look behind-the-back pass to Shane LaChance who fired a one-time cannon beating 'Riders netminder Geno Pichora. The Phantoms took the lead 1:14 later. Pichora went far out of his crease, almost between the face-off circles, to clear a dump-in away from the oncoming 2-on-1 Phantoms rush. The puck hit a body and instead went to the corner where Justin Varner retrieved it. Varner, without a second thought, threw the puck towards the crease and the back sliding Pichora, and the netminder's right skate deflected the puck into the net. Shots were 10-8 Phantoms in the first period.
The only other goal of the game came at 9:21 of the second. With a Phantoms penalty kill getting set to expire Adam Ingram took off on a breakaway, making a couple nice stick moves before shooting five hole on Pichora seconds after the Phantoms returned to full strength. Shots were 10-6 in the middle frame and 8-5 in the third in favor of the 'Riders but they never managed to crack Bartoszkiewicz again.
Well, it was certainly a fun game to watch. The Phantoms had players really step up to the plate. LaChance has really been playing good hockey lately and he finally got his second goal of the season, the first coming 10/30/21 when the 'Riders last came to Youngstown. Varner has been a little more visible on the scoresheet and improving week to week. His goal was a real mark of his hockey IQ. The fourth line was also an interesting story. Justin Stupka and Brandon Svoboda from the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite youth program and Skogen Schrott from the Florida Alliance, all '05 affiliates, were thrown together as a fourth line last night. While they didn't get a huge amount of icetime, they played well and had no fear getting into the mix in a sometimes chippy game.
Owen Bartoszkiewicz is suddenly the top netminder with Chauvette out for the weekend at least. This was his second straight start, he started in last Saturday's 3-2 OT loss in Muskegon. He played very well in that game and was equally up to the task last night, stopping 25 of 26 for a season best .962 SV% for his second USHL win and first at the Covelli, as well as earning points in consecutive starts.. With emergency backup, Justin Ennis from the Pens Elite 18U, only eligible if Bartoszkiewicz is unable to play, he has a new mantle of responsibility and seems to be ready to accept it. His only other appearance in back-to-back games was in October, coming in for half a game relief after starting an OT game the night before. Tonight's game will be a different story having to start both games with little chance of relief if he has a bad night but I have a feeling he'll handle it without much problem.
The other area that was a key was special teams. With so many players out some players had to play in situations they did not usually play and on lines that didn't get a lot of time to practice special teams. We were 1 for 5 on the PP and a perfect 5 for 5 on the PK. There is a chance to get a couple players back tonight, or so I've heard from sources. I'm not holding my breath but if we get a couple key players back, all the better.
It was a decent crowd, 1229 on hand for the fun. It really helps to get a win coming back from a long road trip when we can get a good crowd. Hopefully tonight has equal or better results both in the stands and on the ice. Until then, a have a few highlights to share.
Trey Taylor's sweet dish to Shane LaChance for a top-shelf one-timer!
Justin Varner's heads up, bank shot off the goalie!