Same old story - the Phantoms fail to win a game they at least had a good chance to win. After a valiant effort to tie the game up twice, a bad penalty at the end of the 3rd period sets up a quick exit in OT, just 0:10 into the frame. Colin DeAugustine, sporting a name on his jersey for the first time in front of the Covelli crowd, made a ton of excellent saves but the first shot of the OT eluded him.

The Steel opened the scoring in the first wit Alec Vanko getting open on the back door of a Chicago powerplay. With less than 4 minutes to go, they made it 2-0 on a Robbie Payne re-direction from the point. Then in the second, the Phantoms began their push and ties it up on a pair of JJ Piccinich goals. The first came on a 4-on3 powerplay where Piccinich put home a rebound shot off a Kyle Connor shot. Just over 5 minutes later he knotted it up at 2 a piece on another Kyle Connor assist, this time Connor drawing all the attention to himself on an awesome up-ice rush and, with the Steel defense falling over themselves to keep up with him, made a sharp cross-crease pass to Piccinich for the goal The Steel wouldn't stay down though and tied it up with less than 2 minutes in the 2nd on a Connor Yau goal powerplay goal.

The Phantoms played hard in the 3rd and just over the halfway mark of the period Kyle Connor tied it up on a wicked wrist shot that eluded Chicago's netminder, Chris Nell. The two teams would battle it out for most of the rest of the period. The Phantoms would have one powerplay opportunity during the stretch but failed to capitalize on it, going 1 for 8 on the night. As the clock was winding down to the final few minutes and looking like OT, the Phantoms made one final mistake. With the puck going around the boards behind the Phantoms net, Connor Lemirande checked and pinned a Steel skater to the boards after the puck went by. This elicited a 2 minute interference minor with just 1:45 left. The Phantoms killed the regulation penalty time and went into OT with just 0:15 of the penalty to carry-over and the Steel tallied the 3rd PP marker of the game on their 5th pp opportunity. 

That's it. Just a point in the standings and a lot of hard work down the drain. It's getting too late in the season to look at the single point as a positive. Not against the only conference rival worse than you in the standings. The Phantoms need to find the discipline and will to stop blowing it late in games. We're facing the U18 NTDP team tonight, we need to step it up a notch and come out dominating early. We need physicality combined with discipline for 60 minutes.

 

I knew it would be an entertaining game when I sat down and saw Blake Christensen wearing the #25 jersey for Muskegon about a day after wearing #88 for the Phantoms. When the Lumberjacks come into town, throw out things like records and standings, winning or losing streaks, because neither team is going to care about that for at least 60 minutes. The focus will be all on winning in-game battles and the final score. You can also throw out old allegiances and Christensen was now the enemy. Also to keep the storyline interesting, F Keifer Sherwood and D Fredric Larsson were back in the lineup after injuries.

The 'Jacks didn't waste any time getting to work. On the first shift of the game, the Phantoms turned the puck over to Robbie DeMontis behind their own net. He put a beautiful pass out front to Matt Iacopelli, who was skating through the face-off circle and into the slot. Phantoms netminder Colin DeAugustine was unable to move laterally quick enough and the 'Jacks leading scorer ripped it right by him just 1:22 into the game. The Phantoms managed to regroup and take some of the momentum back quickly and started to get to work themselves. They managed to tie it up at the 13:03 mark of the first period when Josh Melnick took a shot coming down the right side with Zach Evancho skating to the net who deflected the puck past Muskegon's goalie, Jordan Uhelski. Maxim Letunov would put the Phantoms ahead just 0:18 later. Defensman Kyle Mackey managed to slip a shot in from the point and the rebound ended up at the feet of Letunov. The 17 year old Moscow, Russia native was facing away from the goalie but managed to chop the puck behind him on the backhand and past Uhelski. The Phantoms ended the period outshooting the 'Jacks 16-5

The Phantoms took the 2-1 advantage to the locker-room along with some momentum. A jovial Covelli crowd watched that all disappear quickly in the second. 2:19 into the period defensman Tommy Parran was whistled for a 'questionable' roughing penalty. The politically correct, official recap called it questionable, to me there was no question. I was watching the play and could see the action very clearly and there was nothing that could be considered roughing by this leagues standards, or in T-ball for that matter! To compound it, coach Noreen took an unsportsmanlike penalty for arguing a call that should have been argued. This gave Muskegon a 5-on3 PP for a full 2 minutes. 1:02 into the penalty the 'Jacks tied it when Blake Christensen beat his old team on a shot through traffic. That was as close as they would get to taking back the game though.

Another late recap, I suppose you're getting used to that. Saturday's game was a hard one to describe. If you're a glass half full type person you saw two of the best periods of hockey the Covelli has seen in a while. The glass half empty camp saw how a bad first period lead to a loss despite throwing everything and then some at the Fargo Force's net in the second and third. Both sides are correct.

Coming off a win where we let the Force come back to force (pun intended) a shootout the question was who would have the momentum going into the tilt on Saturday. The answer was evident at the beginning of the game that it was Fargo. The Force scored just a second shy of the 2 minute mark and tallied for goals before the first period buzzed sounded. John Baiocco, Andrew McDonald, Garrick Grey and Aaron Herdt all got a goal and most of them were from screens, deflections and rebounds. Net front presence was the key. Fargo outshot the Phantoms 14-10 but the score was a much better indicator of the Forces domination of the period, especially attack zone time.

The Phantoms came out a different team in the second. Defenseman Steven Ruggerio took an early slashing penalty but his teammates killed most of it and Fargo's Christopher Buchanan evened things up with just 0:03 left. Luke Stork won the faceoff and with Ruggerio racing to the bench from the penalty box and, I believe but am not certain, Conor Lemirande jumped into the play and stormed to the net. Stork fired a shot and the Force's goalie, Brendan Jensen, made the initial save but the rebound landed on the stick of Ryan Schwalbe who buried the shot and cu the deficit to 3. The Phantoms would outshoot Fargo 20-4 in the frame but still trailed by 3 going into the 3rd.

The Phantoms kept their foot on the gas pedal in the 3rd. A slew of penalties at the end of the 2nd lead to a 4-on-3 powerplay for the Phantoms. Tyler Spezia's rebound came out to Luke Stork and the 2nd year Phantom cut the lead to 2 with 19:29 left to play. The Phatoms would go on to outshoot the Force 19-5 in the final period and with 1:05 left in the game Tommy Parran entered the zone with the puck and made a cross ice dump to the right of the Fargo net. The puck bounced out to JJ Piccinich, who was on the ice as the extra attacker with the Phantoms netminder, Colin DeAugustine, pulled for the extra attacker. Piccinich shot the puck off the hop from the boards and Maxim Letunov deflected the shot passed Jensen to bring the score to within a goal. But despite multiple good scoring opportunities, the Phantoms were unable to get the tying goal past Jensen, who was undeniably the reason the Force held on to win.

DeAugustine played well. I couldn't find much fault of his with the early goals, he had too much traffic in front of him. If the Phantoms had played the first 20 minutes like they did the second 40 minutes they would have easily defeated any team in the league. I don't want to make excuses about missing key players since we had almost the same lineup as the night before. The only difference was Steve Ruggerio replacing Alex Smith who was suspended for 1 game, I assume for a checking from behind penalty the night before. I don't think that made any difference. The Phantoms may have been able to score more had they generated more traffic in front of Jensen. We eventually outshot them 49-23 overall and 39-9 after the first period. A lot of those shots, especially through the first 2 periods were straight on with Jensen able to see them all the way. This has been an issue over the beginning of the season and I hope the success the Phantoms had later in the game serves as a lesson that getting guys in the dirty areas is a recipe for cooking up goals.

If anything, it was an entertaining game and an entertaining weekend. Both teams played hard and showed a good brand of hockey, win or lose. If you can't appreciate that then I feel sorry for you. I hope we can see some more of that the upcoming weekend against Muskegon.