The Lincoln Stars rolled into town the night after getting their first win, 2-1, in a shootout against Team USA U18. Goaltender Michael Bitzer made saves on 37 of 38 shots and both NTDP shooters. He would have to be perfect to beat the Phantoms and he was... until overtime. Sean Romeo, coming off a 3-1 loss against Indiana, would need to be equally perfect and did not disappoint the faithful. It's hard to write up a 1-0 overtime game, yet alone make it sound like an OT thriller. That is now my task at hand.

Calling this a goaltender battle doesn't give you the full scale of the evening, but let's start there. The Stars peppered 35 shots on Romeo through three scoreless periods while the Phantoms managed 28 without finding the twine behind Bitzer. The 4-on-4 overtime only lasted less than a minute, 0:48, and the Phantoms broke the scoreless tie to win it  on the first shot of the OT frame off the stick of JJ Piccinich. Much of the work on the goal has to be credited to Kyle Connor, who sprawled out on on the ice to stab the puck overt to Piccinich, who quickly settled the puck and ripped it past the Stars netminder. Lincoln defensman Daniel Willett made a good play on Connor but as the puck went to his defensive partner, Zach Frye, Connor dove to the ice in a desperate move to get the puck to the open Piccinich.

Both teams played strong on the defense as either team could have easily tallied 40 or more shots. Sticks, skates and limbs were all in the shooting lanes and blocking shots. And in the last streatch of regulation, Tyler Spezia offered up his face to block a shot from the slot in front of Romeo. This isn't something they teach. Lincoln was at their defensive best, boxing out and keeping the area in front of Bitzer clean. Bitzer himself was always set and square to the shooters. Romeo had slightly more work and rose to the challenge. The Phantoms were without defensman Alex Smith and I'm not sure if he was injured against hic old club, the Indiana Ice, the night before or not. In his place the 16 year old Steve Ruggiero got in the lineup for his first USHL game. The 6-3, 180+ pounder player did not look like a rookie in his first game by any means. He used his size very well and showed good mobility, being able to get back to break up odd man rushes. He'll be a kid guy to watch develop.

The Stars may have been able to produce more offense had they been more disciplined. 37 minutes on 13 penalties led to 9 Phantoms powerplays. The Phantoms woes on the man advantage continue however and they remained scoreless on all 9. This included a 5 minute major as Tom Marchin took a kneeing penalty in the second in a collision with Phantoms Tommy Parran. I can't honestly say I saw a definitive attempt to knee but my gut says it was a deliberate dirty play. I hate kneeing and slew-footing more than anything and Kyle Mackey got 4 games earlier this year for it so I'm curious to see how the league handles this one. Youngstown captain, Alfred Larsson, was ticketed for interference about a minute later and Ryan Shwalbe a high stick shortly after that. This gave Lincoln one of their 3 poweplays as a 4-on-3. The Phantoms must trust newcomer Lukas Klok a good deal already as he was on one of the 3-man penalty kill lines as the only defensman with two forwards. The game got a bit chippy for two teams that don't play each other much and the officials broke up a few altercations before they escalated, though a few jabs got thrown. I expected as much in the wake of the Dylan Chanter injury.

So the Phantoms manage to bounce back after a tough loss the night prior. Sean Romeo looks to have shaken all the rust off and was back to his old unshakable self. The only cloud I can find in the silver lining is the powerplay. 0 for 17 on the weekend, a lot of 5-on-3, including some last night. Yes, the Stars collapsed around their goalie and took away the shooting lanes but the Phantoms were just content to play catch behind the net. There was a tangible reluctance to take a shot through traffic due in part to the shot blocking skills of the Stars, but the Phantoms still did not get to the dirty areas enough. The Phantoms play next week on the road starting Friday in Cedar Rapids and then in Ann Arbor on Sunday. I may head to Ann Arbor to see the rematch against the U17 Team USA.

If there was anymore welcome of a sight to Phantoms fans than Sean Romeo in warmups, I don't know what it was. Last years workhorse goalie was back in action last night after missing the beginning of the season, as well as pre-season. Lukas Klok also made his North American debut. However, the Indiana Ice came in in the spoiler role and spoil they did.

It wasn't the most offensive minded tilt this year with less than 40 shots on net combined between the two clubs, despite a combined 14 powerplays. There was plenty of hitting. The bottom line for the Phantoms was 8 powerplays, 2 of which were 2 man advantages for more than a minute, and no goals on any of them. I'll quote coach Anthony Noreen from the official reacp since he said something that I've said for decades:

"...if you get two minute-plus 5-on-3’s – at this level or higher – and you don’t score, you don’t deserve to win the game.”

I'll one better that, if you have 8 chances with the man advantage and fail on all of them you probably deserve to lose. One of those 5-on-3 opportunities was a full 2:00 chance but with 0:31 left the Phantoms too a penalty for too many men on the ice. Mistakes like that are inexcusable.

The Ice manages a goal a period. Luke Stork scored the only Phantoms goal in the 3rd period. Trailing 2-0, Kyle Mackey sprung Keifer Sherwood on a quick up ice pass. Sherwood fed a beautiful cross ice pass to Stork who buried it on the one-timer. However the next shift defensman Truman Reed was called on a trip and the Ice capitalized on the subsequent powerplay. A few minutes later the Phantoms found themselves on their second failed 5-on-3, which really put the emphasis on the fact that this game was boiling down to who could capitalize on their opportunities.

The Phantoms came into the game with one of the most potent offense in the USHL. One of the biggest problems last night was getting that juggernaut rolling. There was an obvious lack of net front presence and none of the Youngstown players seemed to want to just take a shot and look for a rebound. There was a lot of passing behind the Ice net on the powerplays but very few attempts to turn it to the front. Maxim Letunov looked to be the guy to do just that in the early minutes, crashing the Indiana net and taking it to their goalie, Jason Pawloski. However, he ended up getting called on a slash for it. Pawloski was relatively untouched until later in the 3rd.

Another point I'd like to make is the play of captain Alfred Larsson. The second year Swedish forward hasn't produced offensively and is a -12 already this season. Lat night he coughed the puck up at his own blueline which lead to the first Ice goal. The Phantoms really need him to step up the play. I know the captain position was awarded by player vote but this isn't a league where honors like that are for show. We need to see that leadership on the ice.

The Phantoms take on the Lincoln Stars tonight. Amnesia is an art form in hockey. The guys need to forget last night and focus on tonight. Romeo needs to shake off the rust and the rest of the crew needs to work on getting to the dirty areas and capitalizing on powerplays.

Since family matters kept me from catching the webcast of the Indiana game, I'm combining this weekends recaps. I'll probably do this for a lot of road trip or home & away weeks. With the Phantoms struggling to keep puck out of their net and keep their cool, Friday's game was a welcome glimmer of relief on the horizon. The Chicago Steel are a team that looked to be struggling even worse and we started the weekend on home ice. The conundrum was weather to give Jake Moore some relief this weekend and play affiliate call-up, Colin DeAugustine, in abcentia Sean Romeo. Moore had played all 11 games starting in pre-season and it was quite evident he needed some rest. However, the Steel are a team hungry to establish an identity and, more importantly, win their first game. The question was weather they would chance that to a goalie who hasn't played a single USHL game and if so, could he handle it. The answers was "yes" to both and the later emphatically.

DeAugustine, who plays for the NAHL Johnstown Tomahawks, faced a few Steel shots early on including a Steel power play. He showed no sign of being nervous and looked sharp from the beginning to the end. Chicago may not have generated a lot of good chances but they put 27 shots on net and DeAugustine turned aside all 27. The Steel had over a minute of a two-man advantage on the power play and still failed to get one by the Phantoms goalie. The Covelli crowd may not have been large, but the rookie from Burgettstown, PA certainly got the faithful into a frenzy. He also had a few friends and family there too.