YOUNGSTOWN, OH – Continuing their flair for the dramatic, the Youngstown Phantoms (21-12-4-1, 47 points) were forced to play bonus hockey for the fifth time in seven games. For the second game in a row, a shootout was required to determine a winner. Youngstown won the five-round shootout 2-1 to come out on the top side of a 4-3 score against the visiting Sioux Falls Stampede.
“I really liked our first 20 minutes. They had a pretty good push back there in the second,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “We traded chances there in the third. Disappointed in how the last five minutes played out. In the end of the day there’s a lot of resiliency in that group. Ivan (Kulbakov) does his thing and enables us to get those two points in the shootout, that’s huge.”
After both teams were held off the scoresheet in the first 40 minutes of play, the two sides combined for six goals in the third period. Youngstown outshot Sioux Falls 16-7 in those first two periods, including owning the first seven shots of the game.
Youngstown finally broke the ice with a power play goal at 3:01 of the third period. Coale Norris blasted a wrist shot from the left circle past Jeremy Swayman (30 saves) to give the Phantoms a 1-0 lead. The goal was Norris’ 12th of the year, tying him for the team lead with Austin Pooley. “Coale Norris has a great shot,” said Patterson. “We had a screen (in front of Swayman), that (goal) was a big time lift for our club.”
A minute-and-a-half later, Sioux Falls tied game at 1 with a power play goal of their own. Eric MacAdams had his initial shot blocked by Pooley, but MacAdams picked up his own rebound, stepped around Pooley, and beat Ivan Kulbakov (22 saves) glove side for his 10th goal of the year.
Youngstown regained the lead at 8:46. Pooley lost a faceoff, but Sioux Falls was unable to hold the puck in the zone and it was picked up by Eric Esposito. Esposito carried the puck through the neutral zone, beat the Sioux Falls defense down left wing to the net, and forced the puck past Swayman for his seventh goal of the year, giving the Phantoms a 2-1 lead. “Eric’s got a motor,” said Patterson. “Huge effort on his part. Last week he had a pretty dirty goal where he didn’t quit on a puck and made a diving effort at it. Tonight it was more his skill set shining through, he made a great play and a great goal.”
The Phantoms increased their lead to 3-1 at 13:02 off an amazing shot by Nicolas Werbik. Receiving a rocket pass from Steve Ruggiero, Werbik initially fumbled the puck in his skates. Werbik was able to get the puck into a shooting position, turned, and fired over the left shoulder of Swayman to extend the Phantoms’ lead. “I just tried to kick it to my stick and just keep focus on the net and just try to shoot it upstairs,” said Werbik. “I’m very happy it went in.” The goal, Werbik’s 12th, tied him for the team lead in goal scoring with Norris and Pooley, and was just his second goal in 11 games since returning from the World Junior “A” Challenge in December. “I was a little bit frustrated the last few games. I was trying not to think about it today and keep focused on very basic things,” said Werbik. “But like I said I’m very happy it went in.”
Sioux Falls cut into the deficit at 17:36 with another power play goal. A shot from the point by Jack Doremus was stopped by Kulbakov, but the rebound sat in the crease and Max Johnson was there to backhand it home for his eighth goal of the year.
With 1:17 left, Swayman was pulled for the extra attacker, and 24 seconds later Sioux Falls tied the game. Jack Becker took a wrist shot from the top of the left circle that found its way through Kulbakov’s five-hole with 53.8 seconds left to knot things up at 3. Kulbakov was screened on the play and never saw the shot come in. Neither team scored in overtime, and the game would head to a shootout.
In the shootout, Becker was stopped in the top of the first round. In the bottom of the first Max Ellis roofed a backhander over Swayman to give the Phantoms a 1-0 lead. After an unsuccessful second round for both sides, Jason O’Neill beat Kulbakov with a wrist shot to keep the game alive in the top of the third. After two saves for each goaltender, Alex Esposito stepped out for the bottom of the fifth round for the Phantoms. Esposito skated with speed and swung out to the right. Entering the zone and skating to the hashmarks, he let go a wrister that beat Swayman to his blocker side to seal the victory for the Phantoms.
Youngstown and Sioux Falls return to the ice Friday night to wrap up their two-game series. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05pm and broadcasts of the game will be available on YPHR and HockeyTV.
By the Numbers
Shots – 33
Saves – 22
Power Play – 1/4
Penalty Kill – 4/6
Goals – Norris, E. Esposito, Werbik
Assists – Mahalak, Pooley, Ruggiero, Wisocky
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Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 15th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2016-17. 30 players were chosen in the 2016 NHL Draft and more than 402 players on team rosters this season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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