GENEVA, IL – Putting up their highest offensive total since October, the Youngstown Phantoms (23-13-4-1, 51 points) downed the Chicago Steel 5-1 Saturday night at the Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva, Illinois.
“It was a 60-minute effort,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “From Ivan Kulbakov on out, I thought it was a great performance on the weekend.”
Youngstown opened the scoring just 4:54 into the game. Austin Pooley redirected a Michael Karow shot past Chicago starting netminder Peter Thome (10 saves) to give the Phantoms the 1-0 lead. The goal was Pooley’s team-leading 14th of the season.
Youngstown’s offense exploded for three goals in the second period. Max Ellis scored his second goal in as many nights at 3:41. Nicolas Werbik made it 3-0 when he tallied his 13th marker of the year with a power play goal at 11:09, causing Chicago Head Coach Dan Muse to yank Thome and send Ales Stezka (11 saves) between the pipes. Karow greeted Stezka rudely, firing a puck off the end wall so hard that it bounced off the boards, off Stezka, and into the net at 12:32 to give Youngstown a commanding 4-0 lead.
The Phantoms stretched their lead to 5-0 at 9:34 of the third period. Eric Esposito made a beautiful pass to his brother Alex, who tipped it home for his 11th goal of the season and first marker since December 27 (12 games). “It was exciting to see (the Esposito brothers) play together this weekend,” said Patterson. “I thought they created a lot of energy for us."
Jack Badini broke up Ivan Kulbakov’s (23 saves) shutout bid at 15:23, redirecting a shot from the point past Kulbakov for his 19th goal of the season. The goal was initially waved off, but after the officials huddled the call on the ice was overturned. “(Ivan) is always the backbone of our team,” praised Patterson. “He’s a competitor.”
The win brought Youngstown within three points of second-place Chicago and put them seven points clear of the fifth-place Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. The Phantoms remain tied for third with the Muskegon Lumberjacks, but Muskegon has a game in hand.
Youngstown returns to Illinois next Thursday and Friday, but a few hours to the south as they’ll be taking on the Bloomington Thunder. Puck drop both nights is scheduled for 8:05pm Eastern and broadcasts will be available on HockeyTV and WJBC 1230AM out of Bloomington.
By the Numbers
Shots – 26
Saves – 23
Power Play – 1/4
Penalty Kill – 5/5
Goals – Pooley, Ellis, Werbik, Karow, A. Esposito
Assists – A. Esposito, E. Esposito (2), Karow, Mahalak, Moise, Pooley
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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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