BLOOMINGTON, IL – In another back-and-forth affair, the Youngstown Phantoms (24-13-4-1, 53 points) scored with 21 seconds remaining in regulation to down the Bloomington Thunder 4-3 at US Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington on Thursday night.
“I wouldn’t say by any means that was the prettiest or the best that we’ve been,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “But when push came to shove we found a way to get it done.”
Bloomington jumped out to a 1-0 lead before the game was one minute old. Ben Mirageas scored his first career USHL goal just 26 seconds into the game to give the Thunder the 1-0 lead. Youngstown wouldn’t trail for long, as Evan Wisocky scored his fifth goal of the season just 35 seconds later at 1:02 to tie things up at 1.
A fortuitous bounce gave Youngstown their first lead of the night. Michael Karow fired a shot from the point that was kicked out of the crease by Bloomington netminder Gabriel Mollot-Hill (18 saves), but that rebound bounced off Chase Gresock’s skates and into the net. The goal was Gresock’s ninth of the season and gave the Phantoms a 2-1 lead at 3:44 of the second period. Karow ended up with three assists on the night. “At the offensive blue line, (Mike) has a great skill set,” said Patterson. “He gets more pucks through than a lot of “D” that we’ve had here in the past. He’s a backbone for us back there.”
Bloomington tied the game just over a minute later at 4:45 when Mitchell Chaffee beat Phantoms goaltender Ivan Kulbakov (21 saves) with a backhander over the glove for his seventh goal of the season.
Youngstown retook the lead late in the period. Nicolas Werbik skated unmolested across the hashmarks and beat Mollot-Hill with a backhander of his own to give the Phantoms a 3-2 lead at 18:04.
Taking their turn on the see-saw, Bloomington tied the game early in the third period. Failing to control a faceoff win on the penalty kill, Youngstown gave up a shot to Vlad Dzhioshvili. Kulbakov made the initial save, but the rebound went to Ethan Somoza who swept the puck around Kulbakov and in for his 11th goal of the year. Somoza’s goal tied the game at 3 just over two minutes into the third period.
A failed attempt to smother a puck by Mollot-Hill lead to the game-winning goal. With under 30 seconds left and Chaffee in the box, Karow blasted a shot from center point that was stopped by Mollot-Hill. The Bloomington goalkeeper tried to cover the rebound with his glove, but it squirted free to Alex Esposito. Esposito sent a backhanded pass to Werbik, who swept it through Mollot-Hill’s five-hole with 21 seconds remaining to give Youngstown a 4-3 lead. For Werbik, his second tally of the night was his team-leading 15th goal of the season and tied him for the league lead with seven game-winning goals. After going eight games without a goal, Werbik now has four in his last six outings. “(Nick) is a threat to score anywhere he touches the puck in zone,” said Patterson. “He doesn’t need a lot of time and space, he’s able to generate and make things happen.”
With the win, Youngstown now sits alone in third place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference with 53 points, two ahead of the idle Muskegon Lumberjacks and just one point behind the second-place Chicago Steel, however Muskegon has only played 40 games and Chicago 39 to Youngstown’s 42.
Youngstown and Bloomington wrap up their season series tomorrow night. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:05pm Eastern and broadcasts will be available on HockeyTV and WJBC.com.
By the Numbers
Shots – 22
Saves – 21
Power Play – 1/5
Penalty Kill – 4/5
Goals – Wisocky, Gresock, Werbik (2)
Assists – Ellis, A. Esposito, Karow (3), Norris (2)
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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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