YOUNGSTOWN, OH – After a lackluster performance Friday night, the Youngstown Phantoms (34-21-1-4, 73 points) bounced back in a big way Saturday night, shutting out the Sioux Falls Stampede 3-0 at the Covelli Centre.
“Night and day when you make a comparison to last night,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “We were frustrated after the game (last night) because we knew we could correct it. We knew we could be better in different areas, and those areas we were: we were simple, we moved our feet, we hunted pucks, and those were areas of our game last night I thought we were stagnant.”
Youngstown opened the scoring at 8:36 of the first period. Dalton Messina put home his own rebound for his ninth goal of the season, giving the Phantoms a 1-0 lead. “Dalton’s been great,” said Patterson. “He’s a leader by nature. He’s hard to play against. He chips in offensively.”
Sioux Falls almost tied the game a few minutes later while Messina was in the box for roughing, one of eight penalties that Phantoms had to kill on the night, but just as the puck started to trickle across the goal line, Youngstown netminder Christian Stoever reached out with his left glove and pulled it back, keeping the Phantoms in the lead. Stoever recorded 27 saves while recording his first shutout in the USHL. “It’s a great feeling to have when you can put either goalie in the net and know you’re going to get a (great) performance,” said Patterson. “I’m really happy for Christian he’s been battling really hard. It shows the work he’s put in. It shows the confidence our guys have in him when we needed him. Pivotal saves at pivotal times for us. I’m very, very happy for him.”
The Phantoms doubled their lead in the final minute of the second period. With Liam Robertson in the box for high sticking, the Phantoms got a clear down to the Sioux Falls end. Starting goaltender Alec Calvaruso (17 saves) stopped the puck behind his net, but Brett Murray came in from the strong side, stole the puck from Calvaruso, and wrapped it into the net before Calvaruso could get back into position. The shorthanded goal came with 30.4 seconds left in the second and gave Youngstown a 2-0 lead. The goal was Murray’s 40th, making him the first Phantoms to accrue 40 goals in a season as he continues to stretch out his ownership of the team record for most goals in a season. Calvaruso was shaken up on the play and would not return.
The final goal of the night came off the stick of Gianfranco Cassaro. Cassaro blasted a one-timer off the crossbar and in for his eight goal of the season, beating backup goaltender Jaxson Stauber (7 saves) at 16:06 of the third period.
The victory allowed Youngstown to gain ground on second place Chicago, who lost to Dubuque this evening, as well as keep pace with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Cedar Rapids downed the Anderson Cup-champion Tri-City Storm, and still have a game in hand on the Phantoms. Both teams are tied with 73 points as the season heads to its final week and trail Chicago by just one point.
Youngstown wraps up their regular season with a home-and-home series against the U17’s, starting in Plymouth Friday night before concluding the regular season at home on Saturday. Puck drop at USA Hockey Arena is scheduled for 7:00pm Eastern Friday night, and the game will be broadcast on HockeyTV.
By the Numbers
Shots – 27
Saves – 27
Power Play – 0/4
Penalty Kill – 8/8
Goals – Cassaro, Messina, Murray
Assists – Dobay, MacEachern, Malone, Needham