YOUNGSTOWN, OH – After allowing three goals in the first 9:25 of the game, the Youngstown Phantoms (8-5-2-0, 18 points) scored six unanswered goals to hand the United States National Team Development Program’s U18 squad its first USHL loss of the year 6-3 at the Covelli Centre Saturday night.
“I’d take the start nine times out of ten,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “Not the score line, but as far as how we were playing. That’s a big-time delivery from a lot of guys in that room tonight.”
Team USA opened the scoring with a power pay goal at 4:41 of the first period. Thomas Bordeleau snapped a wrist shot from the left circle past Dominic Basse (3 saves) for his seventh goal of the season in just six USHL games. Matthew Beniers scored on a shorthanded breakaway at 8:48 to double the USA lead, Chase Yoder scored on the breakaway as well just 37 seconds later, and before the first period was halfway over, the Phantoms were down 3-0.
After allowing three goals on the first six shots, Patterson called timeout and pulled Basse in favor of Colin Purcell (16 saves). “It wasn’t that Dom was bad, two breakaway goals, sure you’d like a stop, but at the end of the day you can’t give up breakaways. It was more about ‘hey, let’s hit the reset button and get someone in with a fresh set of mind. More about taking a breath at the bench. I thought the guys regrouped well.”
Youngstown broke on the scoresheet just under four minutes later. Arseni Smekhnov carried the puck down the right-wing wall for the Phantoms, defended by Jake Sanderson for Team USA. As the pair approached the USA line, Sanderson tripped over a broken stick, allowing Smekhnov to step into the right circle unimpeded. Smekhnov used the time and space to pick his spot and snap a wrister past Drew Commesso (24 saves) for his fifth goal of the year, cutting the USA lead to 3-1.
The Phantoms won the ensuing faceoff and forced play back into the USA end. From behind the net, Smekhnov found newcomer Georgi Merkulov between the circles. Merkulov performed a little toe drag to his right and snapped a wrister into the twine just 10 seconds after Smekhnov’s goal. Suddenly the Phantoms had cut the USA lead to 3-2. Merkulov recorded a goal and an assist in his USHL debut. “I thought (Georgi) was great,” said Patterson. “Moved his feet, he was hard on pucks. He’s been here for a week and a half, just kind of thrown him in the fire for the first game and he shows that he’s played at a level like this before. He’s composed with the puck, makes people around him better. I think he was a big-time add.”
Youngstown knotted the game up with a power play goal from John Beaton at 15:57. Defenseman Jayson Dobay had the puck at center point and passed to Merkulov on the left wing. Merkulov quickly fired through the box to Beaton who one-timed it home for his fourth of the season, leveling the game at 3-3.
The Phantoms grabbed their first lead just past the halfway point of the second period. Jake Suede forced a turnover behind the USA net and the puck trickled to Bradley Marek. Marek floated above the goal line then rifled a backhander over Commesso’s shoulder for his first goal as a Phantom, giving Youngstown a 4-3 lead.
Just as a penalty expired early in the third period, Josh DeLuca carried a puck up ice for the Phantoms, creating a 3-on-1 rush. DeLuca tried to find Reilly Funk crashing the far post, but Funk couldn’t cash in and the puck settled behind Commesso in the blue paint. Beaton came crashing into the crease and poked the rebound across the goal line, increasing the Youngstown lead to 5-3.
Youngstown tacked on one more just under ten minutes later. Aiden Gallacher kept a bouncing puck in the zone and backhanded in down low to Funk. Funk centered for Trevor Kuntar, Kuntar shot and was stopped by Commesso, but the rebound bounced right to Funk who deposited it into the net for his sixth of the season.
The Phantoms continue their four-game homestand tomorrow evening with a matchup against the Des Moines Buccaneers. Des Moines will be playing their third game in three days, losing 4-2 to the U18’s on Friday and a victory over Muskegon 3-1 Saturday night. It’s Princesses and Pirates night at the Covelli Centre, also featuring free admission for kids 12-and-underPuck drop is scheduled for 5:05pm Eastern and the game will be broadcast on HockeyTV and Western Reserve Radio.
By the Numbers
Shots – 30
Saves – Basse: 3, Purcell: 16
Power Play – 1/5
Penalty Kill – 4/5
Goals – Beaton (2), Funk, Marek, Merkulov, Smekhnov
Assists – Dahm, DeLuca, Dobay, Funk, Gallacher (2), Kuntar, Merkulov, Morrow, Smekhnov, Suede