YOUNGSTOWN, OH – Josh DeLuca’s fluttering shot didn’t have a lot on it, but he put it in the right place. DeLuca’s shot hit the heel of his stick, but floated over the left shoulder of Ryan Ouellette (11 saves) with 4:25 left in regulation. Aiden Gallacher added an empty net goal with 31.3 seconds left to give the Youngstown Phantoms (14-15-4-1, 33 points) a 5-3 win over the Tri-City Storm Saturday night at the Covelli Centre.
“(Josh) deserves that,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “He plays those hard areas and those hard minutes, never gets the praise that he should. Josh has got a great skill set to him as well. Our bench was pretty excited when he scored.”
Youngstown found themselves in a 2-0 hole at the end of the first period. Matthew Knies finished a pretty backhander up high on Dominic Basse (26 saves) at 11:30 to put the Storm ahead 1-0, and Cole McWard whipped a shot from between the circles into the net with just 26.1 seconds remaining in the period for a power play goal.
“You look at our first period, I really liked it,” said Patterson. “It’s deflating when you think you play well to go down 2-0, but the message (at intermission) was if you play the same way in the second, you’re going to give yourselves and opportunity, and the guys bought in to that.”
The Phantoms got on to the board 3:14 into the second period. Yusaku Ando stole the puck along the left-wing wall of his own zone and raced out to center. Defenseman Caleb Price joined him racing up ice and the Phantoms had a 2-on-0 break on Ouellette from the red line-in. Entering the zone, Ando passed to Price. Drifting forward to the hashmarks, Price sent it back to Ando. Ouellette came cross-crease to challenge Ando, but Ando pulled it to the backhand around Ouellette and stuffed it into the cage for his seventh goal of the season, cutting the Tri-City lead in half to 2-1.
Youngstown struck again with just under six minutes remaining in the period to tie the game. After Artyom Borshyov knocked the puck away from a Tri-City skater, Matthew Cassidy picked it up and cleared it out to center. John Beaton raced out to neutral ice to pick up the loose puck and carried it into the Tri-City zone. With a Storm defender between him and the net, Beaton dropped it back to Cassidy, who was coming late on the play. Cassidy performed a small toe drag to his right and snapped a wrister through Ouellette’s five hole, tying the game 2-2 at 14:10 with a shorthanded goal. It was Cassidy’s eighth goal of the season.
The Phantoms had one more in them during the second period, grabbing the lead at 15:52. Trevor Kuntar ripped a shot between the circles that rose high over the cage and hit off the end wall, but the shot had so much speed on it that it bounced off the end wall and back to the front of the net. Before it could land Georgi Merkulov batted it out of midair and into the cage for his fifth goal of the season, giving Youngstown a 3-2 lead. Merkulov has 22 points in the first 20 games of his USHL career. The assist for Kuntar stretched his point streak to 11 games.
Tri-City needed just 16 seconds of power play time to time the game midway through the third period. After Jan Kern was called for tripping at 13:12, Youngstown won the initial draw on the penalty kill, but failed to clear the puck. Tri-City made them pay for it as Mitchell Miller scored his third goal of the weekend, snapping a wrister from the top of the circles past Basse’s blocker at 13:28, leveling the game at 3-3.
Two minutes later, the stage was set for DeLuca. DeLuca started the sequence, stealing the puck on the forecheck and firing a shot off the outside of the net. Beaton picked up the rebound and gave it right back to DeLuca. From just below the left dot, DeLuca’s one-timer fluttered over Ouellette’s shoulder and into the cage, giving Youngstown a 4-3 lead at 15:35. Gallacher scored on the empty net at 19:29, firing the puck from below his own goal line into the empty cage.
The Phantoms wrap up their six-game homestand with a three-in-three next weekend against the Green Bay Gamblers, who are just above Youngstown in the standings with 34 points. Puck drop will be at 7:05pm Eastern on Friday and Saturday night, and Sunday’s game is slated to start at 5:05pm Eastern. All games will be available live on HockeyTV and Western Reserve Radio. Armstrong Cable will carry the games later in the week on their local access channel.
By the Numbers
Shots – 16
Saves – 26
Power Play – 0/4
Penalty Kill – 3/5
Goals – Ando, Cassidy, DeLuca, Gallacher, Merkulov
Assists – Beaton (2), Borshyov (2), Kuntar (2), Marek, Price