YOUNGSTOWN, OH – Georgi Merkulov’s goal 3:33 into overtime capped off a four-goal comeback as the Youngstown Phantoms (15-15-4-1, 35 points) downed the Green Bay Gamblers 4-3 in overtime Friday night at the Covelli Centre.
Green Bay scored twice in the first period and again in the opening minute of the second to grab a 3-0 lead. Jake Schmaltz put a rebound into an empty cage at 5:13 of the first, Tyler Paquette redirected a shot at 10:50, and Jarrett Lee put home a rebound 59 seconds into the second to account for the Green Bay goals. Youngstown netminder Dominic Basse stopped 15-of-18 on the night. The Phantoms allowed 11 shots in the first and just 7 the rest of the game.
“It’s wasn’t that I didn’t like our first,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “A couple go in the back of the net. We give up two chance in the first, three chances, two go in the back of the net. We had ours and missed.”
The Phantoms comeback started with a power play goal at the 4:12 mark of the second period. A beautiful tic-tac-goal passing play from Merkulov to Ben Schoen ended up on the stick of Matthew Cassidy at the right post for an easy tap-in goal to get Youngstown on the board; they trailed 3-1 heading into the third period.
The Youngstown power play went to work again, converting 1:29 into the third. It was Cassidy again, tapping home a shot-pass from Schoen to cut the Green Bay lead to 3-2. It was a 5-on-3 power play goal for the Phantoms, an area that Youngstown has struggled in this year. “(Assistant Coach) Nick (Peruzzi) does such a good job with those guys putting them into situations where they know how to execute,” said Patterson. “They’ve worked so hard on it the last few weeks, it’s good for them not only to get the reps but the execution on it.”
The Phantoms drew their fourth power play of the third period at 11:48 and cashed in again just past the midway point of that man-advantage. Caleb Price fired a slap shot from center-point that missed the net and bounced off the end wall to Cassidy. Cassidy gathered the puck and centered for Jan Kern. Kern took a step to the right and fired a backhander past a screened netminder into an open net at 13:03 to tie the game. Youngstown went 3-for-10 on the power play against a Green Bay team that came in ranked fourth in the league on the penalty kill. Kern’s goal, his fourth of the season, forced overtime as neither team was able to score in the remaining 6:57 of regulation.
In overtime, Merkulov collected a puck in the Green Bay end and carried it to the neutral zone after Gavin Enright (29 saves) made a blocker stop on Aiden Gallacher. Merkulov passed to Kuntar near the benches. As Kuntar retreated to the red line, he sent the puck back to Merkulov. Entering the zone, Merkulov hit the top of the circles and, using a defender as a screen, snapped a shot past Enright’s blocker and into the top-left corner of the net for the game-winning goal. Merkulov has 24 points in the first 21 games of his USHL career. “(Georgi) has been awesome,” said Patterson. “My comparable to Georgi, he’s eerily similar to what we had in Sam Anas. He’s so cerebral. He finds guys that no one else does. It seems like he gets a little more comfort each game. There’s a couple times each game where everyone on the bench is ‘Wow! Did we just see that?’ He’s a special talent.”
Youngstown and Green Bay continue their three-game set tomorrow with a 7:05pm puck drop. It’s Pucks and Paws Night at the Covelli Centre, and fans are invited to bring their leashed dogs out to the arena to enjoy the game. It’s also Drink in the Rink featuring dollar hot dogs and dollar draft beers. The game will be broadcast live on Western Reserve Radio and HockeyTV and available later in the week on Armstrong Cable.
By the Numbers
Shots – 33
Saves – 15
Power Play – 3/10
Penalty Kill – 4/4
Goals – Cassidy (2), Kern, Merkulov
Assists – Cassidy, Gallacher, Kuntar (2), Merkulov, Price, Schoen (2)