YOUNGSTOWN, OH – In a game wrought with playoff implication, the Youngstown Phantoms (29-16-4-1, 63 points) gained the upper hand midway through the second period and did not relinquish it as they downed the Green Bay Gamblers 3-1 at the Covelli Centre on Friday night.
“We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks, it’s a playoff game,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “Both ways, (we were) playing hard.”
Youngstown fell behind just 1:05 into the game when John Leonard stole the puck from Alec Mahalak in the Phantoms’ end and fired a shot at Ivan Kulbakov (23 saves). Kulbakov made the initial save, but was not able to seal off the post and Leonard backhanded the rebound home for his 16th goal of the year to give Green Bay a 1-0 lead.
The Phantoms tied it just over five minutes later. Jake Gingell stole a pass in the neutral zone and passed ahead to Pierce Crawford. Crawford entered the offensive zone, skated across the top of the right circle, and fired a wrist shot that beat David Hrenak (29 saves) blocker side at 6:18 to tie the game at 1. The goal was Crawford’s 15th of the season and first as a Phantom. “(Pierce) was clutch for us,” said Patterson. “He does a lot of things that the regular fan doesn’t see…he’s had direct influence on a lot of the games he’s been here for us.”
Youngstown took the lead at 9:10 of the second period. Michael Karow’s stretch pass connected with Coale Norris at the Green Bay blue line and the Phantoms entered the zone in a 3-on-2 rush. With Crawford driving the net, Norris sent a pass to a trailing Evan Wisocky, whose wrist shot from the top of the circles beat Hrenak high to the glove side to give Youngstown a 2-1 lead. The goal was Wisocky’s eighth of the year.
A line brawl at 12:02 of the third period sent the game momentarily awry, with three Phantoms (Tommy Apap, Alex Esposito, and Eric Esposito) and two Gamblers (Rourke Russell and Brody Stevens) all receiving misconduct penalties. Patterson wasn’t surprised by the outpouring of emotions. “It gets to be emotional, especially in a playoff game like this. At the end of the day it’s two teams with a high compete level playing hard and maybe it boiled over at one point.”
After Green Bay was called for having too many men on the ice at 14:55, Youngstown doubled its lead. Nicolas Werbik’s wrist shot from the right dot beat Hrenak low to the blocker side to give Youngstown a 3-1 lead. The goal was Werbik’s 17th of the year, one behind team leader Austin Pooley.
With the win, Youngstown clinched the season series against Green Bay and shrinks its magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 12 as they’re now seven points ahead of the Gamblers with Green Bay only having nine games remaining on their schedule. The Phantoms remain three points behind the Muskegon Lumberjacks, who beat the Bloomington Thunder this night in a shootout.
Youngstown and Green Bay wrap up their season series Saturday night at 7:05pm Eastern in the final game of the Phantoms seven-game homestand. Broadcasts will be available on YPHR and HockeyTV.
By the Numbers
Shots – 32
Saves – 23
Power Play – 1/2
Penalty Kill – 4/4
Goals – Crawford, Wisocky, Werbik
Assists – Gingell, Karow, Mahalak, Norris, Wisocky
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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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