YOUNGSTOWN, OH – The first USHL hat trick for Eric Esposito helped spark a come-from-behind victory in the final game of the 2017-2018 season as the Youngstown Phantoms (33-20-5-2, 73 points) downed the Muskegon Lumberjacks 5-3 at the Covelli Centre Saturday night.
“It feels great,” said Esposito of scoring his first hat trick in the league. “Especially with the timing of it.”
Muskegon jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 1:45 in the game. Anthony Del Gaizo fired home a one-timer from the right dot that beat Ivan Prosvetov through the five-hole to put the ‘Jacks ahead 1-0. It was Del Gaizo’s 40th goal of the year and 72nd point, clinching both the scoring title and goal-scoring title for the forward out of Basking Ridge, New Jersey. Cam Knuble doubled the Muskegon lead at 10:03. Knuble pulled the trigger from below the dot in the left circle. The shot was partially blocked but had enough steam on it to bounce through Prosvetov’s five-hole and give Muskegon a 2-0 lead.
Esposito put the Phantoms on the comeback trail starting early in the second period. After a clear by the Phantoms on the penalty kill, Muskegon netminder Zach Borgiel mishandled the puck, turning it over to Esposito to deposit into an empty cage and get Youngstown on the board at 1:10. Esposito tied the game just over a minute later at 2:22, blasting a shot from the left circle past Borgiel to knot the game at 2-2. “(Parrottino) made a nice read, drew the defenseman in, and hit me in some open ice,” recalled Esposito. “I just picked a corner where it was open.”
Youngstown jumped in front at the 4:00 mark. The rebound of a Mike Regush shot sat loose in the crease and Liam Dennison slipped it past Borgiel and gave the Phantoms their first lead of the game at 3-2. Muskegon tied it just before the end of the period; Vincent de May scored a power play goal at 18:56 to knot things up at 3-3 at the second intermission.
The Phantoms took the lead for good at 12:46 of the third. After Parrottino and Max Ellis couldn’t convert on a 2-on-1 rush, the puck bounced to Regush. Regush walked down the slot, deked backhand-to-forehand, and tucked the puck around Borgiel’s outstretched left leg for his 19th goal of the year, putting the Phantoms ahead 4-3. Youngstown had to kill a penalty in the waning minutes to preserve the lead, and Esposito scored on the empty net at 19:53 to complete the hat trick and secure the victory.
Youngstown wrapped up the regular season with a 33-20-5-2 record, the sixth time in team history that the Phantoms have topped the 30-win and 70-point plateaus. Matt Barry led the team in scoring with 54 points (17G-37) and Chase Gresock topped the team with 26 goals. Youngstown will have to wait to learn who they will face in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, which can begin as early as next Friday night at the Covelli Centre. Stay tuned to YoungstownPhantoms.com for updates on days and times for the Phantoms’ playoff opener.
By the Numbers
Shots – 27
Saves – 33
Power Play – 0/1
Penalty Kill – 3/4
Goals – Dennison, Esposito (3), Regush
Assists – Ellis, Hall, Parrottino (2), Regush,
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Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 16th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2017-18. 49 players were chosen in the 2017 NHL Draft and more than 400 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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