YOUNGSTOWN, OH – A pair of odd-man rushes in the first period was the difference as the Youngstown Phantoms rode a 2-1 first intermission lead to a 5-1 victory in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final Saturday night at the Covelli Centre. Youngstown won the best-of-five series three-games-to-one to earn their first trip to the Clark Cup Final in the team’s nine-year history.
“That was playoff hockey to a tee,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “A lot of momentum swings.”
Team USA opened the scoring just past the halfway point of the first period. Erik Middendorf redirected a pass behind Ivan Prosvetov (32 saves) to put his squad ahead 1-0 at 10:25. Youngstown answered back at 12:42 with Dalton Messina’s second goal of the playoffs, tying the game. Messina and Max Ellis entered the zone in a 2-on-1 rush, and Ellis found Messina with a perfect cross-ice feed around the USA defender. Ellis’ pass was right to Messina’s tape, and he fired a one-timer past Cameron Rowe (19 saves) to knot the game at 1-1. Just over two minutes later, Matt Barry and Mike Regush ran the same play with the same result. Barry entered the zone down the right side and dropped a pass off for the trailing Regush. Regush walked into the slot and snapped a wrister past Rowe’s glove to put Youngstown ahead 2-1.
Barry continued his red-hot playoff scoring, adding on a goal 1:05 into the second period to put Youngstown ahead by two. After a Chase Gresock shot was saved by Rowe, the rebound bounced to Barry in the left corner. From below the red line, Barry fired the puck off Rowe’s back and into the net for his third goal of the playoffs, giving the Phantoms a 3-1 lead.
From there, Youngstown put on the defensive clamps, all but denying USA entry into any of the danger areas of the Phantoms’ zone. “To shut them down is extremely tough to do,” said Patterson. “I’m proud of the guys. I thought we limited them. When they did get opportunities, Ivan was there to shut them down. As a group that was something we had to focus in on, and I thought we did a good job.” Eric Esposito and Chase Gresock added empty net goals at 18:25 and 18:47 respectively of the third period to make up the final margin.
“The ultimate goal here is still two weeks away,” said Patterson. “I know the guys are excited about it, as are our staff, organization, fan base, and city should be as well…There are seventeen teams that want to be here, two end up being here. I like our group that we have. We’re very tight, we’ve been through a lot over the course of the year, ups and down, and the guys have really shown through.”
The Phantoms will face the Western Conference Champion Fargo Force in the Clark Cup Final. Dates and times are still to be determined, stay tuned to YoungstownPhantoms.com for updates.
By the Numbers
Shots – 24
Saves – 32
Power Play – 0/2
Penalty Kill – 2/2
Goals – Barry, Esposito, Gresock, Messina, Regush
Assists – Barry, Callahan, Ellis, Gingell, Gresock (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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