YOUNGSTOWN, OH – Digging themselves out of a 2-0 hole, the Youngstown Phantoms (8-9-0-3, 19 points) battled back to earn a point by forcing overtime before falling to the Fargo Force 4-3 in a shootout Saturday night at the Covelli Centre.
“I thought it was two good clubs going hard at one another,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “We had some resiliency, came back, make it a game, tie it up, and it goes to a shootout. You kind of roll the dice in those instances.”
The game was barely five minutes old before Fargo had grabbed a 2-0 lead. Ben Meyers scored on a one-timer from the right dot at 3:33 for the ice breaker, and Ryan O’Reilly converted on a sharp-angle backdoor feed on the powerplay at 5:05 to double the Force’s advantage. “(Fargo’s offense) is tremendously skilled, they’re hard to shut down,” said Patterson. “I thought our ‘D’ did a really good job.”
Youngstown got on the board with a powerplay goal at the 6:50 mark. Connor MacEachern found Brett Murray’s tape at the edge of the crease for an easy shot-pass redirect goal for Murray, his team-leading ninth of the season, that cut the Fargo lead to 2-1.
Fargo answered back at 13:03 when Carter Randklev jumped out of the penalty box and immediately joined a 2-on-1 with Hank Crone. Crone made the successful cross-ice pass for Randklev to fire home the one-timer past Christian Stoever (25 saves) and put the Force back up by two goals at 3-1.
The Phantoms responded with less than two minutes remaining in the period. Trevor Kuntar picked up a loose puck at center, danced around two Fargo defenders, walked in on Fargo netminder Ryan Bischel (21 saves) and beat him upstairs with a backhander at 18:32 for his fifth goal of the year, cutting the Fargo lead back to one at 3-2. “Trevor has taken some big strides,” said Patterson. “Not only through the course of the year where he’s scored, but prior to that where he’s taken other responsibilities on to his plate and he’s excelling with it.”
After a scoreless second period, Youngstown tied the game at 4:59 of the third. Matt DeMelis made a hit that allowed Craig Needham to steal a pass and wind up wide open in the slot. Needham fired a shot past Bischel that rang off both posts and bounced right back to him. Needham ripped the rebound past Bischel and into the net this time, knotting the game at 3-3. “Craig has an engine, and it doesn’t stop,” said Patterson. “You can play him in any situation.” Neither team scored for the remainder of regulation and the game went to overtime. Both teams had a few scoring chances in overtime, but the game was forced to a shootout.
In the shootout, the first two shooters for both teams all missed the net, though one shooter from each side managed to hit a post in the first two rounds. It wasn’t until Fargo’s third shooter, Ben Meyers, that either goalie was challenged to make a save. It took until the top of the fifth round before a skater found twine, and it was Fargo’s Ryan O’Reilly beating Stoever off the left post and in with a hard wrister from the slot to give the Force the advantage. Matt Barnaby was unable to get a shot away in the bottom of the fifth round and Fargo earned the bonus point.
Despite the shootout loss, the Phantoms have points in 10 of their last 13 games and have worked their way back into playoff position, tied for sixth place with the Green Bay Gamblers with 19 points. Youngstown returns to the ice next Friday night in Plymouth, Michigan as the Phantoms head north to do battle with the Team USA U18’s. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05pm Eastern on Friday night and the game will be available on HockeyTV.
By the Numbers
Shots – 24
Saves – 25
Power Play – 1/7
Penalty Kill – 4/5
Goals – Kuntar, Murray, Needham
Assists – DeMelis, MacEachern, Malone