YOUNGSTOWN, OH – The Youngstown Phantoms (22-16-1-3, 48 points) had their best offensive output of the year and saw 14 skaters appear on the scoresheet as they down the United States National Team Development Program’s U17 squad 8-3 Friday night at the Covelli Centre. Youngstown had scored six goals in a game four times previously before Friday night’s eight-goal output.
“I think the game was closer than the scoreline looked at the end,” said Phantoms Head Coach Brad Patterson. “I think we did a better job as the game went limiting opportunities and playing a little bit simpler hockey. When we do that, that’s our game plan, and that’s where we’re dangerous.”
Youngstown got on the board first, grabbing a 1-0 lead before the game was five minutes old. Trevor Kuntar crashed the cage and beat USA netminder Noah Grannan (16 saves) off a wonderful pass from Matthew Barnaby to put the Phantoms ahead. USA tied the game at 9:15 when defenseman Eamon Powell joined the rushed and snapped a wrister past Christian Stoever (18 saves) to knot the game at 1-1. USA took the lead at 10:10 of the second period when Thomas Bordeleau’s shot from the slot ricocheted off Stoever’s stick and into the net to give the U17’s a 2-1 lead.
The Phantoms stormed right back, tying the game 55 seconds later. Craig Needham walked right off the corner boards on the left side, cut to the front of the net, and slipped a backhander through Grannan’s five hold to level things out at 2-2. The goal was Needham’s 11th of the year on 46 shots. Needham only scored one goal last year with 44 shots.
USA grabbed the lead back at 13:11. A failed clearing attempt by Youngstown led to a 2-on-1 below the circles for USA and Brett Berard found Hunter McKown alone on the backdoor for the easy tap-in and a 3-2 USA lead.
The Phantoms responded again, however, and would score the next six goals of the game to run away with the victory. Brett Murray scored twice before the period ended. Murray’s first goal of the game came at 14:18. After taking a cross-ice feed from Jack Malone, Murray fired a pass towards the net, looking for Connor MacEachern, but his pass hit the skate of USA defender Daniel Laatsch and redirected through Grannan’s five hole to tie the game. Murray’s second goal came at 16:44 as he settled down a bouncing puck at the edge of the crease, danced around the poke check of Grannan, and tucked the puck into the cage past Grannan’s right leg to put Youngstown ahead for good at 4-3.
The Phantoms offensive onslaught continued in the third period, adding on another four goal. Josh DeLuca added his third of the season, ripping a wrist shot past Grannan at 6:44. MacEachern got loose behind the defense and deposited a backhander behind Grannan at 10:14 for a 6-3 Youngstown advantage. Liam Dennison blasted a shot from the left point through traffic and in at 14:33 to put the Phantoms ahead 7-3, and Murray capped off the night with a strip-and-score breakaway at 19:32 to complete his hat trick, the first of his USHL career. Murray now has seven goals in his last three games. “(Brett) has been consistent like that all year,” said Patterson. “I don’t even need to talk about the stuff he does on the ice, it’s the stuff he does off the ice: the message he’s delivering in the room when the coaches aren’t there. The preparation that goes into it, when you do all of those things, the hockey karma will generally pay off for you and Brett comes through tonight.”
Friday was the first of five matchups against the U17’s this season. If the playoffs started tomorrow, Youngstown would be facing the U17’s in an opening round best-of-three in a #3 vs #6 matchup. The Phantoms faced the U17’s in last season’s Eastern Conference Final, defeating the Nationals 3-1 in a best-of-five series. Tonight’s victory keeps Youngstown one point clear of fourth place Dubuque, but the Phantoms have a game in hand on the Fighting Saints.
Youngstown and the U17’s will wrap up their weekend series tomorrow at the Covelli Centre. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05pm Eastern and the game will be broadcast on Western Reserve Radio and HockeyTV.
By the Numbers
Shots – 24
Saves – 18
Power Play – 0/1
Penalty Kill – 0/0
Goals – DeLuca, Dennison, Kuntar, MacEachern, Murray (3), Needham
Assists – Abate (2), Barnaby, DeMelis, Dobay (3), Gallacher, Malone (3), Murray, Robertson, Smekhnov