The Youngstown Phantoms, powered by a four-goal outburst in the first period, looked as good as they have all year in defeating the Muskegon Lumberjacks, 7-3. Matt O’Connor is too good of a goaltender to give that kind of lead to, and he and the Phantoms defense and special teams held up their end of the bargain in the win. O’Connor turned away 21 of 22 shots in notching his 15th win of the season.
The first period of the game featured four goals from the hometown Phantoms. Richard Zehnal got the party started with his fifth goal of the season just 1:43 after the start of the game. Sam Anas earned an assist on Zehnal’s momentum-starting goal. The Phantoms then broke an 0-23 powerplay drought when Dylan Margonari found the back of the net with a man advantage with 11:45 to go in the first period. Margonari’s ninth goal of the season was assisted by Stephen Collins.
The Phantoms showed no slowing up and Anas nabbed a goal of his own scarfing up a loose puck that was batted around the Muskegon crease for what seemed like hours, stuffing the puck past Lumberjack netminder John Keeney. Anas’ goal was also a powerplay chance in which Chris Bradley and Margonari were credited with assists. To put an exclamation point on a grand first period, another powerplay goal was recorded by the Phantoms. J.T. Stenglein notched goal number 15 with a man advantage. Austin Cangelosi and Mike Ambrosia earned assists. All that on just ten first period shots.
“There was a big scrum on that powerplay in front of the net”, said Anas. ”Eventually the puck trickled out toward me and I shot it high and it went in.”
Anas picked up a two-minute minor for roughing in the third period. The scrappy Phantom possesses great skills and is about half the size as many of the other skaters the ice. This penalty was hard to figure out though as Anas was in a headlock on the side of the net while the refs chased down other problems developing elsewhere.
“I have had penalties before, even picked up a roughing in Green Bay.”
The second period featured a frustrated Lumberjack team unable to convert on their powerplay opportunities. Lots of pushing and shoving (26 penalty minutes combined on 12 penalties), lots of smack talk, but no goals for either team. Muskegon pulled starting goaltender Keeney and inserted Paul Berrafato between the pipes. The Phantoms held a 21-12 advantage in shots after two and handled their four-goal lead with care.
“We don’t like to judge on results”, said Anthony Noreen when asked about breaking the 0-23 powerplay drought. ”I thought we did a really good job protecting the puck. We watched films and told the guys to just keep it simple tonight. Our powerplay has been good, we just weren’t scoring. Tonight, after we got one, it was contagious and we popped a couple more in.”
In the third, the Lumberjacks snuck one past O’Connor to make it 4-1 in favor of the Phantoms. With 16:15 to go in the game, the Phantoms got that goal right back. Mike Ambrosia connected for the ninth time this season. Ambrosia’s goal was unassisted and swung the pendulum back toward the Phantoms.
With 9:56 left to go in the game, the Phantoms threw more wood on the fire as Stephen Collins made it 6-1. Collins’ second goal of the season was of the even-strength variety and Michael Gunn nabbed an assist.
In picking up his 15th win of the season, O’Connor turned away 21 shots. He was replaced by Sean Romeo with about five minutes left in the game. Romeo gave up two goals, but to his defense, he was pretty well shielded from seeing what was coming on the Lumberjack’s first score. Ryan Bullock got the unassisted score to make it 6-2. Less than a minute later John Padulo beat Romeo on a rebounded shot that clanked the post.
The Phantoms (18-8-2) put the final nail in the coffin with Collins getting a second goal on the evening to make it a 7-3 game. The goal came with 2:51 remaining and closed the door on the scoring. Fights and tempers were plentiful and frequent in this one. Carve it out any way you want to: with an axe, like a Lumberjack, or a chainsaw, like a Phantom.
“We tell these guys to stay urgent and not pay attention to the scoreboard”, said Noreen. ”They did a pretty good job staying focused and executing.”