September 21, 2013, Ann Arbor, Mich. (ISN) – The Youngstown Phantoms and Team USA combined for 12 goals through 40 minutes, but when the third period rolled around, the offensive fireworks were suddenly snuffed out.
Jeremy Bracco put the U.S. National Under-17 Team up 7-6 less than five minutes into the final frame and the Phantoms were unable to beat relief goalie Luke Opilka on the way dropping their second game of the season Saturday at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.
Kyle Connor scored twice in the opening period, while JJ Piccinich and Kiefer Sherwood both chipped in with a goal and an assist apiece. In all, five different player found the back of the net, but for the second straight game, Youngstown struggled in its own end in the absence of starter Sean Romeo as Jake Moore turned away just 28-of-35 in the face of high-powered U.S. attack.
“There were some nice moments of offensive flash,” head coach Anthony Noreen said. “There’s no doubt that, when we play the game the right way, we’re a team that’s going to be able to create offense and grade-A chances. But the bottom line is we need to play our game better and be more consistent in every zone.”
Connor opened the scoring for the Phantoms 4:08 into the first when Russia rookie Maxim Letunov found him at the bottom of the circle and he ripped a wrist shot over the shoulder of starting netminder Michael Lackey. However, USA responded with a pair of goals from Jordan Greenway and Luke Kirwan to take a 2-1 lead with five minutes left in the period.
Blake Christensen, Youngstown’s first-round pick in Phase 2 of the USHL Draft, tallied his first goal the season with 4:18 remaining in the period off a quick counter and slick setup by Piccinich. Connor bookended the scoring less than two minutes later to give the Phantoms a 3-2 advantage heading into the intermission.
“Early in the season it’s always nice to see your goal-scorers get those first couple of goals out of the way, and Kyle’s a guy we expect to score and need to score,” Noreen said. “And I thought Max played his best game for us. He was probably our best player on the ice.”
Sherwood put Youngstown up two when he hammered home a rebound on the power play before the second period was a minute old. USA made it a 4-3 at the 6:02 mark, but Piccinich, who scored just three goals last season, notched his second power-play marker in as many games to regain the two-goal cushion just before the midway point.
Youngstown’s luck on the man-advantage took a turn for the worse from there as the National Team countered with back-to-back short-handed goals from Michael Floodstrand and Bracco. Luke Kunin gave USA its third unanswered goal and a 6-5 lead with just 1:34 left in the second. But with less than a minute left in the period, Luke Stork intercepted a puck at center ice, outran a U.S. defender and picked out the top corner to even the score leading into the final period.
Connor had the opportunity to tie it up and notch what would have been the first hat trick of his career when Tyler Spezia launched him on a breakaway shortly after Bracco’s go-ahead goal, but Olpika was able to turn him away and preserve the slim lead.
“The type of game that it was, you got the feeling that at some point, one of the teams was going to shut the door defensively,” Noreen said. “We definitely had our chances in the third . but they got their chance and put it in the net.”
Phantoms by the Numbers
Shots – 29
Saves – 28
Power Play – 2-for-5 (40 percent)
Penalty Kill – 1-of-2 (50 percent)
Goals – Christensen, Connor (2), Piccinich, Sherwood, Stork
Assists – Alex Carle, Alfred Larsson, Letunov, Piccinich, Ryan Schwalbe, Sherwood, Spezia
Next on the Slate
The Phantoms return to the Covelli Centre for Home Opening Weekend Friday, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28 against the Green Bay Gamblers. Puck drop is set for 7:05 p.m. EST Friday and 2:05 p.m. Saturday.
Season tickets for the 2013-14 season are on sale now starting at the low price of just $8 a game. Benefits include invitations to exclusive season ticket holder events, discounts at the Phantoms Team Shop and much more. Call 330.747.PUCK (7825) for more information or to reserve seats today. For all the latest news, visit www.YoungstownPhantoms.com, follow the Phantoms on Twitter (@YtownPhantoms) and ‘like’ them on Facebook (www.Facebook.com/YoungstownPhantoms).
Headquartered in Chicago the USHL now prepares for its 12th season as the nation’s only Tier I junior hockey league in 2013-14. With 19 NHL Draft picks on team rosters and more than 300 players already committed to NCAA Division I schools this season, the USHL has emerged as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).