YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The streak was snapped Saturday night at the Covelli Centre. The Indiana Ice jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first period and then held on for dear life as the Youngstown Phantoms pressed frantically to tie the game, only to come up short falling 4-3.
The loss halted Youngstown's franchise record winning streak at six games and was Indiana's first win in five meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals. Sam Anas scored a pair of goals and Eric Sweetman chipped in with a power-play tally as the Phantoms (19-17-0, 38 points) outshot the Ice 24-14 over the final two periods. Goaltender Sean Romeo turned away 22 shots, but was saddled with the loss.
"The winning streak was obviously nice, but we weren't in it to set records," Anas said. "It's a tough loss, but we'll have another chance at them."
The Ice (16-23-3, 35 points) came flying out of the gates to open the first, potting three goals to take a comfortable lead into the intermission. Austin Ortega led off the scoring just past the five-minute mark. Indiana defensen man Rinat Valiev a shot over the crossbar and Ortega gathered the loose puck up and pushed it past Romeo. Alex Talcott put Indiana up 2-0 at the 12:49 mark when Cannon Pieper picked him out with a pass in front of the goalmouth. Then less than three minutes left in the period Zach Aman tipped Tyler Pham's shot out of mid-air. The puck deflected straight down then bounced over Romeo's shoulder to close out the first-period goal parade.
"In the locker room, we talked to the guys as a staff and said, ‘Look, at some point during the season we're going to be down a couple and it's going to be a do-or-die game. Let's do that right now," head coach Anthony Noreen said. "I thought they responded very well."
Anas got the Phantoms on the board 5:53 into the second. Nathan Walker slid the puck to him at the bottom of the circle for a 2-on-1 down low and Anas faked the pass for Cam Brown before slotting a backhand shot between Ice netminder Dalton Izyk's feet.
"The three of them together (Anas, Brown and Walker) are really starting to click," Noreen said. "It seemed like every time they were on the ice, they created some kind of chance, which was a positive. It's something we need."
Ortega struck again less than six minutes later, cashing in on a rebound while the Indiana enjoyed a 5-on-3 advantage on the power play. But the Phantoms cut the lead in half on a power play of their own at the 15:59 mark when John Padulo hammered a shot from the blue line and Sweetman crashed from the top of the left circle and fired rebound puck back in.
Then with less than two minutes remaining in the second and both teams down to four skaters thanks to overlapping penalties, Anas netted his team-leading 19th goal. Ice defenseman Peter Hand had trouble handling a puck at his own blue line and Anas sensed it and pounced. The Potomac, Md. native poked it away and went in 1-on-0, faking a backhand shot before pulling it across crease to his forehand and sliding it around Izyk's outstretched leg.
"After the first, we wanted to get back to playing our game," Noreen said. "We thought if we could maintain disciplined in our systems we could create some odd-man breaks and that's just what Sammy did."
The Phantoms refused to lift the foot off the gas pedal in the third, peppering Izyk with rubber to the tune of 14 shots, compared to just four allowed on Romeo. During a battle for the puck along the right wall with 2:13 remaining a visibly frustrated Valiev shed the gloves and tried to challenge Padulo to a fight, but the savvy veteran spurned the rookie defenseman to earn his team a power play. However, the Youngstown unit, which came into the game converting on 50 percent of its chances against the Ice this season, was unable put it past Izyk in the final minutes.
"It was one of those games where you felt like our guys deserved more based on their second- and third-period effort," Noreen said. "We had some great chances there at the end, but you use it as a learning tool."
Phantoms by the Numbers
Shots – 32
Saves – 22
Power Play – 1-for-6
Penalty Kill – 3-for-4
Goals – Anas (2), Sweetman
Assists – Kyle Connor, Padulo, Dan Renouf, Walker