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Youngstown Phantoms Press Release

Phantoms struggle in season opener

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - The Youngstown Phantoms' inexperience showed Friday in their 2013-14 season opener. The U.S. National Team Development Program under-18 squad pounced on every mistake the Phantoms made, striking with four goals in the second on the way to capturing a 9-3 win at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

Alex Smith, JJ Piccinich and Ryan Schwalbe found the back of the net for the Phantoms, who fell to 0-2-0 vs. USA in season openers. Jake Moore got the start in net for Youngstown with Sean Romeo sidelined due to an injury, but struggled in the face of an offensive onslaught from Team USA, led by Dylan Larkin (two goals), Shane Gersich (one goal, two assists) and Jack Eichel (one goal, two assists).

"It was like two different games for us," head coach Anthony Noreen said. "For the most part, we were either very good and on them, or very bad and made mistakes and they were on us. That's just the sign of an immature team.

"Obviously it's not the result you want, but the result isn't what we're worried about. It's how you bounce back and play the next game."

Piccinich brought the Phantoms as close they would get to catching Team USA when he made it a 3-2 game on a power play less than two minutes into the second. First-year defender Matt Miller got a shot through traffic and the Piccinich, who scored just three goals last season, was able to scoop up the rebound and flick a back-hand past Blake Weyrick for his first of the campaign.

However the National Team went back up two at the 5:48 mark thanks to a bad-luck bounce. A Youngstown pass hit Dylan Pavelek in the chest and fell right in front of the USA forward, giving him clear, open lane to the goal. Pavalek was able to beat Moore on the breakaway to make it a 4-2 game and the score snowballed from there.

Schwalbe tallied the first goal of his USHL career 2:29 into the third period when he beat Weyrick with a wrist shot on the stick side. The goal had to be reviewed by was eventually awarded to the Anchorage, Alaska, native with 17-year-old Maxim Letunov credited with the helper - the first point of his USHL career - to bring the score to 7-3. USA however, was able to add a pair in the final eight minutes of regulation to complete the rout.

After USA jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening period, Smith scored Youngstown's first goal of the season to cut the deficit to two with less than six minutes remaining in the frame. Tyler Spezia intercepted a puck in the U.S. zone and dropped it to the newly acquired defender, who had met with the team for the just first time that morning, and Smith slotted a low wrist shot past Weyrick.

"I think we saw what [Smith] brings to this team," Noreen said. "He's got some ability offensively to jump in. He scores the first goal of the game and had a couple other chances. He was aggressive and physical, too and I think he's going to fit us very nicely."

Though the loss was lopsided, Noreen said the score wasn't necessarily indicative to how close the game was. The Phantoms generated numerous "grade-A" chances, especially early in the second period and late in the third. However the U-18 team has been playing together for more than a year, he said, and their experience, chemistry and execution was the difference.

"It's a lesson we've got to learn and it's a good lesson," he said. "That's why this game's so humbling. You make a mistake against a team like this it's going to go in the back of the net and it should go in the net. It's Game 1. We've got a long way to go. It's only a loss if you don't learn from it and get better tomorrow."

Phantoms by the Numbers

Shots - 30

Saves - 29

Power Play - 1-for-3

Penalty Kill - 2-for-3

Goals - Piccinich, Schwalbe, Smith

Assists - Alfred Larsson, Letunov, Miller, Spezia

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