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Youngstown Phnatoms Press Release

Connor's overtime heroics boost Phantoms to 1-0 win over Lincoln

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Less than a minute into overtime, Youngstown Phantoms defenseman Fredric Larsson threw a puck up the boards and into the Lincoln Stars' zone, just out of the reach of Kyle Connor. But the Phantoms forward was desperate. He had spotted JJ Piccinich alone in the slot, and after 60 minutes of scoreless play at the Covelli Centre, there might not be another chance.

"Their defenseman stepped up a little bit at the blue line and got a piece of me, but the puck went by," Connor said. "It went to the other defenseman, but I thought I could get a stick on it."

So Connor dove, swiping the puck off Lincoln captain Zach Frye's stick and right onto his linemate's. Piccinich took a millisecond settle it before looking up and firing the puck over the right shoulder of Stars goaltender Michael Bitzer to earn the Phantoms the 1-0 win Saturday night.

"Kyle made an absolutely unbelievable play to get it to me," Piccinich said. "I was just there doing the easy work."

The Phantoms (4-5-1, 9 points) would not have made to overtime if not for the stellar play of Sean Romeo, who a night before had allowed three goals on just 18 shots in his season debut. After missing the entire preseason and Youngstown's first eight games of the campaign, the Romeo admitted he felt a bit rusty during Friday's loss to the Indiana Ice.

Any questions of rust were erased Saturday night as veteran netminder turned away all 34 Lincoln shots - including a pair of coming off partial breakaways - to pick up his first win of the season and sixth shutout of his USHL career.

"When you're getting shots like that and it's a tight game, it's easy to stay focused," Romeo said. "It's a lot of fun."

Though his familiar calm, methodical self between the pipes for most of the night, Romeo admitted that he couldn't keep his emotions in check after Piccinich put it past Bitzer 48 seconds into the overtime period.

"I was so relieved," Romeo said. "I actually wanted to skate out there and congratulate him but I was dead so I just slowly walked out there. It was exciting."

One the games biggest saves, however, came from forward Tyler Spezia. With less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation, the Stars (1-2-4, 6 points) won a face off the Phantoms' defensive zone and Magnus Hoff wound up to fire a wrist shot from right between the circles. But the assistant captain sprawled to make sure it didn't reach his goaltender.

"That was the second we felt like we were going to win that game," head coach Anthony Noreen said. "People say all the time that a guy's willing to block a shot with his face, but Tyler Spezia literally lays out face-first and was willing to take a puck to the face to not let it get on net. When you have efforts like that - when guys are willing to sacrifice like that - that's when you know you deserve to get it because of karma."

The game was physical from the onset but began getting ugly late in the second period. Lincoln forward Tom Marchin was given a five-minute major penalty for kneeing Phantoms defenseman Tommy Parran with less than four minutes remaining in the period. Fortunately Parran would later return in for the third, but the man-advantage was short-lived as Alfred Larsson was whistled for interference less than a minute and a half into it.

It was just one of nine different opportunities on power play the Phantoms squandered in regulation, in part thanks to Lincoln's collapsing defense that allowed just 29 shots to reach Bitzer despite spending so much time down a man.

Phantoms by the Numbers

Shots - 29

Saves - 34

Power Play - 0-for-9

Penalty Kill - 3-for-3

Goals - Piccinich (8)

Assists - Connor (9)

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