YOUNGSTOWN - Over a three-week span, the Phantoms' Cam Brown went from doing the dirty work to reaping the rewards.
The 20-year-old forward scored Youngstown's first two goals to help the Phantoms earn a 4-2 win and to take a 2-1 series lead over the Green Bay Ramblers on Saturday.
Youngstown coach Anthony Noreen said Brown deserved to score the goals, not only for his hard work in this game but also for his work during a 6-3 win over Cedar Rapids on March 29th. In the last minute of the game, Brown took a puck to the face while trying to block a shot and lost five teeth.
"In any other sport, he's sitting in the stands right now," Noreen said. "There's so much karma in the game of hockey. When you do things the right way and when you deserve something, it usually works out for you.
"He's been our best player in the playoffs and our leading scorer. I just think it's hockey karma."
With the Phantoms down one halfway through the first period, Brown managed to tie the game up on the power play.
Captain Austin Cangelosi had the puck at the point when he saw a wide-open Brown to the left of Green Bay goalie Tony Kujava. Cangelosi's pass just needed a deflection from Brown to go into the net at the 10:15 mark.
The two combined again on another power play just 23 seconds into the second period. Cangelosi faked a shot from the left wing and passed across the zone to Brown, who once again had a wide-open look on net to give Youngstown a lead it did not relinquish.
"(Brown) found a soft seam, and he's always trying to get open," Cangelosi said. "It made my job easy. I saw him pop up both times, and I just found his stick."
As much as Brown's goals got the Phantoms going, the game seemed to tip in Youngstown's favor when Markus McCrea doubled the team's lead 1:17 later. Following an Alfred Larsson shot, the 6-foot-3 left winger charged the net, and with some shoving going on around Kujava, he managed to squeak it into the back of the net.
Sam Anas' goal at the 19:07 mark using some nifty puck-handling put the game out of reach.
"(Larsson's goal) really got us going," Brown said. "I don't if you saw our bench after that one, but it was going nuts."
Along with the two power play goals, the Phantoms' penalty kill held strong.
On four chances in the first and second periods, the league's best penalty killing team during the regular season kept the Gamblers off the scoresheet and didn't give them too many clean looks on net.
In the third period, the team didn't commit any costly penalties, which Noreen was pleased about after the game.
"You have to take advantage (of power plays)," Noreen said. "You have to get the momentum on your bench and score on power plays. On the flip side, it's a huge momentum builder when you're able to keep the league's (second-best) power play from scoring on the penalty kill."
The Phantoms now have two opportunities to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference finals, the farthest the team has gone since joining the United States Hockey League. With only one of those games at home (today at 4 p.m.), the players and coaches are looking to punch the ticket at the Covelli Centre.
"We really want to get it done tomorrow for sure," Brown said.