Phantoms close with win; playoffs start on Monday

YOUNGSTOWN — A three-goal second period carried the Youngstown Phantoms over the US National Team Development Program, 4-1, to close out the regular season.

Midway through the first period, Team USA took the lead when Owen Gallatin scored his second goal of the season. That didn’t last long as the Phantoms scored four unanswered goals.

“I thought we had a great game tonight,” defenseman Gianfranco Cassaro said. “Especially in the second. We held them in for about five or six minutes and that’s Phantom hockey. Playing simple, chipping pucks in, getting touches first, that’s our brand of hockey, and when we do that, it’s going to be dangerous going down the stretch into the playoffs.”

Cassaro scored the opening goal for the Phantoms, coming from a quick slapshot to tie the game at one apiece. The goal came at the tail end of a power play.

“Abate curled up the half wall, found me up high and I shot it,” Cassaro said. “Coach preaches ‘shoot the puck’ and that’s what I did. I’m happy to get that one going into the playoffs.”

The tiebreaking score goes to Matthew DeMelis, who scored second on a breakaway. He was credited with an unassisted goal, but he said someone got the puck to him.

“Somebody fed it to me,” DeMelis said. “It was kind of a broken play, but I think it was either Jeppe (Urup) or (Dalton) Messina. The defender was coming at me forward, so I stepped to the middle. Their defenseman was off to the side, so I ended up on a breakaway.”

The third goal of that second period came from Buffalo Sabres prospect Brett Murray, who scored his 41st goal of the season. Credited with the assist was Connor MacEachern, who got his own goal in the third period for his 26th of the year.

The Phantoms were off to a slow start, which is something they are no stranger to. That can be attributed to the game in Michigan the night prior, but the team doesn’t want any excuses.

“Obviously we played last night, we got home late last night, but we’re not going to blame that as the reason,” MacEachern said. “If we have a slow start we always find a way to come back, and we’re always dominant by the end of the game for sure.”

Returning to the lineup for the Phantoms was Joey Abate. Abate comes back after missing time with a shoulder injury.

“It’s everything (to return),” Abate said. “I’ve been itching for the past five weeks. It’s tough to get a shoulder injury right before the end of the season, gearing up for playoffs. I just kind of had to hit the reset and just focus on my shoulder, every minute, every hour trying to get better. Thankfully I got better to where I could get some games in before playoffs.”

The Phantoms have a quick turnaround as their quest for the Clark Cup begins Monday when they take on the Dubuque Fighting Saints at 7 p.m. at the Covelli Centre.