Phantoms’ season ends in overtime heartbreak

YOUNGSTOWN — The Youngstown Phantoms’ season ended in heartbreak as they fell, 3-2, in overtime of Game 2 of a first-round Clark Cup playoff series.

“Credit to them, I thought they made it very hard in transition to get to the hard areas,” Phantoms coach Brad Patterson said. “Tonight, I think we did a much better job of getting there and generating. I liked our game tonight.”

The Phantoms came out far stronger than they did in Game 1, with Liam Robertson scoring in the first period.

“I thought we were firing on all cylinders,” Patterson said. “I really liked a lot of tonight. Unfortunately, we’re going to talk about the negativity of not getting the job done and that’s hard to swallow.”

You could say the strong play was desperation, but captain Craig Needham had an expanded explanation.

“We had to jump to a lead early,” Needham said. “Especially this time of year. You’re not going to dominate games. Every team is good. You’re going to play 60 minutes. There’s going to be highs and lows, have to make sure you stay level. It’s just a different type of game.”

Dubuque opened the third period with a goal just seconds into the period. Dallas Tulik got a puck past Phantoms goaltender Chad Veltri to tie the game at 1.

The Phantoms didn’t take long to respond, with Josh DeLuca taking the lead back for the team.

“I liked our response,” Patterson said. “They tied it up early, we came right back, they tie it up late. It was a back-and-forth game. We knew that coming into the series it was going to be tight. There was never an expectation that it was going to be an easy series.”

Midway through the third period, Dubuque right winger Logan Pietila tied the game and sent it to overtime.

Four minutes into overtime, the puck bounced off of Veltri’s skate and into Willie Knierim, who put it away for the decisive score.

“Your heart just drops,” said Needham about the game-ending goal. “So many emotions go through your head. The bond we create with every guy in that locker room, the coaches, just everyone around and to see it slip through your hands. You don’t really appreciate being around one another until you notice it’s come to an end.”

Despits the heartbreak, the Phantoms have something to hang their hats on. Coming back from an 0-6 start to finish a point away from the second seed of the playoffs shows the resiliency of the team.

“We saw it time and time again, opportunities where you could quit early in the year,” Patterson said. “But the guys fought all the way to the last game. The push was so hard to finish the year, it’s disappointing to go out so quick.”

Needham will be moving on in his career, to Providence College to continue playing hockey. His memories in Youngstown? Being with the guys.

“Coming to the rink every day, seeing the same faces, they become your best friends,” Needham said. “I’m sure I’ll stay friends with these guys forever.”