Team USA peppered Sean Romeo with shots Thursday night, Jan. 31 but the Youngstown Phantoms goaltender was more than up to task. Unfortunately, the Phantoms struggled to capitalize on chances at the other end and, despite a third-period push, fell to the U.S. National Under-18 team, 3-2.
Romeo finished the night with 41 saves off 44 shots and turned away a penalty shot as well, but was saddled with the loss. Assistant captain Sam Anas remained red-hot netting his eighth goal in the last six games, and Markus McCrea also scored as the Phantoms (19-18-0, 38 points) dropped the opener for their three-game road swing.
"The bottom line is that team is going to get shots," head coach Anthony Noreen said. "I thought we did a good job of keeping them to the outside for the most part, and we had our chances. We stuck to our process but that's as good a team as you'll see in this league."
Team USA (10-23-4, 24 points) came out of the gates flying started racking up shots, but the Youngstown did an excellent job of limiting high-quality chances. Whenever he was needed, Romeo stepped up with the save and finished
The National Team finally beat Romeo on a power play 12 minutes into the second period. Michael McCarron got around the Phantoms defense and left a pass in the slot as Gage Ausmus came crashing in from the point. He was able to corral the puck and fire it high to put USA up 1-0.
Anthony Louis had two golden chances to put the National Team up two in the final minute of the second. With just 30 seconds remaining he poked a puck free at the point and went racing in alone on goal. Just between the circles he tried to cut across the slot and stuff the puck five-hole, but Romeo turned him away.
However, Ryan Lowney was whistled for a chop he got in just before Louis got the shot off and the referee awarded him a penalty shot. Romeo came out to the top of his crease to challenge the shooter, took away the angle and forced Louis to fire his into the end boards.
"Sean was a rock back there. We've almost just gotten used to it," Noreen said. "He made some great saves that probably should've gone in and kept us in early and when we started to turn around he gave us every chance in the world to win."
With just five seconds remaining in the period, Connor Clifton made a run at John Padulo after the Phantoms winger had been whistled for a penalty and it nearly ignited a line brawl. Clifton, who had already been penalized twice earlier in the game, was called for a roughing double-minor and misconduct penalty, which would carry over into the third period.
The Phantoms opened the final frame on the man-advantage and wasted little time capitalizing. Nathan Walker dug a puck out of the corner and passed it up to Austin Cangelosi at the top of the circles. The Boston College commit in turn handed it off to Anas at the left dot and he hammered in a one-timer to tie the game up just 29 seconds into the final period.
Cangelosi had a chance to put the Phantoms in front on a partial breakaway eight minutes later, but he was turned away with a kick save from Hunter Miska. USA quickly gathered the rebound and pushed the play back up ice with numbers. Louis came down the left side and tried to thread a pass across the crease, but the puck caught a Phantoms' defenseman's skate a ricocheted past Romeo to put the National Team up 2-1.
USA stretched it to 3-1 just three minutes later when Kevin Labanc found Tyler Motte by himself in the slot and he one-touched it into the net. With the Phantoms reeling, McCarron challenged defenseman Dan Renouf and he was more than happy to oblige. The pride of Pickering, Ontario landed a few right hooks before tossing the 6-foot-5, 225-pound McCarron to the ice to reignite the Youngstown bench.
"Danny's fought pretty much all of the tough guys in the league and he's held his own," Noreen said. "There wasn't a guy on our bench that was sitting after that. We definitely fed off of it."
It took less than two minutes for McCrea to bring the Phantoms back within a goal. Luke Stork cleared a puck out from his corner and Alexander Dahl stretched out and got a stick on it, deflecting it into the boards and bouncing right back out for McCrea at center ice. The burly winger settled the puck, skated into the zone, picked out the top right corner and sniped it to make it a 3-2 game with 5:28 remaining.
That, however, was as close as they would come to evening the score. Team USA was able to kill off enough time on the clock to limit Youngstown's window to pull Romeo for the extra attacker. When the Phantoms finally did, they were not able to put the puck past Miska, who earned his third win of the season.