Phantoms roll, top Rangers 4-1

Mahoning Valley started this weekend’s showcase the right way.



BOARDMAN — The Mahoning Valley Phantoms know just how critical this weekend’s showcase is if they expect to remain in contention in the NAHL’s tough North Division race.

With four games against division foes on tap, starting off on the right note was a necessity.

Goals by Alden Hirschfeld, Chad Boeckman, Derek Graham and Grant Blakey, and another superb outing by Garrett Bartus in goal helped lift the Phantoms to a 4-1 win over the Marquette Rangers in their first showcase outing Friday at the Ice Zone.

“We needed this first one and we’ll take them any way we can get them. It’s a big weekend for us as well as the community and we wanted to kick it off on the right foot,” Phantoms coach Bob Mainhardt said. “Garrett [Bartus] made some big stops for us and came up big when we needed him to rise to the occasion. The big key was the fact that we stuck to our game plan and stayed consistent at both ends of the ice all night.

“My hat goes off to Marquette goalie Beau Christian, however, in that he was equally impressive as well for the Rangers.”

The Phantoms (21-10-3, 45 points) got on the board first at 7:10 of the opening period when Hirschfeld, with an assist from Graham, notched his 12th goal of the season for a 1-0 advantage just 20 minutes into the game.

Marquette’s Derek Grogan then tied the game at 1-all with his power play tally just 2:44 into the second frame, but goals by Boeckman (4:44) and Graham (16:09) pushed the Phantom lead to 3-1 heading to the final period of play.

It was the eighth goal of the year for Boeckman. Graham, who had a two-point night, registered his team-leading 26th tally on the season.

“Derek [Graham] is very special in that he dictates the tempo of the game; slowing it down when necessary or speeding it up if need be,” Mainhardt said. “He does a lot of things that I would like to take credit for, but the simple truth is he does things on skates that you just cannot teach. He is a very special player.”

Blakey rounded out the scoring for Mahoning Valley with his 13th goal at 10:19 of the final period.

The Phantoms outshot the Rangers 45-24, including 17-4 in the crucial final period of play. Bartus rejected all but one of Marquette’s shots on the night as he improved to 14-4-2 overall when in goal.

Marquette (20-14-2, 42 points) fell to 10-8-1 on the road.

In the showcase opener, Alpena defeated the U.S Nationals, 6-5 as six Ice Digger players scored a goal with Bryan Ross netting the game winner at 13:13 of the final period.

Alpena (22-12-2, 46 points) remained in second-place in the North Division with the win as they raced to a 4-0 lead midway through the second period, only to have Team USA (16-17-2, 34 points) score four unanswered goals — the fourth coming at 10:24 of the third period to forge a 4-all tie.

Kevin McCarey had two goals for the U.S. Nationals.

In Friday’s other game, division-leading St. Louis, the top-scoring team in the NAHL, used goals by Kyle O’Kane, Ben Warda and Ben Miller for a hard-fought 3-2 win over the Traverse City North Stars.

St. Louis, 29-6-1 overall (59 points), remained atop the North Division with their fourth consecutive win while the North Stars fell to 11-15-8 (30 points) on the year. It was the 10th win in their last 11 outings for the Bandits as they improved to 12-5-1 in 18 roads contests, and 18-1 when designated as the home team.

The Phantoms will take on Traverse City at 7:30 p.m. today, while St. Louis entertains Alpena at 12:00 noon and Team USA meets the Rangers at 4 p.m. at the Ice Zone.