Saints’ OT goal ends Phantoms season

Dubuque rallies late to force bonus hockey to get 2-0 series sweep

By Tom Williams


Willie Knierim’s goal 4:47 into overtime brought the Youngstown Phantoms’ season to a crushing end.

“Your heart just drops,” Phantoms captain Craig Needham said Tuesday after the Dubuque Fighting Saints won 3-2 for a 2-0 series sweep in the USHL Clark Cup Playoffs opening round. “So many emotions go through your head — the bond you create with every guy in that locker room, the coaches, everybody around [the Covelli Centre].

“You just see it slip through your hands,” said Needham, who will skate for the Providence Friars in the fall. “You don’t really appreciate being around one another until you know that it comes to an end.”

Sixth-seeded Dubuque advances to play top-seeded Muskegon in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Fourth-seeded Cedar Rapids will play second-seed Chicago in the other best-of-five series.

The Phantoms lost consecutive games for the first time since Feb. 16 and 22. They went 12-3 down the stretch to earn the Eastern Conference’s third seed.

Unlike Monday’s 3-1 loss when the Phantoms started sluggishly, they dominated early.

“I thought we were firing on all cylinders,” Brad Patterson said after his third playoff appearance in his three seasons as Phantoms head coach. “I really liked a lot [of how we played] tonight.

“The negativity of not getting the job done — that’s hard to swallow.”

Liam Robertson scored the only goal of the first period, deflecting Gianfranco Cassaro’s shot from the point past Dubuque goaltender Matthew Thiessen.

The game tightened up and the pace slowed in the second period. The Saints just missed tying the game when the puck hit the crossbar behind goaltender Chad Veltri.

Thiessen was shaken up late in second period when he crashed into goalpost. After a couple of minutes on the ice, Thiessen got up and continued to play. He finished with 19 saves.

Twenty seconds into the third period, the Fighting Saints’ Dallas Tulik beat Veltri with a backhand shot to tie the game.

“It’s a credit to them,” Patterson said of the tying goal. “At the same time, I liked our response.”

But with 17:01 remaining, Josh DeLuca deflected Tristan Amonte’s shot past Thiessen for a 2-1 Phantoms lead.

Veltri’s biggest stop came not long after as he foiled Riese Gaber’s breakaway attempt.

But with 5:15 remaining, Logan Pietla’s power-play goal tied the game 2-2.

“It was a back-and-forth game,” Patterson said. “We knew coming into the series, it was going to be tight.

“Credit to them — they made it very hard in transition,” Patterson said. “They made it hard to get to the hard areas.

“Tonight, we did a much better job of getting there, generating [opportunities].

Thiessen made 27 saves.

The Phantoms went 0-for-4 on the power-play and killed four of the Saints’ five man-advantages.

Last season, the Phantoms had a first-round bye for finishing second, then won best-of-five series to qualify for the Clark Cup Final for the first time.

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