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On the strength of two game-winning goals from rookie forward Grant Blakey, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms earned their first sweep of the season, notching two wins over the Alpena Ice Diggers last weekend.
“As a whole, we performed pretty well,” said Phantoms assistant coach Curtis Carr. “We had a few down times throughout the weekend, but the guys were able to respond for the first time this year and comeback to turn it into two victories.”
“It feels awesome to sweep,” Blakey said. “It’s the first time we’ve done it this year, but we should be doing it every weekend. It’s a great feeling.”
After Alpena fought back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game midway through the third period on Friday night, Blakey struck for his first goal of the weekend. Capitalizing on a hard bounce off the end boards, Blakey put the rebound of an Alden Hirschfeld shot over Ice Diggers goaltender Nate Pellegrino to secure the 4-3 victory.
“Hirsch just shot it as I was going to the net,” Blakey said about his game-winner. “It came off the boards right to me, and I just fired the puck at the net. It was kind of off-angle, but it ended up going in.”
Completing the sweep on Saturday, Blakey again picked up a loose puck on the doorstep, sliding a goal between the legs of Alpena goaltender Dan Pason, finalizing a 2-1 triumph with just 10:40 left in regulation.
“Grant’s been playing really well,” Carr said. “Ever since we moved him to the wing with (Derek) Graham and Hirschfeld, that’s been our most productive line. Grant is finding his holes and has been able to bury his opportunities.”
In the tight-checking, defensive battle, Phantoms rookie goaltender Jordan Tibbett shined the brightest. Tibbett, making his first start since Oct. 20, played solidly for his third win of the season.
“The defense played pretty good,” Tibbett said. “I only saw about 20 shots today. Every shot that I had, I saw it the whole way in. I’m pretty happy with the way I played. I haven’t played that way in a while.”
“Tibbs had a great game,” Carr remarked on the play of his goaltender. “He has all the skill in the world. We’ve been going with the hot hand lately because of Garrett (Bartus). We know that Tibbett has the ability - tonight he showed that when he’s in the net, we have every opportunity to win as well.”
Veteran forwards Hirschfeld and Brent Dexter led the Phantoms in scoring over the two-game series. Dexter tallied two goals and an assist, while Hirschfeld gathered a goal and two helpers in the sweep.
The Phantoms are now 4-0-1 in their last five games, pushing their record to 12-5-2 on the year. Mahoning Valley remains six points behind the division-leading St. Louis Bandits, but moved six points ahead of the Marquette Rangers, third in the NAHL North Division.
Despite all the positives, Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt says not everything ran as smoothly as it could have.
“We still have a lot of growing to do,” Mainhardt said after Saturday’s game. “I guess it’s a positive to get a sweep and not play nearly to our potential. But we’ll take the positives from this weekend, get back to work this week and hopefully be better prepared for next weekend.”
The Phantoms now travel to Traverse City, Mich., for a three-game series against the sixth-place North Stars (7-5-3, 17 pts.). After the weekend, Mahoning Valley will have played 20 of its first 22 games on the road.
AROUND THE NAHL
MCRAE TO WEST POINT: Second-year Fairbanks forward Alex McRae, 20, has committed to the U.S. Military Academy (Atlantic Hockey) for next season. This year, the Mindora, Wis., native is scoreless after seven games.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE: The U.S. Under-17 Team finished with a 2-1 record at the Four Nations Tournament in Dimitrov, Russia. Jeremy Morin was named the tournament’s best forward, while Cam Fowler was recognized as the best defenseman.
FORMER PHANTOM HONORED: Providence College senior goaltender Tyler Sims (Mahoning Valley, 2003-04) was named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week after backstopping the Friars to a two-game sweep of No. 11-ranked Maine University.
TAORMINA COPS HOCKEY EAST AWARD: Providence College junior defenseman Matt Taormina (St. Louis, 2004-05) was named Hockey East Player of the Week after scoring two goals and four assists in the Friars’ two-game sweep of No. 11-ranked Maine University last weekend.
MORE POINTS FOR PATTERSON: Springfield forward Cory Patterson, 20, continues to impress offensively after posting a five-point weekend in a two-game sweep of Wichita Falls, highlighted by a hat trick in the Jr. Blues’ 6-3 win on Friday. “Cory played exceptionally well when we needed him to last weekend,” said Jr. Blues assistant coach Eric Ballard.
JETS ADD BEAUDETTE: Fargo-Moorhead acquired forward Joe Beaudette, 19, from the USHL’s Indiana Ice. The Blaine, Minn., native had a goal and two assists in 19 games between Indiana and Omaha of the USHL this year.
DUSTIN THE DIFFERENCE: Alaska forward Dustin Skinner, 19, who was recently acquired from Southern Minnesota, potted two goals, as well as one in Saturday’s shootout, and three assists last weekend as the Avalanche won two games over Kenai River. “Dustin was unreal for us,” said Avs coach-GM Jamie Smith. “He was truly a difference-maker.”
A FINE LINE: Marquette’s top line of Austin Mattson, 16, Chad Pietila, 18, and Josh Bussell, 18, combined for nine points in the Rangers’ 5-2 win over Fargo-Moorhead on Saturday. “Those guys played a major role in our team bouncing back after a loss (6-3 to the Jets on Friday),” said Rangers coach Randy Enders. “They not only did the job on the power play, but played a solid game 5-on-5.”