Sweep lifts Phantoms into playoffs
by By Cameron Lee
Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
After falling behind 3-0 in the first 20 minutes of their three-game series last weekend against the Traverse City North Stars, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms abruptly turned things around, outscoring the Stars 17-3 in the final eight periods to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of next month’s NAHL playoffs.
“Clinching gives us a bit of a comfort level; we know we’re going to have the home-ice advantage in at least the first round,” said Phantoms assistant coach Curtis Carr. “It gives us some breathing room and an opportunity maybe to pull guys in and out of the lineup so we don’t have to play guys with bumps and bruises, and make sure we’re healthy for the playoffs.”
Entering Friday’s game, the Stars had gone 9-0-1 in their previous 10 games. After Kyle Bonis notched two and Eric McLintock buried a rebound to put Traverse City up 3-0 with less than two minutes remaining in the first period, it appeared they were just going to keep on rolling.
Kyle Bailey’s power-play goal midway through the second period, however, and then two in a row by Stefan Salituro, including the game-tying goal at 6:47 of the final frame, brought the Phantoms back and forced extra time. Brian McGinty’s snipe in the eighth round of a shootout finally won it 4-3.
“Hats off to them. They sprung a break, scored, and got us away from our game plan for about 10 minutes there,” said Phantoms coach-GM Bob Mainhardt after Friday’s game. “But we were able to re-gather our composure and come out and play a very solid 40 minutes after that.”
Saturday’s game looked as though it was going to be just as close as Friday’s after the teams skated to a 1-1 tie at the first intermission. But a five-goal second period from the Phantoms and a physical third period sent fans at the Ice Zone into a frenzy and sealed a 7-2 triumph.
“Usually it takes the first period for us to get adjusted,” said Carr after Saturday’s win. “Each night, it seems like in the second period we have a good idea of what the game plan is going to be and we can go from there.”
The second-period domination rolled over into Sunday afternoon as well. After a slow start and a scoreless first period, Bailey’s hat trick and three points each from McGinty and Salituro led the Phantoms to a four-goal second period en route to the 6-1 decision.
It’s been the play of the Phantoms’ fourth-liners that has led the team to six wins in the last seven games. Salituro shined the brightest, scoring four and assisting on three more to lead the team to its fifth sweep of the year. Salituro now has a point in each of his last six games.
After picking up an honorable mention for Player of the Week last week, Bailey slotted five goals against the Stars and added a helper as well. In addition, McGinty also tallied two goals and three assists while playing on the team’s fourth line.
“I’m a firm believer that, at this level, there’s no excuse not to have four lines of players that can get the job done,” said Mainhardt. “We’ve got four lines that, on a lot of other teams, could be on the top two lines. Everybody has to step up at different times, everyone has to contribute, and we’ve been relying a lot on them.”
The Phantoms’ defense also played a major role in the successful weekend, only giving up an average of 26.3 shots per game. Phantoms goaltenders Jordan Tibbett and Garrett Bartus combined for a .924 save percentage while holding the league’s second-best power-play unit to just two goals on 16 opportunities.
Mahoning Valley is now 33-17-4 on the year and has reached the 70-point plateau for the third straight season. Although the second-place Phantoms are 20 points behind the division-leading St. Louis Bandits with just four games left in the regular season, the Phantoms have moved seven points clear of the Alpena IceDiggers in third.
The IceDiggers will play their final games of the season this coming weekend against the Phantoms at the Ice Zone. More than likely, the weekend series will be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup between the two rivals.
AROUND THE NAHL
BANDITS SEAL REGULAR SEASON TITLE: With a two-game split with the U.S. Under-17 Team last weekend, St. Louis secured its second straight NAHL regular-season championship. The Bandits hold a 44-9-2 record with three games to play.
CROWD PLEASERS: Topeka’s crowd of 2,922 on Saturday – a 9-0 win over Wichita Falls - was the largest in team history. The RoadRunners drew 43,222 fans at Kansas Expocentre this year, surpassing the 40,582 the team drew in their three seasons in Santa Fe combined.
SALAZAR HEADING HOME: Second-year Wichita Falls forward Luke Salazar, 19, has committed to the University of Denver (WCHA) for next season. After 55 games this year, the Denver native leads the NAHL with 39 goals good for 85 points.
BROOKS TO ROBERT MORRIS: St. Louis forward Tom Brooks, 20, has committed to Robert Morris University (CHA) for next season. Brooks, a St. Louis native who played for Texas from 2005-07, has nine goals for 16 points in 32 games this year.
BLUES SIGN BISHOP: The St. Louis Blues have signed goaltender Ben Bishop (Texas, 2004-05), who recently completed his junior season at the University of Maine where he recorded a 13-18-3 record along with a 2.43 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.
ALUMNI COP COLLEGE HONORS: A number of former NAHL players were recognized by the CCHA on its All-CCHA First, Second and Rookie Teams. See the complete list of alumni winners at nahl.com.
ALUMNI COP COLLEGE HONORS II: A number of former NAHL players were recognized by the Atlantic Hockey Association on its All-Conference First, Second, Third and All-Rookie Teams. See the complete list of alumni winners at nahl.com.
ALUMNI COP COLLEGE HONORS III: Three former NAHL players were named to this year’s CHA All-Rookie Team: Robert Morris University forward Nathan Longpre (Mahoning Valley, 2006-07); Wayne State University defenseman Ryan Adams (Fargo-Moorhead, 2006-07); and Robert Morris defenseman Denny Urban (Mahoning Valley, 2005-06).
NAHL RE-LAUNCHES ROBERSTON CUP SITE: The NAHL has announced the re-launch of robertsoncup.com, the official Web site of the 2008 Robertson Cup Playoff Championship. The site is updated with all the latest information relating to this year’s tournament, which will be hosted by St. Louis.
ROY NABS ATLANTIC HOCKEY HONOR: Holy Cross freshman goaltender Adam Roy (Springfield, 2005-07) was named the Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Month for February after posting a 2.24 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in seven games.
ON THE MARC: Fargo-Moorhead forward Marc Harrie, 20, put home two goals and three assists last weekend as the Jets skated to a 1-2 record. “Marc doesn’t play to his size (5-foot-7, 150 pounds) and his non-stop, go-go attitude I wouldn’t trade for anything,” said Jets assistant coach Aaron Kinslow. “I wish I could have 100 more Harries.”