The Youngstown Phantoms took a big step toward escaping the USHL Eastern Conference basement by completing a two-game sweep of the Dubuque Fighting Saints this weekend at the Covelli Centre.
On Saturday night, Youngstown got scoring from four different sources for a 4-1 victory, their third over Dubuque in as many meetings this season. The Phantoms improved to 4-9-0 for eight standings points, just two behind fifth-place Dubuque (5-13-0) with five games in hand.
Fifth-year coach Brad Patterson became the Phantoms’ winningest coach in improving to 127-92-26. Anthony Noreen won 126 games in four seasons for Youngstown before moving on to the ECHL for two seasons and then returning to the USHL with Tri-City in 2017-18.
Youngstown needed only 81 seconds to take the lead. Cole Burtch drove to the blue paint and tapped in a Reilly Funk centering pass from the side of Hobie Hedquist’s net for his sixth goal of the season. It marked the first time the Phantoms scored a first-period goal since Nov. 14, a span of nine games.
Late in the period, Funk delivered a hit to defenseman Dylan Herzog in the Dubuque zone that resulted in a five-minute major for penalty for boarding and a game misconduct. But the Saints couldn’t get much going on the ensuing power play, and a turnover in the neutral zone led to Jack Malone springing Ben Schoen for a breakaway and his seventh goal of the season at the 19:30 mark.
A too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty early it the second period wiped out the rest of Dubuque’s man-advantage.
The Phantoms capitalized on their first full power play of the game late in the second period to stretch the lead to 3-0. Defenseman Austen May scored on a rebound for his first goal of the season. Georgii Merkulov and Jack Malone earned the assists.
Youngstown also took a 3-0 lead into the second intermission of Friday night’s game and held on for a 5-2 victory.
Dubuque’s Connor Kurth ended Mattias Sholl’s shutout bid with 7:40 remaining in regulation. He gathered a loose puck just outside the Youngstown blueline, skated through three defenders, deked Sholl down and scored on a backhander into an empty net for his eighth goal of the season.
But Nate Hanley scored his second goal in as many nights four minutes later to stretch the lead to 4-1 and seal the victory. His shot handcuffed Hedquist and trickled across the goal line.
The Saints never led during the two-game series and trailed for 96:03 of clock time. Entering this weekend, the Saints enjoyed a three-game winning streak in which they never trailed against Muskegon, Des Moines and Chicago — three teams with winning records.
Dubuque missed an opportunity to move into a fourth-place tie with Team USA this weekend. The Americans (6-6-2) lead the Saints by four standings points despite playing four fewer games.
The Saints return home this weekend for a pair of games against in-state rivals. They play Waterloo at 7:05 p.m. Friday and Des Moines at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Mystique Community Ice Center.