YOUNGSTOWN — Aggression paved the way for the Youngstown Phantoms as they dispatched the US National Team Development Program U17s, 5-1 to pick up their first home victory of 2024 and their third consecutive victory.
The Phantoms’ win streak comes on the heels of a seven-game winless streak that started after Christmas. To Phantoms coach Ryan Ward, there were some uncontrollable issues that played a part in that skid, but overcoming it can only help them in the long run.
“I think a little bit of it was circumstantial and a little bit was self-inflicted. I thought our team probably felt really good going into Christmas and then came back and was a little bit complacent,” Ward said. “When that happens, you have to turn things around pretty quick, it’s tough to dig out of that.
“While certainly we were in a rut, I think that that is good to go through. I think that anytime you’re in a negative situation, you learn from it, at least I hope you do, and in that situation, I think that our guys really understood how hard it is to win and I think we’ll be better for it.”
Wisconsin-bound forward Ryan Botterill got the Phantoms on the board first, gliding down the middle of the ice and finishing with a quick tap to put his team up 1-0.
Controlling pace throughout the first, the Phantoms tacked another on the board before the opening frame was over.
Forward Daniel Jencko was the triggerman for the second goal of the evening, putting away the shot that put Youngstown up a pair of goals after the first quarter.
Hunter Ramos closed out the middle frame with his fifth goal of the season, knocking one in from up close to extend the Phantoms’ lead to 3-1 going into the final intermission.
Less than a minute after killing a period-opening penalty, the Phantoms got on the board again. Adam Pietila netted his team-high 16th goal of the season to further extend the lead.
After an NTDP penalty in the crease for handling the puck, Jencko got tapped with a penalty shot, and what was a 3-1 Phantoms lead, became a 5-1 lead in the blink of an eye. Jencko’s shot connected with twine, marking his seventh goal since making the jump to North America in November.
The two-goal night for Jencko can be credited to Ward’s challenge to his forward in making the most of his even strength minutes.
“The challenge I had for Daniel the last little bit, was to be harder five-on-five and to make more of an impact five-on-five,” Ward said. “I think he’s starting to understand that if he wants to do what he wants to do in this game, he has to be committed big time on five-on-five. He’s a real special player. He’s a great kid, he wants to learn and he wants to get better and he works real hard. He has been outstanding.
“When you look at bringing in a midseason acquisition, like Daniel or Martin Misiak, there’s an adjustment period. People forget these guys are leaving in the middle of the year flying a long way from home. The language barrier you have to get adjusted to, a new town, a new family, a new billet. There’s going to be a high right off the bat and there’s going to be a little dip, and then now I think Daniel is finding his footing.”
The offense was flowing for the Phantoms as they threw 39 total shots on net.
Netminder Aiden Wright made his Phantoms debut Saturday night after his acquisition was made official on Thursday.
In his USHL debut, Wright recorded 24 saves and gave up the lone goal in the second period to Cullen Potter.
Following the game, Wright was showered with water bottles by his teammates in the locker room in celebration of his first win.
“It was a little bit crazy to me honestly,” a soaked Wright said about his week. “It was awesome, but a lot of things were going through my mind. What game I’m going to play in, how the boys were going to like me and stuff. It was pretty chaotic.”
After the win, it’s safe to say Wright has endeared himself to the team.
Next up, the Phantoms (20-10-4-1, 45 points) face the U18s on Thursday in Michigan before returning home for a Friday-Saturday series against Cedar Rapids.
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