Photo courtesy: Amy Irvin (38Photography)
Even though the World Junior Championships are going on in Canada right now and the Phantoms are without Robert Hagg, they still have games on their AHL schedule. Last week there were only two games: Friday night in Hershey and Saturday night at home against Norfolk. Rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz has been the talk of the Phantoms over the past week or so as his save percentage has risen to .933, good for fourth in the AHL. He got the call Friday night and saw his team get out to the early lead just five minutes into the game as Blair Jones capitalized on a chance from Jason Akeson and Oliver Lauridsen.
That lead lasted until roughly halfway through the game when the Bears evened the score. Jay Rosehill answered for the Phantoms just a minute after the tying goal with his first goal of the year. The Phantoms took the lead into the third period but unfortunately it didn’t last very long. Just 1:40 into the third and on the powerplay the Hershey Bears tied it at twos and the bad news didn’t stop there. Shortly after the score was evened a colission ensued in front of the Phantoms net and Stolarz took a shot to the head and then had his head whip back and hit the post. He left the game, didn’t return, and according to multiple sources is out for the “foreseeable future”.
Martin Ouellette relieved Stolarz and was barraged with 14 shots in less than a period. He did manage to stop 13 but that lone goal turned out to be the game winner for the Hershey Bears. They would tack on an empty netter for the insurance. While the Phantoms were worn down to a depleted roster, you know things aren’t going good when Brett Hextall leads the team with four shots.
As life usually goes in the AHL, the Phantoms didn’t have much time to get over the loss as they were right back at it the following night. Another unfortunate AHL truth was working against the Phantoms as their opening night roster was a much different team than the one sent out at the turn of the new year. The Phantoms were headlined this season by four players who were all drafted within the first three rounds of the draft, the first crop of homegrown talent playing for the phantoms in a while. For a bunch of different reasons none of those four talented youngsters would be suiting up for the Phantoms last Saturday. Shayne Gostisbehere suffered the torn ACL earlier in the season, Scott Laughton got his long-awaited call up to the NHL, Robert Hagg was lent to Sweden for the World Junior Championships, and Stolarz was out with a head injury.
Its often in situations like these when we meet the unlikeliest of heroes. Nick Cousins scored his seventh of the year late in the first with Jason Akeson following that up for his sixth of the year early in the second. Zack Stortini, who was a member of the Norfolk Admirals last season, assisted on both goals to bring his point total to 12 on the year in 30 games—a huge improvement over the 9 points he had in 73 games last year. While the band-aided Phantoms were able to hop out to the early lead they couldn’t hang onto it as the Admirals potted a goal right after Akeson’s goal and they added the game tying goal with two-and-a-half minutes left in the game. After a seven minute scoreless overtime the squads lined up for the shootout.
If you like pitchers duels in baseball, you’d certainly like what followed. Jason Akeson, Blair Jones, Petr Straka, Nick Cousins, Andrew Gordon, Darroll Powe, and Brandon Manning all failed on their attempts. Fortunately for the Phantoms third-string goalie Martin Ouellette was on his A-game. He made 33 saves on 35 shots during the 67 minute session and made stops on each of the first seven shooters during the shootout. The fifteenth shooter in the contest was one of those unlikely heros. Adam Comrie, playing in his first game for the Phantoms this season after scoring 14 points in 21 games in the ECHL burried his attempt. Ouellette then finished off his perfect 8-for-8 shootout and the Phantoms earned their 33rd point of the season, good for 9th in the conference, just one point behind both the seventh and eighth place teams.