Image courtesy of Phantomshockey.com
Royal additions helped make the Phantoms kings of the evening.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms defeated the Norfolk Admirals 3-2 in a shootout thanks to some big contributions from recent additions to the club. Martin Ouellette made 34 saves and stole the show stopping all eight Admirals he faced in the shootout. Adam Comrie save his best for last as he finally broke through to score the lone goal of the skills competition.
“Just take what he gives me,” Comrie said, describing what was going through his mind just before skating up.
The Phantoms were shorthanded coming into the game, losing both defenseman Mark Alt and goaltender Anthony Stolarz to injury the previous night in a loss to Hershey. With Stolarz out and Robb Zepp with the Philadelphia Flyers, the Phantoms turned to rookie netminder Ouellette in his first career AHL start. Comrie was recalled just earlier today to take Alt’s place on the roster. Just a week ago both players were skating for the Reading Royals of the ECHL.
The first period was all Phantoms as they controlled play up and down the ice, outshooting the Admirals 18-10 as Norfolk looked sluggish most of the frame. After a strong individual effort from Jason Akeson to generate some offensive zone pressure, Nick Cousins was able to beat Admirals goaltender John Gibson with a quick shot that deflected off one of Gibson’s teammates in front to give Lehigh Valley a 1-0 lead in the closing minutes of the first. The former World Juniors Gold Medalist was perhaps the only reason it wasn’t a multi-goal lead for the Phantoms.
With the Phantoms opening the second period on a four minute power play thanks to a Norfolk double minor, Jason Akeson extended the lead on a deke and top corner snipe just over Gibson’s shoulder from the slot for the power play goal. Norfolk quickly responded less than 90 seconds later as Louis Leblanc roofed a backhander over Ouellette on a loose puck to cut the lead in half.
Norfolk had a several chances to find the equalizer thanks to some questionable and unnecessary penalties taken by the Phantoms. The Admirals had three separate power plays in the period alone but were thwarted each time thanks to aggressive penalty killing. As the game waned into its final minutes, Norfolk stunned the crowd silent as Chris Wagner tied it up on a one-timer as the Phantoms were caught sleeping to force overtime in Allentown.
After a scoreless but frenetic overtime period, the teams went to the much maligned shootout. Back-and-forth it went as every shot was saved, missed or mishandled. Finally, Comrie was able to beat Gibson five-hole with the backhand as Norfolk whiffed on their final shot in a fitting way to end the game.
Ouellette didn’t feel like nerves got to him at all during high pressure situations like overtime and the shootout.
“You don’t really think about it [too much].” Ouellette said. “You just get in the zone and just try to keep your team in it.”
Zack Stortini had two assists and Akeson was given the secondary assist on the Cousins goal to each register two points on the night. The Phantoms got back on the winning side of things after dropping their last two games on road earlier this week. The Phantoms closed out their 2014 home slate in front of 8,918 fans, the largest crowd at PPL Center this season.
The Phantoms improve to 14-11-4-1 and remain in third place in the East Division as Norfolk drops to 12-17-0-1 to stay in last place. Lehigh Valley is off until New Year’s Eve when they travel to face Binghamton and will not return to Allentown until Jan. 16 against Albany.