Image courtesy of Phantomshockey.com
Anthony Stolarz won the first professional game of his career, turning aside 39 shots in a dominating performance as he earned the shutout in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms 4-0 win against the Worcester Sharks at PPL Center Friday night.
It was Stolarz’s first start in front of the Phantoms faithful, including some of his biggest fans.
“It was exciting. My parents and brothers came out and made it even more special,” Stolarz said. “Going in all I wanted was a win, but to get was the cherry on top.”
The Phantoms got things started quickly as Blair Jones slid a pass from behind the net to Taylor Leier, who fired it past CJ Anderson less than two minutes into the game. After forcing an offensive zone faceoff during a Worcester power play, Robert Hagg one-timed a slapper right off the draw to give the Phantoms a shorthanded goal and a 2-0 lead. Hagg had two points and turned in another strong game.
“Robert is a smart player. He’s really poised with the puck as a young player.” Gordon said. “He’s got an offensive flare and is only going to get better.”
Stolarz was tested in the early going as the Sharks pushed back with pressure of their own after each goal. The former London Knight was strong as he pushed aside 16 shots in the opening frame to keep Worcester off the scoreboard. He also was quick to credit his teammates.
My chest was a trampoline tonight, the puck was hitting it and jumping off,’ Stolarz said. “They were there to bail me out and clear some pucks I should have swallowed up and kept.”
The Phantoms followed the blueprint to start the game with a tally just 90 seconds into the period. Brandon Manning scored for the fourth straight game and it was a strange one. Manning’s slapper deflected off of two Sharks players and fluttered high into air, just over the outstretched glove of Anderson as the Phantoms extended their lead.
As the Phantoms began to control play, the Sharks frustrations clearly began to mount. Worcester tried to muscle the Phantoms around but wound up taking three penalties to really hamper any sustained offense in the Lehigh Valley zone. Even when the Sharks had their chances, the Phantoms were in good position and forced shots off-target.
After the Sharks replaced Anderson with Aaron Dull to start the third, Gordon welcomed him less than a minute in as he made Worcester pay for a costly turnover deep in their zone to give the Phantoms a 4-0 lead.
Discipline was soon out the window as teams combined for 32 penalty minutes in the third, 25 of them to the Phantoms alone. Some sloppy penalties gave Worcester a 5-on-3 power play with just under two minutes away and did the Sharks give their due diligence to end the shutout. Stolarz faced an onslaught of Worcester shots, several of them one-timers, but was not fazed at all. He turned aside all of them and earned a standing ovation from the 8,541 on hand as the game ended.
“Stolarz definitely showed a another level of his game we haven’t really necessarily [had a chance] to see yet.” Gordon said. “He stole the show late and seeing him buckle down to make those saves really builds confidence in himself and us.”
Head coach Terry Murray shared Gordon’s sentiments as well.
“He was very calm.” Murray said. “[Stolarz] was under control and was aggressive when he had to be.”
The Phantoms had been involved in some nail biters since the beginning of their recent homestand. They had some issues lately holding onto the lead (as recently as Wednesday) but were fully in control against the struggling Sharks, who have now lost five straight. Even in victory, Murray still pointed out they had some things to work on.
“Execution in the game itself,” Murray said. “We want to be more disciplined. The game has to be bigger than getting even when you’re in a 4-0 situation.”
The Phantoms are right back at it tomorrow night as they play their third game in four nights when they face off against the St. John Ice Caps.Murray said he had one final message for his team.
“Go get some rest, go eat some good food and hydrate. Get ready for tomorrow, we have to do it all over again.”
-Blair Jones has not missed a beat since joining the Phantoms earlier this week after Scott Laughton got the call-up. Jones now has three assists in two games, including the game-winning shootout goal Wednesday against Hershey.
-Taylor Leier’s first goal tonight was eerily similar to a goal last week against Toronto. Except Leier was the one making the blind backhand pass from behind the net and Laughton was the goal scorer.
-The AHL is really lenient with their definition of roughing. Oliver Lauridsen and Micheal Haley dropped the gloves in the second period and exchanged several punches. Except both were giving roughing calls and not fighting. Speaking of Haley, he was in the box five different times over the course of the game, racking up 13 PIMs.
-Stolarz picked a good time to showcase his stuff tonight as Flyers general manager past and present, Paul Holmgren and Ron Hextall, as well as other members of the front office were in the house tonight. Hextall’s son, Brett, plays on the Phantoms, getting one shot on goal and taking a penalty with dad watching on.
-Poor Jay Rosehill just wanted to fight. Three times he tried dropping to gloves unsuccessfully. He finally got rewarded with a ten minute misconduct for his troubles on the third attempt.