The Lehigh Valley Phantoms had a strange week. They were steamrolled by the Charlotte Checkers on Tuesday on Wednesday before losing to the Hartford Wolf Pack in overtime on Saturday. But then the team clinched first place in the Atlantic Division due to its lone win of the week against the Providence Bruins on Sunday.
Colin McDonald shined on Sunday with a goal and two assists to receive the First Star. He also scored a goal on Wednesday.
Early week struggles
The Phantoms started the week with two games in Charlotte against the Charlotte Checkers, and they came away with two losses and a 9-2 combined score. On Tuesday, the Checkers beat the Phantoms 3-1. They were down 1-0 in the third period, but two goals and an empty-netter helped the Checkers pull away with the victory. On Wednesday, the Checkers dominated the Phantoms, winning 6-1. They scored five goals in the first 27 minutes of the game before Colin McDonald’s power play goal gave the Phantoms a spot on the scoresheet. The Checkers scored 22 seconds into the third to finally make it 6-1.
On Saturday, the Phantoms played the Hartford Wolf Pack with refreshed minds. Mikhail Vorobyev opened the scoring for the Phantoms in the first period, but the Wolf Pack scored two of their own in the third period. Determined not to lose in regulation for a third-straight game, Phil Varone scored with 18 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime. But, T.J. Brennan took a slashing call and Vinni Lettieri scored in overtime to win the game for the Wolf Pack, 3-2.
Even with the loss, the loser point that the Phantoms received for their efforts on Saturday was instrumental in helping them clinch the playoffs on Sunday against the Providence Bruins.
Sunday, Apr. 8th at Providence Bruins (6-3 win)
Here’s the good part of the week.
The Phantoms travelled to Providence to play the Providence Bruins in their last road regular season game with the scenario clear: win and they would clinch the Atlantic Division title. They did just that as they beat the Bruins, 6-3.
The game started off with Carsen Twarynski’s first professional goal. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time; Nicolas Aube-Kubel drove into the zone with speed on the right wing before shooting the puck low with the intent of getting a rebound. Zane McIntyre stuck his pad out and kicked the puck right to Twarynski, giving the Phantoms the 1-0 lead.
Just a few minutes later, Colin McDonald fed Greg Carey a beautiful backdoor, cross-crease pass, and Carey finished the play to give the Phantoms a 2-0 lead.
After Aube-Kubel took a goaltender interference call late in the period, the Bruins scored on the power play. Trent Frederic slid the puck by John Muse who couldn’t see the puck due to the screen.
The Phantoms weren’t finished. They scored twice in the three minutes that followed Frederic’s goal.
T.J. Brennan wristed a simple shot by McIntyre on the power play to make it 3-1. Then McDonald scored to make it 4-1. The play was made possible by Mikhail Vorobyev’s fervent forecheck. At the end of the first, the Phantoms led, 4-1.
Phil Varone scored the lone goal in the second period. After Mark Friedman’s shot was saved, Varone’s weak backhand shot jumped over the line to make it 5-1.
The Bruins scored twice in the third period to give the Phantoms a bit of a scare. Perhaps they were being too lenient, but they were tasked with staving off a Bruins offense that recorded 23 shots to the Phantoms’ five in the third period. Maxim Lamarche took two penalties in the last 3:30 minutes of the game to give the Bruins a fighting chance to tie it with the extra man, but Muse and the Phantoms stood tall. Cole Bardreau scored an empty-netter on a 150-foot shot from inside the defensive zone with under a second to go to make it 6-3. The Phantoms did what they had to do to clinch the Atlantic Division.
Muse saved 32 of 35 shots. McDonald scored and recorded two assists to lead the Phantoms with three points. Varone and Vorobyev each recorded two points.
Star of the week
Colin McDonald recorded four points this week, including a one-goal, two-assist effort to earn him the First Star on Sunday against the Providence Bruins. McDonald has 24 points this season in 55 games. He’s been the Phantoms’ captain since 2015, and he certainly plays with heart whenever he is in the Phantoms’ lineup. When the Phantoms needed a spark on Sunday, he helped ignite it.
His two-year contract that he signed with the Flyers in 2016 runs out at the end of this season.
Early last week, Alex Lyon was sent back down to the Phantoms from the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers recalled Lyon on an emergency basis until Brian Elliott returned. Also, Carsen Twarynski, Pascal Laberge, and Isaac Ratcliffe all signed ATOs with the Phantoms after their CHL seasons ended.
The Phantoms clinched first place in the Atlantic Division by virtue of beating the Providence Bruins on Sunday.
- Friday, 4/13 vs. Bridgeport Sound Tigers
- Saturday, 4/14 vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Photo by Casey Liberatore/Sons of Penn