Hold Off Comets Late Comeback
December 27, 2023
Allentown, PA – The Lehigh Valley Phantoms raced out to a 5-1 lead barely more than 22 minutes into their contest against the Utica Comets but then had to hold on tight all the way to the finish in a 5-4 win on Wednesday evening at PPL Center.
The craziness began early with four combined goals in the first five minutes of the contest as the Phantoms overcame an initial 1-0 deficit to take a 3-1 advantage on goals by Garrett Wilson (6th), Wade Allison (7th) and Alexis Gendron (5th). The first career AHL goal for Jacob Gaucher opened the second period and was quickly followed by Cooper Marody (8th) making it 5-1.
But Max Willman (8th, 9th) thrived in his first game against his former team with a pair of tallies driving the Comets’ attack who made it far too close for comfort.
But knocking the starting goalie out of the game jut five minutes into the contest and then expanding the lead to 5-1 less than 23 minutes in perhaps had the Phantoms feeling like they were in for a comfortable night. Phantoms captain Garrett Wilson said that’s the danger of getting that far out in front against an opponent that refuses to throw in the towel.
“It’s tough,” Wilson said. “Anytime you get a 5-1 lead you can either step on their throat or you can kind of take your foot off the gas like we did. They got some momentum and we had a couple costly turnovers and brought them back into the game when we had full control. Definitely going to learn from that. We’re young and it’s a learning experience for us. We have to move on and also make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
For the second game in a row, the Phantoms surrendered a goal in the opening seconds of the game. Former Phantoms speedster Max Willman zipped in behind the defense off the opening faceoff and scored on a breakaway just 11 seconds into the contest to celebrate his return to downtown Allentown. It was the second-fastest goal ever allowed by Lehigh Valley and came one game after the fastest-ever strike when Zac Dalpe of Charlotte buried it just nine seconds into the game last Friday.
Lehigh Valley (13-11-5) was ready to strike back with three straight goals just 3:20 apart. Wilson sniped from the right dot with a top-shelf bullet at 1:37 on a goal assisted by Cooper Marody and Elliot Desnoyers.
Just 1:09 later it was Wade Allison at the net-front taking a feed through traffic from Ronnie Attard who had driven up the left wing. Allison neatly maneuvered the puck to his backhand to tuck one in past the right skate of starting goaltender Isaac Poulter for a 2-1 advantage.
Barely more than two minutes after that, it was Gendron on the move with almost a breakaway up the right wing to rifle his shot top-shelf at 4:57 on a nice lead by Ethan Samson while Adam Ginning also recorded an assist on the play.
The game wasn’t even five minutes old but Lehigh Valley already held a 3-1 advantage and Poulter was removed from the game by Utica head coach, and former Philadelphia Flyer Kevin Dineen, after surrendering three goals on just four shots. Jeremy Brodeur, the son of Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur, entered the game for the New Jersey AHL affiliate to make his Utica Comets debut.
Lehigh Valley extended its lead early in the second period. Another goal for the fourth liners made it 4-1 when Gaucher buried his top-shelf drive for his first career goal in the American League. Gaucher had scored 22 goals with the Reading Royals of the ECHL last season.
Just 2:11 into the second period, Marody made it 5-1 when Desnoyers chased down a puck behind the Utica goal on a lead pass by Wilson. Desnoyers carried out in front on the right of the cage and found Marody on the backdoor who was able to get a stick on the pass across even while he was covered to put the Phantoms ahead 5-1.
Utica (10-12-3) pushed forward on the comeback trail and came dangerously close to pulling off an incredible rally at Lehigh Valley.
Comets leading scorer Graeme Clarke took advantage of a Phantoms turnover and scored on the breakaway with 8:10 remaining in the second period to cut the margin to 5-2.
Less than two minutes later, Justin Dowling connected down low from Willman for a power-play goal making the margin 5-3.
Shortly after Utica blasted a shot off the post, the Comets rushed into the zone again, this time catching the Phantoms on a line-change. Kyle Criscuolo had a nifty drop for Willman on a connection of former Lehigh Valley Phantoms teammates and Willmans’ drive from the right circle beat Sandstrom for his second of the night to make it a one-goal game with 1:37 remaining in the second period.
But clinging to a 5-4 lead into the third period, Lehigh Valley would find its game again. The Phantoms clamped down defensively and killed a pair of Utica power plays early in the third period. After racking up 27 shots in the first 40 minutes, including 15 shots on goal in the middle frame, the Comets only had one shot on goal for 19 minutes of the third period. Utica managed two more pucks at Sandstrom in the closing minute at 6-on-5. But the shot count of 3-3 in the third period was an indication of the more responsible play the Phantoms needed to close out a hard-earned and unusual win.
Head coach Ian Laperriere said that smarter plays and more responsible decisions were the key. Wade Allison was a big part of that. Not only did he score a goal in the first period, but Allison had several key plays in the third while the Phantoms were grinding this one to the finish line including during the 6-on-5 in the last minutes.
“You bend but you don’t break,” Laperriere said. “Boys battled. Laz (Laczynski) battled. Wade made great plays on the wall and that’s what it takes. They have an extra guy out there. So you need to be strong on that wall. Wade made the right couple of great plays there. You don’t notice on the scoresheet but he took an extra stride to get to that red line and put it deep. Played behind their D and that was the message. When you have guys like that you hope that the young guys will follow.”
Wade Allison has scored goals in consecutive games and now has four goals in the last seven contests.
The Phantoms are on a three-game point streak (2-0-1). Lehigh Valley went 0-for-2 on the power play to snap its streak of six straight games with a power-play goal.
Cooper Marody registered a goal and an assist and now has 8-19-27 on the season thus passing Samu Tuomaala for the team-lead in scoring. Marody has points in six of the last seven games and has scored 3-8-11 in that stretch.
Emil Andrae recorded an assist to extend his career-best point streak to six games with 2-7-9 since December 13.
Elliot Desnoyers had two assists in a game for the second time this season and for the first time since October 20 at Springfield.
The Phantoms return to PPL Center for the penultimate game of calendar year 2023 with a Saturday night rivalry tilt against the first-place Hershey Bears. Saturday features the team’s Whiteout uniforms and the Whiteout Night for the fans also includes a white knit cap giveaway courtesy of The Morning Call.
The Phantoms conclude the three-game homestand on New Year’s Eve with a Sunday night clash against the Charlotte Checkers including a glowstick giveaway from Penn Community Bank. The celebration continues outside after the game with the World’s Largest Puck Drop at midnight.
1st 0:11 – UTC, M. Willman (8) (X. Parent, S. Hatakka) (0-1)
1st 1:37 – LV, G. Wilson (6) (C. Marody, E. Desnoyers) (1-1)
1st 2:46 – LV, W. Alliosn (7) (R. Attard, O. Lycksell) (2-1)
1st 4:57 – LV, A. Gendron (5) (E. Samson, A. Ginning) (3-1)
2nd 0:27 – LV, J. Gaucher (1) (A. Gendron, E. Andrae) (4-1)
2nd 2:11 – LV, C. Marody (8) (E. Desnoyers, G. Wilson) (5-1)
2nd 11:50 – UTC, G. Clarke (11) (Unassisted) (5-2)
2nd 13:47 – UTC, J. Dowling (3) (M. Willman, X. Parent) (PP) (5-3)
2nd UTC 18:23 – UTC, M. Willman (9) (K. Criscuolo, R. Russo) (5-4)
LV 26 – UTC 30
LV 0/2, UTC 1/4
LV – F. Sandstrom (W) (26/30) (4-2-2)
UTC – I. Poulter (ND) (1/4)
UTC – J. Brodeur (L) (20/22) (0-1-0)
Lehigh Valley (13-11-5)
Saturday, December 30 (7:05) – Hershey Bears at Lehigh Valley Phantoms – Phantoms Knit Caps presented by The Morning Call. Whiteout Night.
Sunday, December 31 (7:05) – Charlotte Checkers at Lehigh Valley Phantoms – World’s Largest Puck Drop! Glowsticks presented by Penn Community Bank
Saturday, January 6 (6:05) – Lehigh Valley Phantoms at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Sunday, January 7 (3:00) – Lehigh Valley Phantoms at Hershey Bears