Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007
Zapolski has 37 saves as Phantoms blank Alpena
Mahoning Valley improved to 13-0 at home with the 4-0 win.
BOARDMAN For the past week or so, Mahoning Valley goalie Ryan Zapolski has been under the weather nursing a stomach virus that has pretty much kept him on the shelf this holiday season.
Still feeling a little week but well enough to draw the start as they began second-half play, Zapolski rejected all 37 Alpena shots on goal Friday night as the Phantoms posted 4-0 decision over the Ice Diggers in North American Hockey League action at the Ice Zone.
The Phantoms (27-8-1, 55 points), the most prolific scoring team in the league this season with 157 goals, opened a seven-point lead over the Ice Diggers in the North Division.
Won 23 of last 25 games
They won their second straight and are now 13-0 at home this season, the only team to not lose on their home ice this year. They have now won 23 of their last 25 outings.
Alpena (23-9-2, 48 points), dropped its fifth straight to the Phantoms this season and its third straight at the Ice Zone.
"The team scored early and that was big for us tonight. That meant that we were able to keep the pressure on them the remainder of the game," Zapolski said.
"The coaches and team have shown confidence in me when I am in goal and that means a lot. This was a huge win because it started out both our weekend series with Alpena and the second half of our season on the right foot."
Zapolski, who registered his fourth shutout of the year, also notched his league-leading 26th win (he is 26-6-1) in the process.
While the Phantoms did a yeoman's job in keeping the Ice Diggers out of their net, Mahoning Valley head coach Bob Mainhardt saw the game just a little differently.
"Overall, it looks good in the win column but we got away from our game plan and that is a concern. We need to shake off our holiday legs and get back to our game, hopefully starting with tomorrow night's game," he said.
"On the other side of the coin, I cannot say enough about the play of [Ryan] Zapolski. He's been battling a virus for the past week yet has been very steady in goal all season long.
"He stands up for his teammates when they don't show and is to be commended for his play tonight."
Mahoning Valley's Alden Hirschfeld got the scoring started with his eighth goal of the season at 3:54 of the opening period. That would remain the score after the first period of play.
Cloutier gets 20th goal
When Dustin Cloutier added his team-leading 20th goal of the year at 10:31 of the second frame, the Phantoms had built a 2-0 advantage after the first 40 minutes of play.
"We always talk about doing the little things right. Tonight, luck and talent and the play of [Ryan] Zapolski in goal got us by," Cloutier stated.
"This was a big win for us because it gets us half way to our goal of a four-point weekend. We need to get every point possible the rest of the way."
Nathan Longpre, who scored four goals against the Sweden National Team on Thursday night, added his 15th goal of the season at 2:53 of the final period, a short-handed netter which allowed the Phantoms to forge a 3-0 advantage.
Eric Ringel, back in uniform after a stint with the United States entry at the recent Four Nations Tournament, held in Ann Arbor, Mich., this past weekend, finished off the scoring with his eighth goal of the year at 14:25 of the final stanza to ensure the victory.
The Phantoms held a 61-37 shots on goal advantage and have now outscored the Ice Diggers, 24-9 in their five games played this season.
The final game of the two-game set will be played tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the Ice Zone.