Photo by Rena Laverty
Both teams earned prime opportunities in the opening 20 minutes, including a pair of posts hit from each side, but it was the goalies that remained perfect in the first period. Youngstown's Colin Winn made all seven saves while USA's Nick Kempf (Chicago, Ill.) finished with five stops.
The U.S. had back-to-back chances on the power play late in the period as Cole Hutson (Chicago, Ill.) set up Cole Eiserman (Newburyport, Mass.) at the right flank, but the Boston University commit drilled iron on the first attempt and Winn moved over to make the save on the second.
The U18s broke the ice less than two minutes into the second as Stiga connected for his first of the night after a good team forecheck. Austin Baker (White Lake, Mich.) applied pressure on a Phantoms pass that was picked off by Lucas Van Vliet (Livonia, Mich.). He slid a back-door feed that Stiga netted for his 20th score of the season and a 1-0 USA lead.
The advantage was doubled less than three minutes later after James Hagens (Hauppauge, N.Y.) finished an odd-man rush straight down the center lane. After a Kempf save, Hagens chipped the puck up to Max Plante (Hermantown, Minn.) skating into the offensive zone. He returned it to Hagens, who finished five-hole to make it a 2-0 game.
Brandon Svoboda answered the score 23 seconds later, but it was Hagens and Plante combining again to restore the USA lead to two goals. While shorthanded, Sam Laurila (Moorhead, Minn.), rimmed the puck to Hagens along the left-wing boards. He delayed to let Plante skate into the play, then sauced a perfect pass to Plante for the 3-1 score.
The Phantoms netted a couple of power-play scores in the back-half of the period to bring the game to even after 40 minutes. First, it was Adam Pietila getting his team-high 17th score of the season to bring Youngstown back within a score. Then, NTDP alum Charlie Cerrato connected bar-in from the left faceoff dot to bring the game squared after two periods of play.
Seventy-eight seconds into the final period, the U18s regained the lead after a pretty passing sequence ended with Stiga's second score of the evening. Brodie Ziemer (Hutchinson, Minn.) found Kamil Bednarik (Chicago, Ill.) near the crease. He slipped a no-look feed to Stiga, who picked the far corner to retake the lead.
After Youngstown pulled Winn late, Bednarik found the back of the net from his own zone for the 5-3 final.
Kempf finished his night with 19 saves as he collected his 12th win of the season.
The U18s are off this weekend as they gear up for their second international tournament of the season, this one on home ice next week at USA Hockey Arena. The U.S. schedule kicks off with a matchup against Switzerland on Tuesday evening at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the USA Hockey Arena box office at 734-453-8400 or by visiting USAHockeyNTDP.com/fivenations.