The Chicago Steel put itself in position to get into a tie for first place in the USHL Eastern Conference Jan. 20 at the Fox Valley Ice Arena against Team USA National Team U-18.
Yet, despite two one-goal leads and one two-goal lead, the Steel could not hold off Team USA and eventually fell 4-3.
“It was a tight game tonight and they [Team USA] are a very good team,” said Steel defenseman Graham Lillibridge, who had one assist. “We took some penalties down the stretch which gave them some momentum and they just capitalized on their chances.”
The Steel knew it had a chance to jump into a first-place tie with Team USA and it came out with a jump in its step early on. After failing to capitalize on a power-play chance, the home side made it 1-0 at the 12:16 mark when defenseman Matteo Pietroniro scored off a two-on-one break into the Team USA zone.
The goal was his seven of the season with assist given to forward Blake McLaughlin who picked up his team-leading 19th assist on the year. The lead would not hold up, however, as Team USA tied up the contest when fourth-line center Jack DeBoer scoffed off a wrist shot beating Steel goaltender Oskar Autio.
“We missed a lot of ‘Grade A’ scoring opportunities early on tonight,”Lillibridge said. “There were a lot of momentum swings tonight. I thought for the most part we did out play them in the first period and in the game overall.”
The Steel took back the lead at 2-1 with 14:12 left in the middle period when Robert Mastrosimone scored off a slap shot just inside the USA blue line for his seventh goal of the season with the assist going to center man Baker Shore.
The Steel even upped their lead to 3-1 with 13:00 left in regulation time when a centering pass by Blake McLaughlin ended up going off a Team USA defenseman and between the legs of Team USA goalie Jonathon Mor.
But then the Steel seem to let up a bit. A minor penalty taken by Steel led to a Team USA goal by forward Oliver Wahlstrom with 7:01 left to playmaking it 3-2. Then another Steel penalty led to Team USA tying the game at 3-3 with 4:30 left in regulation when forward Ty Emberson scored off a wrist shot beating Autio to his glove side. Team USA scored the game winning goal with :51.4 seconds left in regulation time.
“It was a wild game tonight,” Steel Interim coach Ryan Cruthers said. “Pucks were bouncing everywhere. We hot a crossbar at the end. It was just one of those game we did not get the breaks at the end tonight."