BLOOMINGTON — Claiming an advantage in play for the better part of two periods Friday, the Central Illinois Flying Aces had their Grossinger Motors Arena debut spoiled in a shootout.
After killing off a four-minute penalty in overtime, the Youngstown Phantoms got tallies from Tommy Parrottino and Max Ellis in the shootout in stealing a 3-2 victory before an announced crowd of 1,924 in the Aces’ first game at their renamed-since-last-season home.
“It’s one of those things where you give them life, give them hope,” said first-year coach Mike Watt. “In a shootout, it’s a 50-50 game. We lost a (standings) point there. We got one, but at the same time we lost one.
“The effort was there, the chances were there. … We just have to regroup.”
Kyler Head and Drew Elser scored for Central Illinois (6-5-1) while Zach Stejskal made 24 saves in 65 minutes of skating. Ivan Prosvetov turned aside 33 shots for the Phantoms (3-4-3) before denying Calen Kiefiuk and Tyler Madden in the shootout.
The Aces continued to struggle on the power play, getting their only chance of the night when Craig Needham drew a double minor for a hit on Jakub Lacka 29 seconds into overtime. After failing to capitalize, Central Illinois saw its success rate dip to a league worst 4.4 percent (2 for 45) that includes 39 straight empty advantages.
“Guys are double-clutching, I think they’re second-guessing themselves,” said Watt, whose team registered five shots in the overtime. “We had a bunch of reps there with different personnel and it was the same thing. If a goalie can see a puck, he’s probably going to stop it.”
Head, who was claimed on waivers from Green Bay earlier in the week and made his Aces debut Wednesday, pilfered the puck in the neutral zone, triggering a mini 3-on-1 breakout. He moved through the right circle and decided to keep the shot for himself, whistling a laser past Prosvetov with 1:31 left in the first.
“He’s getting used to playing in our system,” Watt said of Head. “He passed up a shot at Muskegon and this time he became a shooter. He’s got a big, heavy shot and it was nice to see him use that.”
An impressive individual effort by Elser produced the second goal. He advanced to the right post with a defender riding his back, then somehow managed to muscle the puck between the iron and Prosvetov’s left leg with just less than five minutes left in the second.
But a late-period whistle on the Aces enabled Youngstown to get back into the game shortly after the second intermission when Matthew Thomson’s shot from the right circle bounced past Stejskal on the glove side just 48 seconds into the third.
A little more than five minutes later, Gianfranco Cassaro made it a whole new contest when his open drive from the left wing somehow eluded Stejskal for a tying tally.
“I think that ducked probably about three feet after it was shot. It was one of those where it’s tough for goaltenders to track that,” said Watt.
The Aces caught a break with just less than six minutes to go when a Phantoms drive was redirected past Stejskal, but the goal was immediately waved off by referee Kevin Corbett as the redirection came off a high stick.
Central Illinois hosts Dubuque in a 7:07 p.m. faceoff Saturday.