Phantoms Drop Preseason Opener, 5-4
Saturday, September 21, 2002
By Mike Williams
VOORHEES - Phantoms head coach John Stevens termed the Phantoms' 2002-03 preseason opener as a "reference point". A useful term, especially after Saturday afternoon's 5-4 loss to the visiting Albany River Rats at the Sovereign Bank Skate Zone. Stevens will be able to point to rookie center Patrick Sharp's two goals and to his club's power play, which generated two goals.
He also will need to refer to the rocky debut of Antero Niittymaki. Expected to challenge Neil Little for the starting job this year, Niittymaki yielded three goals on 18 shots in two periods of work.
Stevens will also need to address his club's discipline, as the Phantoms spent the afternoon parading to the penalty box as this season's anticipated crackdown on clutch-and-grab hockey got underway.
Eric Johansson (1 goal, 3 assists), Dave Roche (1, 2) and Michael Rupp (2 goals) led the Rats. Scott Clemmensen made 28 saves.
The Rats went ahead, 2-0, by the early second period on goals from Roche and Johansson.
Ben Stafford's goal on a scramble in of Clemmensen four minutes put the Phantoms on the board. Stafford spent last season with the Trenton Titans and may again shuffle between Philadelphia and Trenton.
Rookie forward Jeff Smith tied the game at two at 12:30, but Rupp gave Albany a lead again late in the period.
Dave Stathos spelled Niittymaki to start the third period. Rupp and Adrian Foster greeted the Princeton alum with two goals 59 seconds apart to give the Rats a 5-2 lead.
Sharp's two goals one on the power play helped the Phantoms pull to within a goal, but Clemmensen held off the Phantoms late. The second-year goaltender was in net for the New Jersey Devils on Friday night's match with Pittsburgh.
Notes: This Thursday will see the River Rats and Phantoms meet again at the Continental Airlines Arena at 1 p.m. in an undercard to that night's Flyers-Devils contest.
The Norfolk Admirals visit Philadelphia to complete the Phantoms' preseason home slate on Sunday, September 29. Game time at the Polonia Bank Skate Zone in Northeast Philadelphia is 4:30 p.m.
Rochester and the Phantoms open the regular season Saturday, October 12 at the First Union Spectrum.
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