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Ice Hockey Spotlight:
Niittymaki Scores In Overtime To Give Phantoms 3-2 Win In Hershey

Sunday, April 11, 2004

By Al Cohen
Philadelphia Phantoms Correspondent

Goaltender Antero Niittymaki was credited with a shorthanded empty-net goal 2:32 into overtime as the Philadelphia Phantoms ended the 2003-04 regular season with a 3-2 victory over the Hershey Bears tonight at GIANT Center.

Hershey assumed a 4-on-3 power play 48 seconds into overtime when rookie defenseman Freddy Meyer was called for holding Shane Willis from behind on a breakaway attempt. Needing a win to qualify for the playoffs, the Bears then pulled goaltender Phil Sauve late in the power play.

During a scramble in the Philadelphia end, Willis had the puck beside the net and tried a pass that deflected off Niittymaki through the crease and off the far boards. The puck caromed out of the zone and down the length of the ice before trickling over the goal line just ahead of a pair of oncoming Bears.

Niittymaki's goal, the first ever by a Phantoms goaltender, gave Philadelphia an improbable 12-0 sweep of the Bears this season. The Phantoms outscored their instate rival, 47-14, in the series, including a pair of 3-2 overtime affairs in Hershey.

Peter Vandermeer and Kirby Law also scored and Niittymaki recorded 32 saves as the East Division-champion Phantoms finished the year with a 46-25-7-2 record (101 points). It was Philadelphia's most successful season since 1998-99, when it won its last division title with 47 wins and 105 points.

Sauve stopped 22-of-24 shots for Hershey, which failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.

Philadelphia opened the scoring 8:19 into the game on Vandermeer's fifth goal of the year. Ian MacNeil began the play by dumping the puck behind the Bears net, where Craig Berube outfought Sauve for possession and then found Vandermeer alone between the circles.

Sauve rushed to get back into position, but slid through the crease, allowing Vandermeer to tally his first goal since Feb. 6.

Berube played the final game of his 18-year career. Ironically, the 38-year-old began his career back in 1986-87 as a member of the Bears. He will serve as a full-time assistant coach with the Phantoms next season.

Hershey evened the score 6:13 into the second following a turnover by Meyer in his own end. Martin Hlinka grabbed the loose puck and immediately scored his sixth goal past an unprepared Niittymaki.

But Philadelphia retaliated 24 seconds later to re-take the lead. Peter White fed Law for a 2-on-1 rush with John Slaney and the two executed a pretty give-and-go to give the Phantoms a 2-1 lead.

Law's team-leading 32nd goal was the 100th in his Phantoms career. Only White and Mark Greig have accomplished the feat in team history.

The Bears evened the score at 2-2 at 6:06 of the third period, just 10 seconds after Wade Skolney was sent off for holding. Travis Brigley netted his sixth goal on the play, with assists going to Brett Clark and Steve Brule.

Philadelphia will next host Game One of the best-of-seven East Division Semifinals on Wednesday, April 21 at 7:05 p.m. at the Wachovia Center. The Phantoms' opponent will be the winner of the division qualifying round series between Binghamton and Norfolk.

Phantoms Notes: Stephen Wood, Mike Peluso, Joey Hope, Les Borsheim and James Laux were scratched ... Ben Stafford, Dennis Seidenberg and Brett Engelhardt did not travel ... Philadelphia leads the all-time series, 49-32-8-5.

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