By Mike Mastovich
JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – The Johnstown Chiefs held a pair of three-goal leads in the second period and led by two going into the final 2 minutes against the Toledo Storm.
No one really expected the meltdown that prevented the Chiefs from winning their first game of the season on Wednesday night at Cambria County War Memorial Arena.
Toledo netted three goals in a span of 2 minutes, 21 seconds, including the game-winner by Scooter Smith only 1:19 into overtime.
The Chiefs lost 5-4 in overtime as a sparse but stunned crowd of 1,796 watched in disbelief.
“Obviously that wasn’t the mind-set that we wanted to have in the third period,” said Chiefs defenseman Ian Manzano, a fourth-year player. “We’re up by three goals. We just didn’t put it together as a team. We’ve got to learn to finish those games.
“We started out pretty well and pretty strong on the power play. It carried through to the second. We’ve just got to learn to finish strong.”
Toledo’s comeback included a pair of goals in the final 1:02 of regulation, both coming with the Storm on a power play and goaltender Chad Collins pulled for yet another extra attacker.
There were 21 power plays in the game, including 11 by Toledo, with three of those man-advantages coming in the final 3:35 of regulation. A controversial cross-checking penalty to former Storm defenseman Doug Andress preceded 37-year-old forward Mark Turner’s game-tying goal with 43 seconds left in the third.
“It certainly was dramatic,” Toledo coach Nick Vitucci said. “We shouldn’t have to put ourselves in that position. The first 40 minutes, Johnstown dominated us, not only with their effort but causing us to make mistakes.
“It seemed like the tide turned in the third period, especially in the last few minutes.”
Chiefs coach Frank Anzalone was not available for comment after the game.
Brady Greco scored a power-play goal 2:45 into the game on his first shift with the Chiefs. The AHL’s Springfield Falcons assigned the 6-foot-3, Tampa Bay contract player to Johnstown on Wednesday.
Joe Tallari set up the goal with a pass to Greco in the slot, and the defenseman beat Toledo goaltender Collins on his blocker side.
Jean Desrochers gave the Chiefs a 2-0 advantage 2:29 into the second period, and Paul Caponigri made it a three-goal lead with his first goal of the season at 7:32 of the second. J.B. Bittner sprung Caponigri with a pass at the blue line, and Caponigri dragged the puck across the crease, then beat Collins low glove side.
Smith got Toledo back in the game with a power-play goal 11:01 into the second.
But Bittner reestablished a three-goal lead by scoring on the power play at 14:16.
Even after Toledo’s Ken Magowan scored 12:34 into the final period, setting a 4-2 score, the Chiefs appeared to be headed in the right direction after dropping their first two games in regulation.
With Collins pulled for an extra attacker and the Storm already on a power play, Magowan scored again to close the gap to one with 1:02 left.
After the Andress penalty put Toledo on its 11th power play, and with Collins still pulled for an extra man, the Storm’s Turner picked the perfect time to net his first goal of the season with only 43 seconds left.
Smith hit the game-winner 1:19 into overtime.
The line of Smith, Magowan and Snowball accounted for four goals.
“We didn’t help our situation,” Manzano said. “We weren’t battling for the puck as hard as we could. A couple bounces went the wrong way, but you’ve got to be prepared for that.
“They got a couple goals and got the momentum going. It takes a good team to stop that and regroup.”