The struggling Lincoln Stars rolled into town last night for the first of two games this weekend. The Phantoms were looking to turn things around themselves, coming off their first back-to-back losses and having lost 3 out of the last 4 at home. The Phantoms needed some momentum to close out this long home stand before heading out on the road but the Stars were coming in off one of their best performances of the year, beating the red hot Des Moines Buccaneers 5-2. The Phantoms would also be without two of their top defenseman again. Veteran Matt Miller missed his third consecutive game and Carson Vance would also be scratched. This weekend, the Phantoms would call up affiliate Ryan Shea. Shea, 17 year old (1997 birth year) product of the Boston area youth and prep school systems, would suit up and get his first taste of USHL action. I saw no faults in his game, he seemed to adjust well to the speed of the game and didn't look uncomfortable or nervous. Chris Birdsall would get the nod in net for the Phantoms, his first start since 11/5 though he did play in relief of DeAugustine last Sunday. Payton Jones would start in net for the Stars.

The first period was uneventful for the most part. A lot of rough stuff and a few penalties but no scoring as the teams got the feel of each other. Things really got underway quickly in the second though, as Grant Jozefek forces a turnover in the corner and fed a pass to the low slot for a one-timer by Patrick Polino just 1:57 into the second period. The Phantoms would get back into it on the powerplay a little over the halfway mark of the frame on a Josh Melnick wrister from the point that found it's way through traffic and behind Jones. Just 1:12 later, Ryan Lomberg would fire a shot that rebounded off of Jones directly to the stick of Matt Alvaro for his second goal of the year. The Phantoms would take the 2-1 lead to the locker room.

The Phantoms displayed their best and worst sides both in the same game and despite a great effort to start and finish the game, a frustratingly awful middle doomed them to a 7-5 loss. What started off as a good performance coming off a bad loss found a quick turnaround with a perfect storm of events leading up to a total collapse midway through the second period that they didn't recover from until it was too late. There is a lot of blame to spread around: the the refs, team, the coaching staff, the fans, the refs. Did I mention the refs? OK, I'm certainly biased but there was at least one goal waved off that shouldn't have been and maybe two. Oh, and I guess you can lay some blame on the Steel who rode out a bad start themselves. 

Everyone knows Monday night games are big crowd drawers but last nights 394 total in attendance was even lower than lost years froze out school day game on a Wednesday morning with temperatures well below zero. This would have been a thin crowd at the Ice Zone yet alone the Covelli. I can't imagine how it probably looked from the ice. Despite it all, the fans that were there were hungry for some hockey and the Phantoms started the game strong and everyone there could feel it. Seeing Kyle Mylarri in warmups was a welcome sight after having to rotate only 5 defensman the night before, with forward Josh Melnick playing a little on the defense as well. I was more than a little surprised to see Colin DeAugustine starting in net for the Phantoms. After being yanked the night before after 4 out of 10 shots on net got past him, Chris Birdsall played well in relief, stopping 10 of 11. To me, Birdsall had earned the start.

Kyle Connor kicked off the scoring just 1:13 into the game, taking a Carson Vance pass at the blueline, spinning in on-sides and breaking in on goal. Despite a defender getting a stick in at the last second, he managed to get a low, glove-side shot in on Steel netminder Cale Morris that hit the far-side post and in. Then at the 9:33 mark with the Steel on the powerplay, Ryan Lomberg stripped Chicago's defensman Mikey Joyaux at the point and took it all the way to the faceoff circle in front of the Chicago net before firing a wicked wrist shot past Morris to take a 2-0 lead. The Steel would answer back with just 0:14 left in the frame on a John Earsting tally. The Phantoms would start the second just as fast as the first, with Lomberg batting a puck out of the air and past Morris.

We saw last week how the Phantoms can put up offensive numbers when things go well. Last night we we had a glimpse of how things look when they go wrong... and it wasn't pretty. In fact, things looked bad from the announcement of the scratches and starting lines. Two defenseman, Kris Mylarri and veteran Matt Miller, were new additions to the scratch list and forward Josh Melnick starded the game as a defenseman. 

It was an even affair until a sneaky line change sprung Robbie Jackson, who jumped on the ice behind all defenders and took a pass from Tanner Laczynski, on a breakaway and last seasons Rookie of the Year beat Collin DeAugustine clean. Less than two minutes later, Brandon Kearney picked up a rebound in front of the Phantoms crease, skated around a flailing DeAugustine and tucked into an open net. This ended DeAugustine's night as he only stopped 6 out of the 10 shots he faced. The Steel's Connor McDonald would earn himself a slashing penalty at the end of the first period setting up a full two minute powerplay for the Phantoms to start the second. Just 0:30 into the frame, Mason Bergh would carry the puck into the Phantoms zone on a 2-on-1 with Johns Schilling as Josh Melnick was the lone Phantoms defender. Bergh dished a nice pass to Schilling for an easy shorthanded goal. Then just over the 3:00 mark, the Steel would take a 4-0 lead on a powerplay of their own with a Ryan Blankemeier tally. A late period fight between Kevin Conley and Brendon Kearney would give the Phantoms some life and Josh Melnick would bury a rebound off a Max Letunov shot with a little over 4:00 in the period.