The Phantoms closed out the New Year with an afternoon matinee against the NTDP U18s in the last meeting between the Phantoms and this NTDP squad. A win would would close out 2016 with the Phantoms in second place in the Eastern Conference and third overall in the league and give us good momentum heading into 2017. And with a new addition to the lineup of forwards in Marshall Moise and an old friend returing to defense in Steven Ruggiero, a win would also be a great welcome party.

This game was not going to be an end-to-end, high tempo game and neither team was going to shoot the lights out. The Phantoms just needed to keep things clean and simple and not let the U18s dictate the pace and the Phantoms delivered for the most part. USA would have an excellent chance to open the scoring in the middle of the first frame when the Phantoms would go down two men to penalties. With Chase Gresock already in the box, Michael Karow went casing after a lose puck that had been tipped behind the USA defense and was rolling into the high slot. NTDP netminder Dylan St. Cyr charged out to the faceoff circle hash marks and tipped the puck aside just before Karow reached it and as Karow was diving for the puck. Karow got a little piece of the USA goaltender who went down, mostly by his own momentum but it was enough to give the U18s 0:33 of 5-on-3 but they failed to capitalize.

Less than two minutes after the kill the Phantoms would convert the momentum into the opening goal of the game when Max Ellis would skate the puck behind the net and put a pass to the slot for Evan Wisocky who put puck top shelf for the 1-0 lead 16:20 into the first. This was only the Phantoms second shot of the period and shots in the first would end up at 7-4 in favor of USA at the first intermission. The NTDP would even it up in the second when the puck took a slow roll through the crease of Ivan Kulbakov, eluding the sprawling netminder and kept going until it reached the stick of Evan Barratt for the tap in at 10:11. The tie would hold until the end of the frame with shots on goal in the second 4-2 in favor of the Phantoms.

The last time the Phantoms faced the Muskegon Lumberjacks the Phantoms needed some last minute heroics to extend the game to overtime only to lose in the extra frame. This time it would be the 'Jacks scrambling to force overtime but still coming up short. The Phantoms pushed their win streak to 5 games, and are 8-1-1-0 in their last 10, despite a couple missing pieces in the way of Brett Murray who left for the NCAA and Ivan Kulbakov who was suspended. Yes, you read the last one correctly and I'll get to that later. For now I'll just say that it was Britt Leagues first forced appearance since I'm pretty sure that Kulbakov would have started if he were eligible.

The first period was a little slow starting. Both teams showing some holiday rust and I heard rumors about both teams possibly missing morning skates due to issues at both facilities, the Ice Zone and the Covelli. Twice the 'Jacks thought they had the first goal but twice the refs waived it off immediately, the first for a high stick and the second for goaltender interference. Shots would be 9-8 in favor of the visiting team after the first period but the score was still tied at nothing a piece.

The 'Jacks would finally get the opening goal when Britt League came behind his net to handle a dump in. He laid a weak pass over to Michael Karow but was intercepted along the goal line by Andrei Svechnikov who tried to put a sharp angle shot into the empty net. His shot did not find it's mark but the rebound hopped out to Will Smith who was able to get it on goal before League was able to get back in place and Muskegon took the lead just 1:02 into the second. The Phantoms would tie it up later in the frame after a high hit from Matt Steeves drew a 5 minute major penalty, as well as a round of fisticuffs with Jake Gingell. With the Phantoms on the extended PP, Nicholas Werbik would take a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle that would deflect off of Alex Esposito and by 'Jacks netminder Adam Brizgala at 11:34. The 1-1 tie would hold to the intermission with the 'Jacks outshooting the Phantoms 9-8.

The Phantoms were back last night for one last home game before the Christmas break. After beating Cedar Rapids 4-2 the night before I expected the RoughtRider coach Mark Carlson to tighten the reigns a little. What we got was a little bit tighter contested game, and it was. It was also the home debut of Phantoms netminder Britt League, something else we expected. 

The Phantoms got on the board early. Curtis Hall chipping the puck up the boards and behind the Riders defense and chasing it created a 2 on 1 with Chase Gresock. Hall delivers a pass to Gresock in the low slot that appeared to go off of Gresock's skate and not his stick and past goaltender Drew DeRidder at 3:20. I won't claim to have definitively been able to see a kicking motion but I've seen less waived off. The Riders briefly seemed to protest to the ref but the puck was dropped without any delay for replay. That would be the lone goal of the frame and shots were 10-4 Phantoms.

The Phantoms would push the lead to 2 goals in the second. A rebound from a Noah LaLonde shot came right to Gresock who went high over the glove of DeRidder for his second of the night at 7:30. The Riders would start to push back. Riese Zmolek sent a pass up the boards to Steve Agriogianis. Agriogianis would get around Alec Mahalak and managed to put a nice looking backhand through the five-hole of League despite the harassment of Mahalak from behind at 15:30. The Riders would get several more chances before the end of the frame but League held his ground, making several consecutive saves. Shots were 7-4 for the Riders in the second. The Riders would continue the pressure in the third, outshooting the Phantoms 11-6 but the 2-1 score would hold until the final buzzer.