For most of the evening, the Phantoms looked to be a much improved team who had shaken off the previous weekends poor performance. The defense only allowed 25 shots in over 63 minutes on backup goalie Jake Moore, who's turned into the starter in the absence of Sean Romeo. The offense looked hungry too. It seemed opening night was shaping up well and, all things considered, it was still the best game of the season for the Youngstown team. It still wasn't good enough to earn two points in the standings as a couple of costly mistakes kept the Green Bay Gamblers in it during regulation.

The Phantoms started well, JJ Pichinich scored early on a power play. Less than four minutes into the tilt and with a Gambler in the box, Josh Melnick fed the puck to the second year forward and Pichinich elevated the shot, hitting the bottom of the crossbar and in. I had just sat down in my seat after some issues with the box office and was scrambling to find my rally towel. Later in the period however, the Phantoms got into a little trouble shorthanded by two and the Gamblers were able to tie it up.

The second period gave us the first costly error. Defenseman Alex Carle made a weak outlet pass right inside his own blue line and Green Bay's Ryan Lough fed Drew Best on a 2-on-1 to take the lead. Youngstown's Luke Stork tied it up early in the third with the Phantoms second power play of the evening. Later in the frame the Phantoms went up a goal on an incredible move by rookie Maxim Letunov. The young native of Moscow Russia took a to the left of the Green Bay goal. He made a little hesitation move as if he was going to take the puck to the net or shoot on his forehand but instead dodged behind the net and wrapped it around and inside the unguarded post.

This wasn't do svidaniya for the Gamblers though. With less than two minutes in the game, veteran forward Kevin Irwin (no relation) was pressuring Youngstown's Tyler Spezia just in front of Moore's cage. The official report intimated that Irwin forced a turnover and beat Moore. This wasn't how I saw it and the replay seemed to show Spezia putting the puck behind his own goalie. I'm not sure if this was a miss-communication or if Spezia just lost track of where he was but this tied it up and sent us to OT. Then in the extra period, a little bit of a bad bounce put the puck on the stick of Green Bay veteran Nick Shcmaltz. Moore went for a poke check, probably his only bad play of the game, as Shcmaltz put the puck up and over to win the game.

There was so much positive last night it just seems such a shame a couple little errors put us on the losing side. We did get a point in the standings. The offense looked strong and the defense certainly held together better. The biggest improvement was the play of Jake Moore. There were a few scrambling moments where it looked like he was going to give up a goal but somehow managed to make a save or at least make the shooter miss. Last nights backup was Bobby Palzer who played last season with the Philadelphia Revolution in the EJHL. It's another quick turnaround game today, I'll be really interested to see how Moore handles himself today.

Opening night and the Phantoms took on the NTDP U-18 squad in Ann Arbor. Due to the horrid wifi at Motel 6 I'll keep it brief; it was ugly. It was very ugly. I don't know any way to sugarcoat this... we got beat by a touchdown. Jake Moore gave up 9 goals on 38 shots and that's pretty much the bottom line. The offense never had a chance to get going and the defense never had a chance to get settled. USA scored on their first shot just 1:09 into the game and it snowballed from there.

After USA rattled off the first three goals in the first period, Youngstown looked like they were getting back on track. Recent arrival Alex Smith scored a goal at 14:10, less than a minute after the Phantoms killed off a dumb checking from behind penalty he took. That rounded out The First period with the Phantoms down by a deuce. The Phantoms came out of the gate flying in the second. You could feel it as they hit the ice. Less than half a minute in he drew a penalty and JJ Pichinich scored on the ensuing powerplay to draw within a goal. That was as close as it got as USA knocked in four more before the period ended. Ryan Schwalbe scored a goal after a lengthy review, an odd occurrence to those who remember the Dubuque playoff series, to start the third. USA scored two more just to make sure

Of course, Moore can't be blamed for everything. There were plenty of stupid penalties and Team USA played a solid game. The Phantoms have a lot of newcomers and the this U-18 squad is mostly returning U-17 kids. Moore played the full preseason schedule with starting goalie Sean Romeo sidelined with an undisclosed injury and may be tired but we needed him to play a lot better, especially the first half of the game. And with a quick turnaround game at 3:30pm the next day, it will be interesting to see how Moore handles the U-17 squad. Non-affiliate goalie Scott Trellis was on the bench for the first game so unless something changes they'll probably start Moore again.

I'll skip the Dubuque recap since I didn't see the game and only having one day off of work doesn't leave me a lot of time to write. The Phantoms official site has a professionally written one if you need it. Instead, I'll just focus on the one preseason game I did see. I like watching Team USA so I managed to catch it on Fasthockey. First off, let me say I saw a lot of good things and was happy with most of the Phantoms play. That said, it's the few things that went wrong that are so frustrating. If this were a regular season game I would probably be livid right now.

The first period was well played but neither team generated a lot of chances, only six shots on goal a piece. Of all the new face, I thought Maxim Letunov looked the best. He cause a little havoc and I like that. The second period was well played too but I thought the Phantoms looked a little better than USA and, despite both teams only generating four shots each, they took a 1-0 lead early in the period. Luke Stork fed a nice pass through the slot and right onto the tape of Keifer Sherwoord's stick. Sherwood, who played nine games for the Phantoms as an affiliate without recording a goal, buried it.

Then came the third. Things started out well. Rookie forward Ryan Schwalbe drew an early penalty putting the Phantoms on the power play. Team USA easily had the better chances despite being short handed and Phantoms netminder Jake Moore, the starter for all five preseason games, made a great save on a 2 on 1 opportunity for the NTDP. The Phantoms went back to work at even strength and again, Schwalbe drew another penalty less than five minutes after USA returned a man to the ice. This is when they had their first breakdown. USA killed the penalty and shortly after they returned a man to the ice the Phantoms turned the puck over near USA's blueline. This led to a 2 on 0 breakaway that Sonny Milano slipped past Moore. USA entered the Phantoms zone on an odd man rush. The Phantoms defender in the best position failed to take away the pass, instead playing a sort of halfway between the puck carrier and the other attacker to try to prevent the puck carrier from cutting in towards the net.. The puck carrier, Shane Gersich, took a bad angle shot that found it's way behind Moore. I didn't see who the Phantoms D-man back was but I think it was Matt Miller. The angle it went in and Jake Moore's reaction, or lack of, make me think Moore wasn't confident that there wouldn't be a cross-ice pass and wasn't able to perfectly square up to the shooter. I know it's preseason junior hockey but every defender should know that you always take away the pass and let your goalie handle the shooter. He may have thought he had the passing angle cut off too, but he was way too close and a little flip over the stick would have done it.  That was it, add an empty net goal and USA wins it. There were more issues than just the two goals. OK, they lost track of what happened when USA went back to full strength after a successful penalty kill. The other side of the coin is that was their sixth power play of the evening and the sixth one they failed to score on. Going 0 for 6 on the power play isn't a recipe for winning a lot of games.

Despite all this, they looked pretty good. Factor in They're without a top line forward in Nathan Walker, who played that night in a Washington Capitals preseason game. Sean Romeo has been absent for the entire preseason schedule. I have no report of him being injured but they probably wouldn't release that info anyway. Phantoms announcer, Bart Logan, simply referred to him as getting 'some well deserved time off' so it sounds like he'll be in net soon enough. A couple returning Phantoms, forward Mac MacSorley and defenseman Kyle Mackey were also scratched, I assume due to injury. Another positive, the swedish born blueliner Fredrik Larsson (no relation to Alfred) looked strong. He looks a bit lanky but plays physical enough. If he can add a few pounds he'll be a real force. 

OK, that's it for preseason. The season opens this weekend in Ann Arbor against the same Team USA on Friday and the U17 squad on Sunday. Never underestimate these kids, either squad. The NAHL Janesville Jets underestimated the U17 and got annihilated. The U18 is returning most of it's squad from last years U17 team. We play both teams four times and we need to be ready for each game and play the full 60 minutes each time. Let's not start skipping ahead to Green Bay and the home opener.