Anytime you beat a division rival is a big win, but when it's late in the season and your trailing that team by a half game in the standings it's even bigger. And when you do it in a shutout despite being outshot and giving them a few big powerplay chances... we'll I'm still looking for the word to describe how big it is. It's hard to quantify just how much last nights 3-0 win over the Muskegon Lumberjacks really is.

The Phantoms would start off playing a little behind the 'Jacks, momentum favoring Mukegon early on. Just as the Phantoms seemed to get things going their way they found themselves in a lot of trouble. Austin Pooley would take a questionable checking from behind call as 12:55. Pierce Crawford would go off at 13:47 for hooking Andrei Svenchnikov who was skating dangerously straight down the slot with the puck. I don't think the 'Jacks got a puck on Ivan Kulbakov in the 1:08 of 5-on-3 powerplay and the Phantoms managed a big kill late in the period. A few moments after the PK expired, Keegan Howdeshell would make a pass from the left faceoff circle to the slot for Koby Bender who stepped to his left and put a backhand towards what looked like an open net. Kulbakov dove from his left to his right and somehow kept the puck out. Despite being outshot 12-4 in the period the Phantoms had to feel good about a scoreless tie going into the first intermission.

The second period would be a more even frame. Neither team really getting much of an advantage until late. The 'Jacks would lose track of Chase Gresock in the neutral zone as Tommy Apap dug the puck out of a couple Muskegon defenders just inside the Muskegon zone. Apap would hit Gresock who was all alone entering the zone and skated it all the way down the right side of the slot. 'Jacks netminder Adam Brizgala came out of the crease to challange him by Gresock waited him out until Brizgala made a move, an attempt to smother the puck as Gresock skated. The Phantoms forward got around the goaltender and flipped a puck at the empty net which may have been knocked in by a 'Jacks defenseman at 16:17. On the shift just after the first goal, former Phantoms defenseman Ty Farmer would put a pass from his zone into the neutral zone that was intercepted by Alex Esposito who charge in and got s shot off from the high slot that Bizgala was able to get a piece of but not able to fully stop as it trickled through just :27 after the first goal. Shots were 9-8 Muskegon in the period but the Phantoms had a 2 goal lead.

Fargo came to town a Force to be reckoned with, and it took a little extra time but reckon we did. OK, crappy puns aside the Phantoms and Force played a pretty hard fought game with a lot of up and down the ice action, but little in the way of scoring.

The first two periods were pretty uneventful. A lot of good puck movement by both sides but with very little actually happening. The only things registering on the score sheet through two frames were a Alec Mahalak penalty and 25 shots, 16 for the Force and 9 for the Phantoms (8-6, 8-3). At times Fargo seemed to carry the play more than the Phantoms but Ivan Kulbakov was more than up to the taks, The game flowed by quickly, with very few whistles. In fact the only dramatic moment came during the second period during an official timeout when the usual game of Plinko turned into a surprise marriage proposal.

It did not take the third period long for things to change. First, let me clarify something. In the NHL, as most of you know, when a player puts a puck over the glass without it deflecting off an opponents stick or the glass itself it's a penalty for delay of game. This is not the case in the USHL, most of the time it's only a faceoff with the infracting team not being allowed to change lines and only called as a penalty if the goaltender clears it over the glass. That's just what Ivan Kulbakov did when he came out of his net to play a dumped puck away from a defender.Kulbakov would pay for the mistake when Lukas Kable launched a slapshot from near the blueline that Paul Washe deflected under Kulbakov at 3:04. It would not take long for the Phantoms to tie it up. Curtis hall would carry the puck from the Phantoms zone to the bottom of the left faceoff circle, drawing the Fargo defenders down low, turn and lay a pass back to a trailing Dominic Dockery. The defenseman was uncontested due to the defense collapsing arounf Hall and would opt for the one-time shot and ripped a low shot glove side beating Fargo netminder, Ryan Bischel glove side at 6:05. The Force would outshoot the Phantoms 9-5 in the third but it would take more than regulation to settle it. Not surprising, 7 of the last 12 home games have gone past 60:00 with the Phantoms winning 5 of those.

It feels like a while since I've done one of these, and this one is going to be pretty short since I have to get to other projects this weekend. The Phantoms were back at the Covelli after 5 games on the road, kicking off a stand of 7 straight at home. Kicking off the stretch, a match against the USA NTDP U17s. The U17s aren't usually the hardest games on the schedule but if you let up on them at all, they'll make you pay. To make matters worse, the Phantoms were without Nicolas Werbik, their top scorer injured the night before in the 2-1 loss to Muskegon.

The Phantoms got on the board first, late in the opening period. On the rush, newly acquired Pierce Crawford slid a nice backhand pass to the low slot to the stick of Coale Norris who redirected it past USA netminder Ryan Ullan at 18:57 of the first. USA would not let the lead stand for long. Just 0:38 into the second, Tyler Weiss would skate behing the Phantoms net and stepped out to the right of Ivan Kulbakov and threw a backhand shot to the top left corner that looked like it caught Kulbakov by surprise. The Phantoms would retake the lead shorthanded when Austin Poolet intercepted a pass in the neutral zone. He and Alex Esposito would take it in on a 2-on-1 and, freezing Ullan with the option to pass, Pooley ripped one home at 8:40 of the second. USA would tie it again on the powerplay, Johnathan Gruden backhand flipping a rebound over a sprawling Kulbakov at 12:07.

The Phantoms and USA would remain knotted at 2 a piece through the rest of regulation and a full overtime. Despite outshooting the NTDP in every period - 9-7, 12-8, 10-7, 2-3, it would require a shootout to decide the winner. Pierce Crawford would net the winner in the 4th round, no fancy dekes or moves, just a good wristshot stick-side on Ullan from the slot.