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.

Sometimes weekday games can be a little unpredictable. It's hard enough sometimes for the home team to get the energy ramped up or keep it ramped up for an odd game night, even if it's Thursday instead of Friday. This can mean a smaller crowd and just a slight break from the routine. This goes double for the visiting team, road legs are just a little tougher to shake off. Maybe that explains the way the first two periods went last night, leading into an exciting third frame and eventual overtime and shootout.

The Sioux Falls Stampede came to town and took a little while to show up at the game, everyone except for goaltender Jeremy Swayman. The Phantoms came out and had the energy in the first period. The played a good physical game with some very aggressive forechecking, trapping the neutral zone well and the offense was definitely in attack mode. Despite outshooting the Stampede 12-4, Swayman held the Phantoms off the board and both teams went to the lockers scoreless. In the second frame, the Phantoms seemed to lose a little of the momentum and the Stampede managed to find some defense. Shots were 4-4 and again neither team found the back of the net. I had predicted special teams wouldn't be too big of a factor and both sides had a few powerplay chances through two periods. It looked like I was going to be right on that prediction for the evening. The third period would prove me all sorts of wrong.

Things would escalate quickly in the third. Ivan Kulbakov bobbled a rebound after a routine glove save. As he dove to his right to cover it, a good bit outside his crease, Stampede forward Jack Doremus plowed through him sending him to the boards. Doremus was issued a charging penalty but Kulbakov remained on the ice for several minutes. We're getting pretty used to seeing this, Kulbakov sometimes milking the situation for a penalty or rest. Since he already had the penalty and was down quite a bit longer than usual, this was a scary moment for the fans. Emergency netminder Nathan Reid, a 2000 birth year, was even starting to put on his mask and looked ready to come into the game. Kulbakov recovered and the Phantoms went to work on the powerplay. Coale Norris took a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle though traffic to break the shutout deadlock at 3:01 of the frame. A few moments after the ensuing faceoff and the Phantoms were in the box and 1:27 after the Phantoms goal Eric McAdams would get his own rebound off a blocked shot in the slot and fired it past the glove of Kulbakov.

Things can get a little weird and chippy when the Bloomington Thunder come to town. In the Thunder's now two and just a bit over a half season in the USHL, these two teams have had more than their share of rough and contentious games. With both teams playing a normal home weekend schedule, you would think things would be a little tamer on an early Monday afternoon. Maybe, but there were still plenty of big hits and a few goals scored in a 4-1 Phantoms victory.

The Phantoms got things rolling on the powerplay in the first. Alec Mahalak took a shot or pass from the point. A Thunder defender got a stick on the puck causing it to flutter through the slot where Austin Pooley was able to give it a little help on the backhand and behing Thunder netminder Logan Halladay at 7:24. The Phantoms would add to that on the oddest play I've seen in a while. Eirc Esposito carried the puck into the attack zone and was given a rough ride into the boards by Marco Raifenberger. Esposito got right back up as Noah LaLonde dislodged the puck from Wyatt Kalynuk. Esposito grabbed the puck and just as Vladislav Dzhioshvili stepped up into him, Esposito centered the puck to the crease. No one was there to really take it but the puck hit Halladay in the crease and tipped in. The Phantoms took the 2-0 lead into the lockers after the first, shots were 10-8 in favor of Bloomington.

The Phantoms would grab a 3-0 lead in the third with their second powerplay goal. Chase Gresock would have a shot blocked in the left faceoff circle but the puck sat their for him to take a second chance shot with and he burried it at 12:38. Bloomington would outshoot the Phantoms 10-7 in second. The Thunder would finally crack Ivan Kulbakov in the third on a 5-on-3 powerplay. Thunder defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk just threw a simple wrist shot from the middle of the ice, half-way from the top of the faceoff circle and the blueline and it just found a hole in at 8:46. The Thunder would continue to push but the Phantoms defense held well as did Kulbakov and Austin Pooley would add an empty net goal to solidify a 4-1 win. Shots were 8-4 in the third and 28-19 overall in favor of the Thunder.