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.

Sometimes when a team is struggling in some fashion the best medicine is facing another team with worse problems. That's pretty much what we saw last night when the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders came into town. The Phantoms had lost the last 2 games and the last 4 at home. The Riders are having one of those historically bad seasons. They're getting better as the season progresses, but not by enough to put one in the win column last night.

The first period was more of a feeling out process. Neither team did much and both looked a little tentative. Shots were 7-6 Phantoms, neither side able to score. An early second period powerplay for the Phantoms led to Alex Esposito tapping home a shot from Dominic Dockery that was trickling through Riders goaltender Zack LaRocque at 4:28. The older Esposito had not scored a goal since 10/28 with 13 games in between then and now. The Phantoms would extend the lead when an Andrew Petrillo point shot would find some way through LaRocque, who once again got a piece of the puck but it still managed to find it's way in at 11:21. The 2 goal lead would be short lived, a tenacious neutral zone defense lead to Dalton Messina knocking the puck off a Phantoms defender's stick at the blueline to the stick of Matt Kidney just inside Phantoms zone and he rifled it from the right faceoff circle over the glove of Ivan Kulbakov just 0:25 after the second Phantoms goal. The Riders would tie it at 16:28 when defenseman Jake Johnson would flip a puck from the Phantoms blueline back towards Kulbakov, just trying to keep the puck from clearing the zone but the puck would hit a Phantoms player and take a couple odd bounces in on Kulbakov and somehow found a hole. I was sitting with as good of a view as you can get on it and I just knew that it was going to be trouble for the goalie.

That was about all for the Riders. With just under 1:30, Bobby Hampton managed to spring Grant Loven on a breakaway around a flatfooted Alec Mahalak. Hampton came in cutting from left to right in front of Kulbakov, trying to open up the five-hole. Kulbakov shut that down with ease and Mahalak cleared the puck. Then with play continuing and just 0:13 left, Coale Norris used a Riders defenseman as a screen and put a laser past LaRocque. The Phantoms outshot the Riders 14-6 in the frame. Chase Gresock would add an insurance goal at 6:36  when Curtis Hall would put a shot on net from the halfboards just outside the right faceoff circle and the rebound came into the slot for a crashing Gresock so put neatly into the back of the net. The 4-2 score would hold annd the Phantoms outshot the Riders 7-5 in the frame and 28-17 overall.