Well, here we go. It's the "second season" and you can pretty much hit the reset button. The Phantoms (0-0) did not get the help they needed this weekend from Central Illinois (R.I.P.) or Muskegon, so they finish in third place in the Eastern Conference with no bye in the first round.

This means we face the 6th place team, the Dubuque Fighting Saints (0-0). We've played the Saints four times, dropping the first one at the Fall Classic, but beating them the next 3. We havn't faced them since December 30th, so a lot has changed since then.

The Saints are an odd team. Despite being one of the biggest teams in the league, 2nd in average weight at 187lbs and 1st in average height at 6'2", a lot of their damage is done by smaller players. Matias Maccelli is their top scorer by far, leading the team in both goals and assists, 31 and 41 respectively, which tied him with Erik Haula as the top scoring Finnish player to have played in the USHL. The 5'11", 165lbs winger is a projected 3rd round NHL Draft pick, can stick handle in tight spaces and has a great shot.

Keeping with the trend of smaller forwards is the line that is probably the most exciting to watch outside of our 3M line, the lineup of Reise Gaber (22g, 28a), and the Jackson twins, Dylan (13g, 31a) and Ty (15g, 25a). The line averages 5'8" and 151lbs but use their speed and agility to drive teams crazy.

They do have some larger forwards that will contribute in their own way. Derick Contessa (11g, 9a) and Cooper Haar (6g, 11a) can grind players down on the boards, both are 6'3" and 205+ lbs. Willie Knierim, who left Ohio State after 2 seasons there, is the big guy to watch at 6'3", 206lbs. However, he has also put up 18g and 29a and also leads the team in PIMs with 140, double the next guy in line.

Well, it's come down to the last week of the regular season. We've come a long way from the start of the season in Cranberry, and we're still fighting for postseason positioning. We're not 100% in charge of our own destiny, we need a little help with Chicago, but a pair of wins would put the Phantoms (34-21-1-4) into a second place seed in the East and a first round playoff bye. That means we don't have to play 5 games in 6 days and possibly 7 game in 10 days. To get to that 2nd place spot we need to jump ahead of Chicago, who has a the tiebreaker over us, and keep pace with Cedar Rapids, who we hold the tiebreaker over. All of this means we need to win at least 1 game and probably both against the NTDP U17s (7-18-1-5).

I haven't done a preview on either of the NTDP teams this season, mostly due to lack of time. The U18s are well documented, I didn't really feel the need. The U17s, I didn't really have the scouting data I've had on other U17 teams. Since there is a possibility we'll see these guys in the post season I wanted to get something out.

For forwards, Thomas Borderleau is their leading scorer with 10g and 11a in 31 games. However, this is offset by a plus/minus of -23. Behind him is Luke Tuch, the younger brother of former NTDP and current Las Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch. The younger Tuch has good size and skill. He's played in 27 games and has 5g, 11a, and a little less hideous +/- of -8.  On defense, I really like what I've seen of Eamon Powell. Powell (31gp, is a good two-way defenseman with good skating, good gap, and can move and shoot the puck. Jacob Truscott is another solid defenseman.

In net, Drew Commesso is the top guy for the U17s. He's played in 22 games with a 5-10-0-4 record, a 3.46GAA, a .891SV%, as well as a shutout. Backing him up is Noah Grannan with a 2-7-0-1 record in the 14 games he's appeared in. He's posted a 5.00GAA and .839SV%.

Well, it was a very interesting past week.

Just in case you have been under a rock, the Phantoms (33-20-1-4) played a Wednesday morning "Kid's Day" game, followed by a Friday and Saturday road game, then finished up at home Sunday evening, all against the USA NTDP. Only the Friday game was supposed to be against the U17 squad but after a brawl at the end of Satuday's game, USA Hockey decided to send the U17s for the Sunday game. This has riled up a lot of people in Youngstown and across the league, as well as a few people outside of the USHL. Suspensions to Josh DeLuca, Tristain Amonte, Christian Stoever aside, this might be something the Phantoms can turn into momentum with an "us against the world mentality". Any psychological lift at this point is a good thing as we will be fighting to the finish for the coveted 2nd place spot in the Eastern Conference, and this week we face a tough opponent in the Sioux Falls Stampede (36-15-5-2).

On paper, the Stampede aren't a team that's going to jump out at you as being a top contender. They aren't loaded with veterans or big name prospects, but they do have a lot of pieces in place that seem to work well, and if not this year, they could pose a big threat next season.

Their scoring leader is Artem Ivanyuzhenkov (25g, 23a), a big '98 Russian in his second year of USHL action. Ivanyuzhenkov is comparable to our Brett Murray in size and ability, he has a great shot and can use his frame to get positioning to use it. He also plays a little more physical than Murray and leads the team in PIMs, something to keep an eye on. Behind him are a pair of rookies - Anthony Romano (25g, 20a), a B ranked skater on the NHL draft report, and Jami Krannila (17g, 26a), a C ranked skater with great play making ability. The latter is more defensively responsible, but occasionally crosses the line when things get physical. Kranilla was a scratch in the Stampede's game earlier this week, I don't know if he's injured, and if he doesn't play that'll be a big loss for the Stampede.

On defense, rookie Ryan Johnson (6g, 18a) is another B ranked skater on the scouting report who has earned a WJAC gold medal and played in the USHL Top Prospects Game. Matt Kessel is a veteran who played in Fargo and Chicago last season and has proven to be a solid defensive asset on the blueline for the Stampede this season.