And just like that, we're a couple games into the second quarter of the season and the Phantoms (9-5-2-1) are contending for the top spot in the East. This week we get a light week with only one game on the schedule, a Friday night meeting with the USA NTDP U17s (3-4-0-0). This will be the Phantoms first meeting with the younger NTDP squad and I'll be honest, I have very little data on them.

So, to phone this one in I'm mostly just looking at the stats. The only players I have any scouting reports on, and they are pretty much available to anyone. If you don't keep up on the NTDP and scouting reports, here is one name you need to remember - Jack Hughes. The 16 year old is already being compared to the likes of some previous NTDP members like Jack Eichel and Austin Matthews, also I've heard him compared to Connor McDavid. To be fair, I wouldn't make such comparisons yet but from what I've seen on video but Johnny Gaudreau isn't too far of a stretch. He is an extremely slick skater, has incredible vision, poise beyond his years and amazing scoring and playmaking abilities. In USHL action he has 3g, 11a. Cole Caufield is another name I've heard mentioned. An excellent goal scorer, Caufield has 7g, 2a on the season. I have no clue on defense. The only one that anything stands out is Marshall Warren. Warren has 1g, 4a on the season and a plus/minus of +5. That +/- sticks out since not a lot of U17 defensemen are on the positive side of that stat. In net we have a piar that have both played 5 games and have almost identical minutes played 208 and 209 respectively. Leading the new netminders is Spencer Knight at 2-1-0-0 and a 3.46 GAA and a .902 SV%, fairly respectable numbers for a the NTDP U17s. Splitting the duties is Cameron Rowe at 1-3-0-0 with a 5.17 GAA and a .820 SV%.

The Phantoms are arguably the hottest team in the USHL at the moment with a 4 game winning streak and 7-2-1-0 in the last 10. In November the Phantoms earned 15 of the possible 18 points for the standing with the 3 points dropped being an OT and a regulation loss to the NTDP U18s. Max Ellis and Curtis Hall are both looking to raise their stocks for the upcoming  NHL draft. Ellis has points in 7 straight games, tied with Jack Hughes for the longest current point streak in the league, and points in 10 of the last 11 games. Hall has points in 6 of the last 7 including 8 goals scored. Defenseman Zach Metsa has a 5 game assist streak going. Also looking good on defense is Julian Kislan despite his defense parthner Jake Gingell has has some penalty issues lately. As usual, the story of the week is in net. With Ivan Prosvetov down with an injury, Wouter Peeters has had to start 3 consecutive games after going over 3 weeks without a start and nearly that long without even a relief effort. He won all 3 in regulation. Prior to the Muskegon game last Wednesday, he had a 0-3-0-1 record with 4.34 GAA and a .859 SV% in 4 appearances. In the last 3 games he's posted a 2.33 GAA and a .924 SV%. That's quite a turnaround. He now stands at 3.37 GAA and a .890 SV%. Prosvetov is 6-2-2-0 and has appeared in 12 games with a 3.07 GAA and a .904 SV%.

It seems too soon but we're almost done with the first quarter of the season and moving into the second. The Phantoms (6-5-2-1) started out floundering a little but have managed to get thing heading (mostly) in the right direction. If the Phantoms play their cards right and can sweep the week, they will be sitting in at least second place in the Eastern Conference points standing with the possibility of being in first with some help. This week is an odd one. The first game of the week is a Wednesday night, Thanksgiving eve, tilt against Muskegon (4-8-1-1) that starts at 8:05pm. Then to work of that turkey, a normal Friday and Saturday road trip to Central Illinois (7-6-0-1) to play the Flying Aces. We've had multiple meetings with both clubs over the first 14 games.

First up is the Lumberjacks. We've played the 'Jacks 5 times and beat them twice in regulation, beat them once in OT and lost in a shootout. They have struggled at times to score consistently and other time have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net. Between the two, they're tied for last place in the league. One of the reasons for some of their woes is the loss of Michael Graham and Mikael Hakkarianen, both went down with concussions the second time these teams met. One player expected to pick up the slack was Jachym Kondelik, a NHL CSS B-ranked skater. Since that game, he has 1 goal and 4 assists out of his 3g and 5a on the season. Only 2 of his points, both assists have come against the Phantoms. Not exactly lighting it up. Fortunatly for the 'Jacks, a few players have stepped up including newcomer Matej Pekar (3g, 8a), team captain Anthony Del Gaizo (6g, 4a), and  the well traveled veteran Wyatt Bongiovanni (5g, 4a). Their defensive core is solid with Marc Del Gaizo, Colby Bukas, and Clayton Philips. The real issue for the 'Jacks in netminding. Adam Brizgala, their 2nd year netminder, has kept pace or at least seems to be treading water OK. He's appeared in 12 games and posted a 4-4-1-1 record with a 2.73 GAA and a .903 SV% plus a shutout. His current backup, Keegan Karki has not managed to stay afloat. In 3 appearances, 2 games plus a period of relief, he has a 4.37 GAA and a .839 SV%.

 The we head to Bloomington to face the Flying Aces. We've faced the Aces three times on the season so far. We didn't fare so well on opening weekend, losing 4-2 and 5-1, but managed to bounce back to steal a couple points on the road in a 3-2, come from behind, shootout win earlier this month. We're tied in the points standings but the Aces have the next two tie-breakers, regulation/overtime wins and head-to-head games, With a couple of newcomers leading the scoring, Jakub Lacka (7g, 5a) and Tyler Madden (5g, 6a), the Aces aren't lacking in the scoring department. Another forward to watch is Drew Elser. Elser has 6g and 2a and has scored a goal in each of the 3 games he's played against us, half his goals on the season. Their defense compliments their offense, nothing flashy just solid skills and hard work. Among them are veteran Simon Butala and newcomers Cory Babichuk and Davis Bunz. In net, Kris Carlson has emerged as the top netminder with a record of 4-4-0-0 with a 2.95 GAA and a .904 SV%. Behind him is rookie Zach Stejskal, 3-2-0-1 with a 3.58 GAA and a .867 SV%.

Hey, we're back home and if your reading this it means I manage to finis this weeks preview in record time. I apologies for the typos and lack of information since I'm jamming this out at the last second. It's been a busy week and I got behind and just remembered I forgot to do this. Last week the Phantoms swept Central Illinois and Muskegon (5-4-2-1) on the road for 6 points bring them out of the Eastern Conference basement to 4th place. That's impressive but they'll need to be even better this weekend at home when they face the NTDP U18's (3-0-0-0), the last team to beat them, and then the Eastern Conference leading Chicago Steel (8-2-0-1), who knocked us out of the playoffs last season on their way to a Clark Cup.

 I can leave a lot of the NTDP stuff to the article from week 5, nothing has really changed. With 17 NHL CSS ranked players, take your pick. I sort of singled out Jake Pivonka last time as the overlooked player, I think he's better than the C-rank indicates, and he scored the OT goal against us. I'm not going to pick anyone this week. A couple weeks ago when we were in Plymouth, the goaltending duties were split between Jonathan Mor and Drew DeRidder. I think it would be interesting to see Mor play this week in the Covelli since he sat on our bench for several games last season as a backup to Ivan Kulbakov but never touched the ice.

Then we welcome Chicago. The Steel are returning a solid group of core players as well as an excellent compliment of new faces. Leading the way is Jack Dugan, a '98 prep school graduate and Las Vegas Golden Nights draftee who has transitioned very well to the USHL. His 9g and 8a gives him second place in the league in both goals scored and total points. Behind him is Blake McLaughlin, a 00 born player with a B-rank on the NHL's CSS list. He leads the league in assists with 11 and added 4g as well, 4th overall in league points. Samuel Bucek is an interesting forward. The big (6'2" 216 lbs) Slovakian import played some for the Steel in 15-16 before jumping to the QMJHL last season. He's back with the Steel this season and has 4g, 7a. Baker Shore is a returning veteran who has upped his game this seaons with 5g and 5a. On defense Graham Lillibridge is in his 3rd USHL season, 2nd with the Steel and his 11a and 2g puts him in the top spot among defensemen in both assists and total points. Derek Daschke is also a 3rd year veteran and team captain as well one of the more solid defenders in the league. Xan Gurney is also a blueliner I would keep an eye on. He played 1 in the regular season and 10 games in the playoffs and looked comfortable the whole way through. He's played 11 games this season as well and the thing that impresses me is that in his 22 games of USHL experience he's only ever taken 1 penalty, a hooking minor. That's not including a game in preseason where he picked up a slash and later a full blown boxing match against Hank Sorensen, a guy a lot more familiar with the penalty box and the art of fisticuffs. In net is another interesting story. Last year they were lead by Czech Ales Stezka, this year it's a Finnish guy named Oskar Autio. I don't have much scouting information since he did not play any in Cranberry but he's put up good numbers with a 2.43 GAA and a .943 SV%. Behind him is Justin Robbins, a '99 born goaltender who played 1 game for them last season, allowing 3 goals to Bloomington. He played a couple games in preseason and, while he didn't impress me, he looked like he could be a legitimate backup. A smaller guy, 5'7" and 172lbs, he didn't show quite the athletics and mental sharpness to make up for his size but he did not seem far off. However, he's played 2 complete games, 1 a shootout, this season and allowed 10 goals to the U17s in 60 and 5 in the shootout loss to Green Bay. This leaves him a 7.20 GAA and a .889 SV%. Normally you would think he was on the verge of being shipped out but there's a catch - he's the owners son. With the Steel playing the U17s again before heading to Youngstown, it'll be interesting to see who starts which game or if Autio plays both.