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%.
Last week's hero was Max Ellis, whose pair of goals, one shorthanded and one in OT, spared the Phantoms 5-4 win last Saturday. That gives him a 4 game point streak and points in 7 of the last 8. And it's not just the points he's putting up either, he's working hard in all three zones. Curtis Hall was held off the board on Saturday but his 5g, 2a in the previous 3 games has really helped solidify our offense. Hall has at least 1 point in 4 of the 5 games we've played against Muskegon, 6g and 3a total. The defense has been a little more consistent lately as well. There hasn't been as many noticeable mistakes and prior to Saturday's game, the defense had scored a goal in the previous 5 games. It's hard to single out anyone particular but I'll say I've been impressed with the top pairing of Jake Gingell and Julian Kislan the past few games. In net, Ivan Prosvetov (6-2-2-0) looked a little more human last week, giving up 4 in the first period on 11 shots to the NTDP U18s. His 3.07 GAA and .904 SV% He bounced back some in the win over Chicago but he hasn't had a full night off since 10/21, well over a month. He's faced a lot of shots since then. Wouter Peeters (0-3-0-1) had to shake the rust off and replaced Prosvetov in that NTDP game, not having played since 10/28, and posted identical numbers, 4 goals on 11 shots, in his first period back in action before stopping all 7 shots in the third. Peeters has yet to win a game and has a 4.34 GAA and a .859 SV%. I can't exactly say he's not good enough to play in the USHL, he hasn't had enough ice time to really judge. However, the coaching staff does not seem to have the faith to start him in any games so far in November and we're almost to Thanksgiving and that speaks volumes. We were in a very similar situation last season around this time with Darion Hanson. After sending him to the BCHL, he found his confidence and won the leagues goalie of the year award. He deserves a chance to play somewhere and Prosvetov deserves a rest occasionally.
So what to look for. This week we have an X-factor. Forward Eriks Zohovs was placed on the IR yesterday around the same times the Phantoms announce a trade, acquiring forward Joe Abate from Omaha for picks in 2018 and 2019. We'll see if he can inject a little energy and never count out the new guys when it comes to scoring in their first game with their new team. Other than that it should be pretty typical conference rival type games. Expect some physical, chippy play and maybe some fisticuffs. Keep an eye on Eric Esposito in the Muskegon game, there is no love loss between him the the 'Jacks squad, especially Jachym Kondelik.
I'm not sure how the Wednesday game will play out for the crowd. The night before a major holiday and a late starting game, an hour later than normal. In any event, I don't know if I'll get the recap done Thursday, you might not see it and the highlights until Friday or the weekend. That's it for this week, I hope to see a lot of you at the Covelli to watch the Phantoms fry some turkeys on the ice.