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%.
For the Phantoms, they're reasonably healthy for a team in the final weeks of the regular season. The notable injuries are Joseph Abate and Liam Dennison. I have no word on Dennison but Abate is still a possibility for the playoffs. Connor MacEachern was sporting a full face shield last weekend, so he obviously has some injury he was playing through. He's an integral part of the offense, one "M" of the 3M line with Brett Murray and Jack Malone.
One player who has seemed to have picked up his game in recent weeks is Ben Schoen. The 16 year old tendered forward has 5g, 20a on the season and 2 of those goal have come in the last 5 games and he has 7 points in the last 9 games. In the past 9 games, Matthew DeMelis has 9 points as well. Getting guys like that to step up down the stretch and into the playoffs is big and we'll need to see more from them and the secondary scoring lines.
In net, Christian Stoever recorded a shutout in our last game against Sioux Falls. With Chad Veltri giving up 3 in a loss the night before, albeit with a much flatter and less energetic team in front of him, it will be very interesting to see how the Phantoms' bench divides the duties this weekend. Veltri has been the better netminder, 33 games played this season with a 19-8-0-3 record, a 2.98GAA, a 2.98SV%, and 3 shutouts. Stoever has played in 27 games with a 13-7-0-1 record and posted a 3.84GAA, a .865SV%, plus that shutout last weekend.
For this weekend there is pretty much one goal in my mind. Keep calm and don't lose your cool playing a bunch of 16 year old kids in full face shields. I've always said you don't really win many fights against kids in face cages and especially not the U17's. You can't take stupid penalties. We're 3-1-0-0 against the U17s this season and the game winning goal in the single loss was a powerplay goal with less than 3 minutes in the game on a major penalty to Matthew Barnaby. We need to keep our heads in the game and focus on the task at hand, but we also need to be mindful that we're in the leagues crosshairs and suspensions will affect the playoff picture. We also want to avoid injuries and with the possibility of a 3 games in 3 days series starting on Monday with round 2 next weekend, maybe try to leave a little bit in the gas tank.
Hopefully that last home game will be a good one and we'll see a good crowd. It's fan appreciation and night and I'm sure we'll have a bunch of promotions. In addition to showing the players that the whole city and region is behind them heading into the playoffs, it would be nice to pad the average attendance stats. We've been declining on attendance the past few years and this looks like it'll be the lowest we've seen since the team entered the USHL. I don't think we can avoid that but it would be nice to show that we're trying to turn it around for next season.
Anyway, that's it for the regular season previews. Hopefully I'll have time for some playoff previews but if we play the first round I'll only have a day to get it together. We'll just have to see.