Well, we're back for another weekend at the Covelli for one more weekend before another road stand. The good news for the Phantoms (8-6-2-0) is that they get to play host to one of the leagues weakest opponents, the Sioux Falls Stampede (2-10-2-0). We've been down this road before, and lost, so it's not something we can overlook and count as an easy week.

I'm really hard pressed to find any real stars on this team. The scoring leaders are Brian Carrebes (6g, 7a) and Tyler Coffee (6g, 5a). Both are solid prospects but not guys I would expect to lead the team. The only NHL scouting report is Garrett Pinoniemi, who raised his draft stock in the last update from 116 to 106 overall, good for a projected 4th round pick. However, Pinoniemi only has 1 assist in 12 games played. I'm not sure what these CSS scouts are seeing here.

On defense, Evan Nause is a very promising '03 born blueliner, 1g and 3a and one of the few players on the squad whose +/- rating is on the positive side at 1. Evan Bushy is another young defenseman, an '02, and leads the team in +/- at 2. Yeah, spectacular numbers on defense. If Nause and Bushy are around next season, I can see the Stampede's defense being one of the better in the league but it's still 2019.

In net, Grant Addams has carried most of the load, 10 games played with a 1-6-2-0 record. His 3.81 GAA and .888 SV% aren't exactly bad considering how poor the Stampede have looked this season. Backing him up was Nate Reid, who played 4 games for a 1-2-0-0 record with a 4.57 GAA and a .876 SV%. He was scratched last weekend and newcomer Arseni Sergeev got both starts, losing both and putting up a 7.27 GAA and a .811 SV%.

The big story coming off of last week for the Phantoms was the addition of Georgi Merkulov, a Russian forward who worked out an invite last week and quickly made the roster. He managed a goal and an assist in the USA game on Friday and an assist in the Des Moines game. It doesn't appear he speaks a lick of English,  but I don't think that's ever really been an issue in hockey.

The other story was the comeback against Team USA. The NTDP U18s had us down 3-0 midway through the first when Dominic Basse was pulled for Collin Purcell. Purcell stopped 16 of 16 and earned a win in his first action since giving up 9 to the U17s. He didn't do as well against Des Moines and let in 4 on 25 shots. Still, it was a marked improvement over his last few appearances and the young netminder might have a little room to breath after a few bad games that looked like they could jeopardize his roster spot.

Otherwise, John Beaton has a good weekend and a few of the Phantoms really showed their stuff against the NTDP. Arseni Smekhnov and Matthew Cassidy both had a strong weekend.

It's worth repeating that the Stampede are a weak team. They are tied for the fewest goals scored in the league and are second worst goals against in the league. The only team worse is the Madison Capitols, who the Stampede is tied with in goals (the Caps playing more games) and have the absolute worst goals against. But the Caps beat us in OT in our own barn so another thing worth repeating is that we can't overlook these guys on the schedule. We have to show up and play 60 full minutes. We have always had a habit of playing to our opponents level. That's great when your playing the NTDP U18s and play up to them and come out with a big win. But it's a bad thing when you play down to a lesser opponent and lose and we've all seen that happen at the Covelli more than once.

Last weekend was a great crowd on Saturday and a much smaller one on Sunday. I think the attendance was way under reported in the first game, 2,628 looked more like 3,500-4,000. The 500 or so there on Sunday was listed as about 1,348 so I think they balanced out for the most part. Here's hoping this weekend keeps up the attendance. If we could at least get 1,200-1,300 we'll be doing good. There are a few decent promotions including Hockey Fights Cancer, one that's always a big night. Other than that, let's do that hockey, and I hope I'll be back with a few highlights.

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