It's Thanksgiving week, and the Phantoms (9-6-3-0) have a full plate and I'm not talking turkey. Over the course of 4 days we'll play 3 games in 3 different cities, none of which are Youngstown.
First up, we'll work up an appetite with a trip up to Plymouth to face the NTDP U18s(11-7-0-0). Then back home for some dinner and a nap before heading up to Green Bay (9-6-1-2) on Friday then over to Madison (2-15-1-0) on Saturday for the leftovers. Yeah, we'll play almost as many road games in 1 week as we did home games over 2 weeks. Welcome to the USHL. Since I'm pressed for time to get this done before I head up to Plymouth for that game, I'm thankful we've played 2 of these teams this season and I can fall back on those preview articles.
I've already covered the U18s. Nothing much has changed here. Ty Smilanic has been out with injury, if he does make it back that'll be a big lift for the U18s. Forward Matthew Beniers and defenseman Tyler Kleven won't be in the lineup, they were both suspended for that game.
Green Bay will be the focus of this weeks article. We haven't played them yet and they have a pretty good team. Jesse Tucker was the Gamblers leading scorer last season and continues that this season with 11g, 9a. The underrated '00 is a fairly composed forward, ready to make a play or take the shot and can back check an help out on defense. Despite being injured for most of last season, McKade Webster (5g, 10a) was a late 2019 NHL Draft pick (7th round, Tampa Bay). He's a very competitive player who will use his speed to drive the defense back. Ryan O'Reilly (6g, 6a) was a 4th round Detroit pick last NHL Draft. He's bounced from Madison to Fargo and then Green Bay. He's big (6'2", 202lbs). He's got a laser shot, decent skating, and plays aggressive hockey. There is a lot to like with O'Reilly, you just hope he doesn't show it against the Phantoms.
Defense is interesting for the Gamblers. Chris Giroday is a highly touted defenseman who has been hampered by injury last season and now this season. They have traded for Michael Ferrandino and Noah Prokop from Tri-City and Muskegon respectively, both are solid blueliners with USHL experience. They have also added Egor Arbuzov who played in the WHL last season(4g, 9a, +10), he hasn't played anywhere this season and has been on their roster for nearly a month. If he does play, he'll be a big addition. Dylan Moulton (0g, 5a) is an NHL CSS C-ranked skater and a good puck moving defenseman.
In net, they have a good looking tandem. Nicholas Grabko looked the better of the pair from my viewing, at least a little more stable. He's 4-3-0-2 on the season with a 2.53 GAA and a .916 SV%. Gavin Enright, 5-3-0-1 is a little more streaky in his play but if he's on, he can be hard to beat. He's posted a 3.12 GAA and a .906 SV%. Both netminders have 1 shutout to their credit and I would not really consider either a true starter or backup. It'll be anyone's guess who we get in net but either way, we'll need to work to beat them.
I covered Madison for the home opener. Not much has changed, they're still the worst team in the league. Carson Bantle (8g, 12a) is the only player really worth much on the roster, the '02 is a CSS C-Ranked skater who probably won't get drafted to his full potential due to the rest of this squad. Kristof Papp is a decent scorer as well, (9g, 8a) , another C-ranked skater, but I'd question his defense (-14) and maybe his work ethic but it's hard to criticize anyone for under-performing here though. The netminding tandem has of Simon Latkoczy (4.65 GAA, .886 SV%) and Garrett Mackay (5.73 GAA, .852 SV%) been beat up badly as well.
The Phantoms are coming off a weekend where they took 3 of 4 points, but left 1 on the table to a team almost as bad as Madison. John Beaton has a 5 game point streak (5g, 2a) and was a big part of last weekends 3 points. His linemate, Matthew Cassidy, has points (3g, 4a) in 4 of the last 5. These guys have been picking up the slack since the TRY line (Trevor Kuntar, Reilly Funk, and Yusaku Anso) have been a lot more contained by the opposing teams defense. The addition of Georgi Merkulov a couple weeks ago has payed off well. In the 4 games he's played, he's recored at least a point in each and has 1g, 4a so far with the Phantoms. There hasn't been much to say good or bad about the defense, they've done their job for the most part and there are no major developments with injury or trade. Scott Morrow was called up to play as an affiliate and got into the lineup in last Friday's game and played decent, no issues. We'll see if he can break the lineup any this week.
In net, both netminders played well last weekend, splitting the start. Dominic Basse got the 3-2 OT loss while Colin Purcell got the 4-2 win. Both netminders seemed to play about even in my book so we might be back to a situation where they split duties a little more evenly. We'll see how this week goes in net, I think with the schedule seeing who gets the start in what games will tell us a bit about who the coaching staff favors.
So what's the plan for this week. I think our biggest issue will be focus with the Thanksgiving holiday in the way. Getting the players ready to go for a Wednseday game before the holiday then back in gear not too long after the turkey has been cleared from the table will be the main hurdle. Then we'll have to see how much gas is left in the tank for Madison. Other than that I don't think we need to really do anything different or focus on any one area.
Then we'll be back at the Covelli for 1 game to start December before another brutal road stretch. I'm not sure how I'll handle things on the website, content might be a little thin for a few weeks. We'll see what happens.