The glass is half full. 3/4 to be more specific, I guess. After losing 7 consecutive games, only getting 1 point in OT during that stretch, the Phantoms are finally back in the win column to start 2020 with an OT win vs Madison then a SO loss for 3 of 4 points last weekend. This weekend the Phantoms (12-13-4-1) are having a home-and-home weekend against the NTDP's U17 squad (12-8-0-0*), first traveling up to Plymouth on Friday then back to Covelli for Saturday.
It's probably pointless for me to try to give a scouting report on these kids, I only have really seen them once and others probably have written a lot more than I can at this point. But I'll give it a shot. Jack Devine is their leader in points with 5g, 14a. Devine has a wicked shot and plays a lot stronger than his listed 5'10", 158lbs would normally indicate. Not far behind him is Sasha Pastujov (4g, 13a), a play-making forward with exceptional hockey IQ and great vision. Dylan Duke (9g, 7a) is another player with good vision and IQ, a very good skater who can score goals.
On defense is probably the top prospect of the team, Luke Hughes. The younger brother of Quinn and Jack (Last years #1 NHL Draft pick, not the Jack Hughes on the U17s roster this season) has 4g, 7a. He's the complete defensive package, he is a gifted skater, his vision and positional awareness is off the chart, he is an excellent passer, and his defensive ability is unrivaled in his age group. He might be better than either of his brothers, it's too early to tell but will be fun to watch and see how he stacks up as he develops. Sean Behrans (2g, 10a) is not getting the press of Hughes but is certainly worthy of some attention. Another excellent two-way defenseman who can make plays in all 3 zones.
It's really hard to qualify their goalies at this point. Gibson Homer seems to have a slight advantage in ice time for the top spot. In 10 games played he's posted a 3-5-0-0 record with a 4.72 GAA and a .872 SV%. Kaidan Mbereko has played 9 games with a 7-2-0-0 record, a 4.10 GAA and a .878 SV%. Again, it's still really hard to judge anything on these goalies at this time, so I'll refrain.
The Phantoms are getting back on track after hitting a 7 game skid. The ship is still listing but we may have stopped taking on water. We'll have no player on suspension heading into Friday, Josh DeLuca will be back after his 4 games on the naughty list. Colin Purcell looked sharper in net than he has in recent starts. Yusaku Ando will still be out, he is at the IIHF U20 World Championship (Division II A) where Team Japan is dominating the tournament, winning all 3 games so far by a combined score of 22-3, including 2 shutouts. Ando has 3g, 2a putting him 3rd overall in scoring. Jan Kern was injured hurt himself in Chicago and missed the Muskegon game, an upper body injury and I don't expect he'll be out too much longer if any more at all.
The big story was the addition of defenseman Caleb Price, brought in from Lincoln for an unspecified 2020 Entry (Phase II) Draft pick. Price is a good puck moving blueliner, I suspect he was brought in to spur the offense a little. He can start the play up ice from his own end or play quarterback on the powerplay. Other than that, it's still a bit of a head scratcher. Defense hasn't been the real pressing issue and I don't see much other value in bringing in someone mid-season. Now the question is who gets bumped to make room for him.
So, what should we expect against the U17s? The first meeting against them was a 9-2 blowout. This time I think we'll see more offense from the Phantoms, the real issue will be if we can keep the pucks out of our own net. Look for the Phantoms to try to establish a physical presence early on. The big hurdle will be not taking dumb penalties. We saw much better discipline in the Madison games but will we be able to keep our cool against the kids who are pretty well known for getting under our skin?
With it being a home-and-home situation, the goaltending duty division will probably be dependant on how the game in Plymouth goes. I suspect Purcell will get the nod in net for that game. If he plays well and doesn't have to stop another 50 shots, we might see him start both nights again. Dominic Basse played in 6 games last month, he was dinged for 4 or more goals in 4 of those games. If he gets between the pipes this weekend, it'll be a good chance for him to get some confidence and momentum back with a solid performance. A bad performance could leave him relegated to a definitive backup position, not in contention for the top spot. At this point of the season, that could make it hard for him to get back into competition for the number one netminder.
Saturday's game is back at the Covelli. It's Pittsburgh Penguins night, with free yearbooks and Iceberg in attendance. I expect a pretty decent crowd, especially since the NTDP is in town. Hopefully I'll have a few more highlights than last weekend.