Still treading water - that's how I would describe last weekend's performance with the Phantoms (14-15-4-1) splitting the weekend against Tri-City to start the second half of the season. The Phantoms remain a game below .500 and have slipped into 6th place in the Eastern Conference, the last playoff slot. There is still a lot of hockey to be played, but this is the time of the season that if you slip against the teams that you're fighting for those spots with, you might not make it back up by the time you right yourself. That's why this is a big week, we're facing the Green Bay Gamblers (15-13-1-3) who are a single point ahead of us with 2 games in hand. And to add weight to the weekend, we're playing them 3 games in 3 days for 6 total points.
In terms of forwards, they will be missing their 2nd leading score and team captain, McKade Webster, who had 7g and 16a on the season. The Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick will miss the remainder of the season with an inury, something that has hampered his USHL career the past two seasons. That still leaves Jesse Tucker (15g, 17a), their leading scorer. Tucker, from my viewing, seems to find open areas and make himself available to finish a play as well as being just as capable at starting the play. Sneaking into this week's preview is Nicholas Zabaneh (8g, 14a). He's got great speed and skating and has used that to produce on offense, and they'll need that more now that Webster is out. Ryan O'Reilly (11g, 10a) is a capable forward and a Detroit Red Wings draft pick. I think O'Reilly is a player the Gamblers expect to produce more on offense and we'll see if he strives to pick up in the second half of the season.
On defense, the Gamblers have some interesting parts that add up to a decent defense. One player I did not mention the last time I covered the Gamblers was Mason Lohrei, who has elevated his game lately. Lohrei has 6g and 17a on the season, 23 total points. He's picked up 13 of those points in the last 10 games, including 4 of his 6 goals. Well traveled veteran Michael Ferrandino (1g, 8a) is holding the fort on the blueline. Ferrandino has played 200 USHL games and has a +/- of +10.
The last time I covered the Gamblers, I only had limited information on their goalies. I have a little more data now and I don't see any reason to change my original opinion; they have a solid tandem in net. Nicholas Grabko still looks like the top netminder on the team, 18 games played, a 7-7-0-2 record with a 2.63 GAA and a .916 SV% as well as 2 shutouts. Gavin Enright is not far behind him as a backup. He's appeared in 16 games with a 8-6-1-1 record, a 3.33 GAA, a .898 SV%, and a pair of shutouts himself.
The Phantoms were almost back to full health and no suspensions last weekend... almost. A late single game suspension handed down to Trevor Kuntar, and injuries to Reilly Funk, Colin Purcell, and Jayson Dobay on Friday shot that down. The good news is that my sources have said that these were all fairly minor. That's really good news since the injury to Funk looked bad, an open ice collision that looked like head-to-head contact which left the forward down for a long time on the ice and looking obviously concussed. Purcell looked like a lower body injury but he was able to finish the period before being replaced by Dominic Basse. Dobay's injury did not appear to game related and minor as well. All were said to have been held out for precautionary reasons, though I will be keeping my eye on the roster to see if Funk and Purcell are in the games this weekend. Colin Purcell will be especially critical since we'll probably need both netminders to play this weekend.
I don't expect a lot of scoring this weekend, neither team's offense looks like they'll overpower the other's defense. Taking advantage of the opportunities given will be hugely critical, especially on special teams. The Gamblers have the 4th best PK(86.9%), if we can net some PP goals that would give us a much needed lift. As always, we need to get more shots on net. Green Bay is 4th in shots per game averaging 32.78, which is almost the same as our shots allowed average at 32.44. Likewise, the Gamblers give up a lot of shots too, averaging 32.16 but our average shots per game is only 27.88.
We're still averaging over 1,400 per game in attendance. Good job Youngstown and good job Phantoms. The office has really done a good job of getting the message out there and $1 beer Saturday's has made for a few memorable comeback games with an... enthusiastic crowd we'll say. We'll need to pack it in on Friday and Saturday to make up for the fact that a Sunday evening game probably won't pull in the same numbers, especially the tail end of playing the same team three days straight. This will wrap up the January home stand. I know the Phantoms game day staff and office will be looking forward to a couple weeks off of the game day scramble. I know I am getting a little run down, I can only imagine how they're doing.
Anyway, I hope to get recaps and highlights for all 3 games though the Sunday game might get delayed a bit. We'll see how things go.