Well, if you are reading this, we're back in full swing. With updates being a little hit or miss the past couple weeks, it's good to be back to normal operations. The (16-19-5-1) Phantoms need to get back to "normal" and by that I mean .500. That's not happening this weekend but we can get close. And to help we have the Muskegon Lumberjacks (18-19-4-0) rolling into town and we've had a lot of success against them this season.
First up is offense. The 'Jacks have had a few issues scoring, same as us. Danil Gushin (18g, 20a) and Alex Gaffney (12g, 16a) are the names that have been mentioned a lot this season, I've covered them enough. Rhett Pitlick (12g, 22a) will be the big focus of this preview. Rhett, a 5th round Montreal Canadians draft pick, isn't the power forward his older brother Rem, former 'Jacks forward and the USHL's 15-16 season goal-assist-points leader/Player of the Year. Rhett is a smooth, hard skating forward with soft hands. His speed and agility can throw defenders for a loop, good luck getting a solid hit on him when he's moving.
Christophe Fillion is a guy who's flown under the radar but is now third on the team in scoring with 11g, 18a. He notched a pair of goals against us on New Years Eve in the 'Jacks only win against the Phantoms this season. Cameron Berg, a fast skating forward, came to the 'Jacks in December in a trade from Omaha where he was originally tendered. He has 16g and 12a in 38 games, 14 of his goals and 10 of his assists came in 24 games in Muskegon.
On defense, another guy who's not gotten a lot of attention is Iivari Rasanen (2g, 13a), a big framed Finnish player who can set up plays, as well as run you over with his size. Donald Kempf (0g, 14a) is another solid playmaking blueliner. The NHL CSS C -ranked defenseman is defensively responsible, his +/- is 16 to the positive side, tied for best on the team.
In net, Jack Williams has done fairly well this season. he's posted a 9-5-3-0 record this season with a 3.13 GAA and a .899 SV%. The story in goal for the 'Jacks is who is backing up Williams. Former backup Noah Giesbrecht was released in December and is playing for the Portage Terriers in the MJHL. Eric Green has replaced him, arriving on loan from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, where he did not see any game time this season and both he and the university wanted him to keep up his game experience. In 10 games with the Jacks, he has a 4-5-0-0 record, a 3.96 GAA and a.862 SV%.
The Phantoms are coming off a weekend where they were outscored 10-1 in a pair of games against Dubuque. Despite the pair of losses and the goal differential, I thought the Phantoms played well most of the weekend and were close through most of the games. Cade Lemmer finally got his first USHL goal, and in the way I had hoped to see Lemmer score a lot of them - parked in front of the opposing goalie. Dominic Basse made a lot of great saves and I don't think there was much he could do outside of playing 100% perfect hockey for 120 minutes.
A round of fisticuffs last Friday for Josh DeLuca after a hit on Artyom Borshyov lead to a DeLuca instigator penalty and subsequent 1 game suspension. Borshyov wasn't content to let DeLuca have all the fun after he was the player who was wronged, so he got a 2 game suspension for a secondary altercation. DeLuca will be back for Friday's game this week and Borshyov will be back on Saturday.
We know what to expect in terms of a matchup - a pair of hard fought, physical games. The key for the Phantoms will be to initiate the physicality, let the 'Jacks be the retaliating party. I don't think we have to worry about skill, we need to come at the 'Jacks with energy and confidence that we can beat them in our own barn. This will be the 'Jacks 3rd trip to the Covelli and we beat them both times prior. We split the 2 games in Muskegon so let's keep the home ice dominance going.
We have our annual Teddy Bear Toss Friday, which is also Valentine's Day. Saturday is Teacher Appreciation night, as well as $1 beer night. If anyone deserves $1 beers all night, it's teachers. It's finally starting to look a little like winter in Ohio, let's hope that doesn't hinder the attendance. Anyway, there isn't really much to talk about this week. I hope I have a few decent highlights to go with the recaps this weekend.