The Phantoms (18-19-5-1) really needed a good weekend at home to keep themselves moving forward in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They managed a pair of regulation wins against Muskegon, and this week they make another bus trip to Iowa. First up is a stop in Waterloo to face the Black Hawks (29-11-2-0) then it's on to Des Moines to face the Buccaneers (19-21-1-2).

The Hawks are led by a group of veteran forwards. This includes the teams top scorer Xander Lammpa (13g, 28a), a skater with excellent puck and stick handling skills. Griffin Ness (17g, 23a) is a versatile two-way forward who takes pride in playing defense as well as being the Hawks leading goal scorer. Wyatt Schingoethe (13g, 28a) to me is one of the more interesting players on the Hawks. The NHL CSS C-ranked skater was tendered last season by Waterloo and played all 62 games of the regular season last year, plus 3 of the Hawks 4 playoff games. He has a high hockey IQ and a very developed all round set of skills. Another, high C-ranked forward for the Hawks is former NTDP player Ryder Rolston (15g, 14a), who had 4g and 1a in 6 games against the Phantoms last season.

On defense, Brehdan Enghum (3g, 12a) leads the team in  +/- at a positive 19, as well as leading the defense in scoring. Ethan Szmagaj (0g, 14a) is a good skater and playemaker who can use his wheels or his passing to get the puck out of trouble and up ice for a scoring chance. Mason Reiners is a stay at home defenseman that interests me as someone who might be a dark horse draft pick.

In net is where the Hawks shine. Gabriel Carriere is the #18th ranked NHL CSS netminder for North America. In his 28 games played he has a record of 17-6-2-0 and has posted a 2.82 GAA, a .899 SV%, and a shutout so far for the season. Logan Stein, in his second USHL season, is more than a capable backup. His stats are actually better than his partner but his NHL CSS ranking is only #28. With 19 appearances under his belt this season he has a 12-5-0-0 record, an impressive 2.22 GAA, an equally envious .915 SV%, and a league leading 4 shutouts. Two goalies on the NHL's scouting report is impressive and a huge reason for Waterloo's success this season.

I covered the Des Moines Buccaneers in week 8. You might want to refer to that for the big names. Alex Laferriere, Joey Strada, and Nevers are the big names on offense. Kristoff Papp (15g, 17a) is a name we're familiar with. The former Madison Capitals player was traded to the Bucs for another familiar name - Christian Stoever. Papp is a good utility player. His scoring isn't going to wow anyone, he's not the biggest hitter but he can play physical and can grind along the boards. His skills aren't flashy but his work ethic has kept him on the NHL's scouting reports. Matt Choupani (16g, 14a) is an '02 born rookie with great hands and skating who has a sniper's shot. He might have had issues earlier in the season with his compete level and playing a consistent 60 minute game.

I covered Noah Ellis and Nicklas Andrews last time. Josh Luedtke (0g, 17a) is an interesting player on the blueline. He may not be the best defender on the Bucs, but he is a heckuva puck mover and a guy who can start the play up ice or deliver a set-up pass in the attack zone. Another player showing on the NHL's scouting is Timothy Lovell (4g, 11a). Lovell came over in a trade from Chicago in late November so I don't have a lot of info and no viewing but he's touted as another good skating, good puck moving defenseman.

Cameron Rowe is still the top netminder for the Bucs. Rowe has appeared in 29 games with a record 12-14-1-0 with a 3.64 GAA and a .899 SV%. Rowe is a streaky netminder, he's a beast when he's on but fortunately for the Phantoms he's not been in the zone the past few weeks. The Bucs had brought in Christian Stoever, who delayed his NCAA matriculation this season, just before the start of the season due to an injury. Stover is in Madison now and that injured player, James Durham, is back. Durham, who was a backup last season for the Bucs and Dubuque the season before, has played in 7 games this season with a 4-3-0-0 record, posting a 3.71 GAA and a .904 SV%.

The Phantoms are starting to look a little better. We're starting to see a little better cohesion on the ice. There were some changes to lines that helped out on that front. Ben Schoen looks to be getting back to the form he was in late last season. Colin Purcell is back on the bench but Dominic Basse was still the starter last weekend. Basse is due a rest, I'm assuming we'll see Purcell this weekend at some point. There really isn't a whole lot to talk about for the Phantoms, it's just business as usual.

So this weekends plans are going to be a little different. Against Waterloo, it'll look a lot like out game plan against Dubuque two weeks ago. We'll need to play a complete 60:00 and as mistake free as possible. I liked our performance through 90% of the games in Dubuque, only a few lapses burned us. We'll need a little luck too, and the kind of luck you make yourself. Against Des Moines, I think it'll come down to energy levels. The Bucs are in a bit of a slide and if we can off to a good, fast start and keep ourselves in high gear we can keep them from getting into the game and keep the crowd out. We need to get 3 of 4 points over the weekend to be back at .500, which would be a small psychological victory of sorts. I think one of the goalies is going to have to steal us at least a point, probably in the Waterloo game, for that to happen.

We'll be back at home for a weekday, "Kids Day" game next week, then a road trip to Plymouth on Friday, then back at home to face Waterloo in our barn. That'll be a fun one.