Well, to start I'd like to apologize for the lack of a recap of the last game. MY job is eating all my time and it's either a recap or a preview and the preview won. I still have to make this short and I think something of a recap is in order. We lost 3-1 to Muskegon, Max Letunov split the defense to score our only goal. We coughed up the puck to their best player to tie it 1-1 after two periods. Then we gave up a shorthanded goal and an insurance goal in the third. We could have been in second place in the Eastern Conference but we landed in fourth. Later in the season this would be a bigger deal but it's still way too early to get upset. So our first home loss is out of the way. The more disturbing fact is that we're 0-3 when tied after two periods. We need to be able to finish games strong and win close fights. But let's move on.
This week we see a pair of odd games. The first is a Wednesday morining tilt against Bloomington. I guess I don't need to break down the Thunder, we've seen enough of them to know their game. The Thunder are on a three game losing streak that started with a pair of losses at the Covelli. They'll also be missing Blake Gober who'll be serving a suspension for removing Josh Nenedal's helmet. To replace him they've inserted Maxim Dzhioshvili, a 6'5", 220lbs 18 year old from Moscow Russia. Bloomington may be a wounded beast and should be treated accordingly, be cautious you don't let them bite you and put them down quickly. Expect the Phantoms to not sit around after losing for the first time at the home. I think the 10:15 am is a 'kids day game' so hopefully we'll pack the stands with screaming school kids for an energetic crowd to give the home squad a little extra push.
Then on Sunday we get our first look at this seasons Chicago Steel team. Winners of the past two games, the Steel have a good team and are right behind the Phantoms in the standings. They have a wealth of returning players on both offense and defense. They have a goaltending duo that includes last years backup Cale Morris and rookie John Lethemon, both 18 years old. Both have posted decent numbers 2.83GAA, .908SV% and 2.60, .917SV% respectively. The Steel have a very solid group of defenseman with four guys that have real USHL experience as well as some rookies and players who served as affiliate call-ups. I don't see anyone as a real standout on the blueline, they don't need it. At least on paper, this is a group effort. Ofensively, they have a dangerous group of forwards capable of putting up big numbers if you let them. Fredrick Olofsson leads the pack and the NHL Chicago Blackhawks 4th round pick (98th overall, 5 places in front of ex-Phantom JJ Piccinich) has 7 goals and 5 assists on the season. At 6'2", 204lbs he's not huge but has enough size to push the defense a little and a complete set of offensive skills. Also able to contribute are Mason Bergh, Robby Jackson (last years USHL Rookie of the Year) and Connor Murphy, who lead the GOJHL in scoring as well as picking up several awards in that league.
On paper, this is a good team. The Phantoms will need to be ready to go for the early Sunday evening game (5:05pm). I'm not going to call out any players to step up, I'd like to see the whole team raise the bar a little. Our top scorers need to be our top scorers, secondary scorers need to add some points and role players need to find their role. It's still early in the season but every game counts. We can't overlook Bloomington because we've beat them a few times either. It'll be interesting to see if Chris Birdsall gets a start this week too. The biggest question for the Phantoms this week is "will you be there?"! Seriously, a big crowd to support the team would go a long way to helping them win. It's getting a little ridiculous to see so many empty seats when they're playing so well.