Well, it's been an interesting start to the USHL week already, especially for the Phantoms. That whooshing sound you heard the other day was the trade deadline flying by. The Phantoms made a few move, sending Carson Vance to Chicago for defenseman Connor McDonald. McDonald, a Westerville Ohio native, will add a little leadership and experience and will also give us a more even distribution of right and left handed defensemen. He also played a few years of AAA minor hockey with Kiefer Sherwood in the Ohio Blue Jackets organization. He seems like a good fit for the Phantoms but only time will tell that. Vanko is another tough, defensive defenseman and both he and McDonald were captains of their respective teams prior to the trade. There is a saying in hockey, and most other sports, about defense winning championships. There is a lot of truth to that and the Phantoms made the defensive commitment needed for the playoffs. Additionally, we traded Bryan Lemos to Waterloo for Tyler Sheehy. I don't have much on him since I've never seen him play but I'm told he's strong, competitive and fearless. Sheehy is a little more of an offensive threat but other than that I don't know how he'll fit into the mix. It's always a little scary moving players and changing the mix so late in the season, especially on a long win streak, but the Phantoms front office has certainly set the table for the playoffs. There were a few draft picks given up to get these players too so the long term cost will need to be weighed later too. In addition to the USHL trade deadline, the NHL trade deadline came and passed and Max Letunov had his rights traded to the Arizona Coyotes for a veteran defenseman Zbynek Michalek. Letunov was originally a 2nd round pick of the St Louis Blues who will also get a conditional 3rd round pick. The Coyotes aren't making the playoffs and it's cool to see Max as part of their long term plans for rebuilding.

So to focus on the task at hand, the Phantoms play the Sioux Falls Stampede this weekend. The Phantoms and the Stampede already made a trade early last month with the Phantoms sending them forward Trey Bradley to Sioux Falls for a couple for draft picks. Sometimes it's hard to say if a trade was good for either team but in this case both teams have been unbeaten since. The Phantoms are on a 10 game win streak since the February 6th deal was made and the Stampede have won all 7 of their matches as well. It's an obvious statement to make but someone's streak will end this Friday. The Phantoms will have to work hard to make sure it's not theirs.

Well, we're already 2/3 of the way through the Phantoms schedule. If your not worried about the playoff picture yet you should be. Last weekend the Phantoms took 6 of 6 points on the road to move themselves into a position to start moving up in the playoff brackets and distancing themselves a little from the teams trailing them for the last playoff spot. With a couple wins at home, a little luck and help, the Phantoms could be in 2nd place in the East by the start of next week. This weekend we get to see one of my favorite opponents, the Dubuque Fighting Saints. The Phantoms and Saints have played some epic games at the Covelli in the past, especially the 12-13 playoffs which some USHL fans still consider one of the best series in the leagues Tier 1 era. The fact we're just a game and a half behind them in the race this year makes this weekends pair of games that much more dramatic.

The last time these teams met was in October in Dubuque where we split a pair of games. The first game the Saints edged us out in OT 5-4 with Jacob Nehama and Chris Birdsall in net. The next night Collin DeAugustine posted a shutout as the Phantoms put up 6 on Kevin Reich, his last game in Dubuque before a brief stint in the NAHL and getting picked up by Green Bay. This weekend the Saints will be coming in with Nehama the clear starter and Gavin Nieto backing him up. Nehama comes in with a 18-6-4 record, 2.30 GAA and a .913 SV%. Nieto has a 6-1-0 record, 3.06 GAA and .894 SV%. I can't speak for Nieto but Nehama is a solid goalie. I don't think the Saints have any problems riding him for the weekend if he's playing hot and I assume he'll be in net to start on Friday and am basing everything off him playing the full weekend.

As far as skaters go, I won't go into details. Seamus Malone, Brett Boeing and Dylan Gambrell are names to watch out for on offense. The big story here is the mid-week acquisition of Adam Morrison from the NAHL Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. Morrison is a '94 birth year and comes in at 6'2", 210lbs. In 16 games for RGV he's posted 1 assist and 66 PIMS. Last season in 38 games he had 1 goal, 1 assist and 142 PIMS. Of his 66 PIMS this season, 60 came from 4 fighting majors/misconducts, 1 instigating minor, one crosschecking minor and one roughing minor. To facilitate this they moved Try Dodd, who played 21 games scoring 5 goals , 8 assists and racked up 6 PIMS, to the affiliate list where he'll still be eligible to play.  It's too early to throw around the word 'thug' but you can safely assume he's not on the ice for his scoring touch. I don't know if the Saints felt they were getting pushed around, their record certainly doesn't indicate it. Whatever precipitated their going out and getting an overage enforcer, it's still to be seen if this move will pay off. There are plenty of people questioning if Morrison can skate well enough to compete in the USHL. At this level, it's a good thing to have a few players who can fight on your roster but they have to be able to contribute in other areas, Morrison is a huge unknown there.

Welcome to the heat of the second half of the season. Teams are making trades and getting ready to make their push up the standings towards the playoff race. Today the Phantoms dealt Trey Bradley to Sioux Falls for a fourth round USHL Phase 2 (Entry) draft and a second round Phase 1 (Futures) draft. Bradley had been showing a lot of improvement as a player but the Phantoms are stacked at the forward position and we gave up a few picks to get Ryan Lomberg. So we reloaded some draft picks and have an open roster spot. I could see an affiliate like BC High's Ryan Shae moving up to fill it. We could also see a player moving from NCAA, another junior league or a European import. The Phantoms have made moves like this in previous seasons and I doubt they moved Bradley just to get some picks.

Despite having a formidable offense, the Phantoms have had issues scoring at home lately. It may be a good thing to be on the road this weekend but three games in (less than) as many nights could prove rough. The first night is against the Muskegon LumberJacks. We've split the season series so far, both teams winning two, one of those in a shootout at home. The 'Jacks are 6-3-1 to start 2015. Last weekend the 'Jacks split a pair of games hosting the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Other than that there isn't much to say about Muskegon. It's the same squad as usual. Keep you eye on Ian Iacopelli, he might not be tallying the numbers some people though but he is a major catalyst for the team. Another guy who may not get as much mention as an offensive threat is Griffin Molino. Molino leads the team in assists with 29 and total points with 41. Eric Shierhorn has been solid in net and has a 2.54 GAA and .925 SV%. Michael Latorella is a decent backup, 3.39 GAA and an .899 SV%, but we probably won't see him unless Shierhorn is chased or injured.