Happy New Year Phantoms fans. 2014 has been an uphill climb for the Phantoms, the second half of last season and the first half of this season, and we've seen a lot of changes both on the ice and in the front office. The uphill climb seems to be paying off and this year we've witnessed some really outstanding hockey. The past couple games the fans have responded as well and that's something we've needed to improve on. We finished 14-7-5 (.635 win %), averaging the most goals for per game in the league (4.08), third in the league in power plays and second in penalty kills. We closed out '14 in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the potential last playoff spot, but only by a thread and some luck with Green Bay beating Madison earlier in the week. Muskegon and Cedar Rapids top the conference but are starting to cside back to within reach. Dubuque just leapfrogged us with a win in Bloomington to close out the year. 

Now it's 2015, nearly half the seasons schedule has been played and we need to keep moving forward and the first week of the new year is going to be a real test. It's three games in three nights, actually a little less than that, and on the road. This is the first of four times we play a set like this. Neither team we face this weekend is too hot at the moment but everyone's New Years resolution is to win and both teams have shown promise. Tonight we play the Chicago Steel at 8:30 EST. The Steel are pretty simple to break down. Mason Bergh is almost unstoppable on offense and Cale Morris specializes in shutting down offenses. Despite having the top scoring forward in the league so far this year and one of the leagues best goalies, as well as a well rounded team to fill in, the Steel have a losing record (12-13-2) and just haven't gotten it going consistently lately. Their last game of the season, however, they did beat the slumping Muskegon Lumberjacks.

Now that the Christmas holiday has past us it's time to get back to hockey. The Phantoms (13-7-5) only have one game this weekend but it's a road game against the team directly ahead of them in the standings, the Muskegon Lumberjacks (18-7-1). And the last time they were in Muskegon things got ugly, with there still being some repercussions. According to the USHL's hockey operations twitter account a few weeks back, head coach Anthony Noreen will not be behind the bench tonight due to a one game suspension from that game on 11/28, almost a full month ago with seven games played since. For those that don't remember, Tommy Parran jumped off the bench in response to a cheap shot by Tom Marchin that left Matt Miller down on the ice for several minutes. Parran was ejected and suspended 3 games while Marchin was only given a game suspension. In addition this was handed out:

OK, I'll skip the part about how an owner of the 'Jacks is on the USA Hockey's Junior Council and their GM is a VP of USA Hockey and the chairperson of the Junior Council. It's obvious things don't go our way in these instances. We're probably just lucky we're not feeling worse fallout from last weekends line brawl against the USA NTDP U18 kids. Matt Miller got a single game suspension, I assume for being the secondary fight or possibly removing an opponents mask since his opponent was under 18 and wearing a grill. For their part Casey Fitzgerald got a game suspension and Nick Boka got two while the guy who started it all, Matt Tkachuk, got off with only a game suspension which I assume was the initial spearing of Josh Nenadal. With Tkachuk's history I find it insulting he got off with only a single game. I have no clue why Boka got two games, possibly one secondary fighting and another for not having his jersey tied down.

Once again I'm late with the preview because of a rough work schedule. I'll be brief about it because I think you all know what's going on this weekend. The USA NTDP U18 squad is back in town. Brendan Warren is suspended for USA from the last game, a 5 game total suspension for a check from behind to Josh Nenadal. The bad news for the Phantoms is that Jordan Greenway seems healthy. I really like watching Greenway play, I just wish I was watching him play other teams. At 6'5" 222lbs, he's a huge kid and almost impossible to defend against entirely. Also going against the Phantoms is that Kyle Connor is playing in the Junior A Challenge and will not be available until the Muskegon game on the 27th.

And you would have to live under a rock to have not heard about this weekends promotion. It's Pittsburgh Penguins night and among the guests of honor is Lord Stanley's Cup. You don't want to miss this!