Well, the Phantoms (16-17-5-1) are still struggling to break the .500 mark again. Last weeks 3 of 4 possible points against Cedar Rapids was offset by the previous 1 out of 6 points to Green Bay. That leaves us pretty much spinning our wheels in the 6th spot in the East. That's the good news for the week. The bad news is, this week we get our first taste of the Eastern Conference's 2nd place team, the Dubuque Fighting Saints (25-9-1-0). A lot has been said in the media about the Chicago Steel's loaded roster, overlooking the Saints and what might be one of the most exciting offenses we've seen in a while. Let me tell you why this squad is worth the price of admission.

The offense for the Saints is lead by the '01 born Jackson twins, Ty (13g, 32a) and Dylan (16g, 26a). They're not the biggest players in the league but they're fast, they're crafty, and they can give your defense fits trying to keep tabs on them on the ice. They have the vision, IQ, and the creativity to match their speed, and that makes them as dangerous as any linemates in the league. Riese Gaber isn't related by blood to the Jacksons but he is certainly cut from the same cloth (24g,12a). You can just go back and reread the description of the twins and you know what Gaber is about. Mark Chermeta, (15g, 22a) is a good east-west player who can pull the trigger on a shot or set up for a pass. Former Central Illinois Flying Ace Stephen Halliday (8g, 17a) is the only Saint currently on the NHL's scouting report. Halliday is a bigger forward who can use his size and passing ability to make plays. He's fairly cool-headed and able to think on his skates.

On the blueline, they have a good core group. Aiden Fulp (1g, 9a) is a seasoned USHL defensemen with a good head on his shoulders. Braden Doyle (7g, 19a), a 6th round L.A. Kings draft pick,  is a good offensive defenseman who has good poise, skating and play making ability. If he manages to get a little better at defensive positioning, he might be a force to reckon with. Kaelan Taylor and Luke Robinson are both very good at keeping the puck out of their own net and have a +/- of +20 and +19, respectively.

Still treading water - that's how I would describe last weekend's performance with the Phantoms (14-15-4-1) splitting the weekend against Tri-City to start the second half of the season. The Phantoms remain a game below .500 and have slipped into 6th place in the Eastern Conference, the last playoff slot. There is still a lot of hockey to be played, but this is the time of the season that if you slip against the teams that you're fighting for those spots with, you might not make it back up by the time you right yourself. That's why this is a big week, we're facing the Green Bay Gamblers (15-13-1-3) who are a single point ahead of us with 2 games in hand. And to add weight to the weekend, we're playing them 3 games in 3 days for 6 total points.

In terms of forwards, they will be missing their 2nd leading score and team captain, McKade Webster, who had 7g and 16a on the season. The Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick will miss the remainder of the season with an inury, something that has hampered his USHL career the past two seasons. That still leaves Jesse Tucker (15g, 17a), their leading scorer. Tucker, from my viewing, seems to find open areas and make himself available to finish a play as well as being just as capable at starting the play. Sneaking into this week's preview is Nicholas Zabaneh (8g, 14a). He's got great speed and skating and has used that to produce on offense, and they'll need that more now that Webster is out. Ryan O'Reilly (11g, 10a) is a capable forward and a Detroit Red Wings draft pick. I think O'Reilly is a player the Gamblers expect to produce more on offense and we'll see if he strives to pick up in the second half of the season.

On defense, the Gamblers have some interesting parts that add up to a decent defense. One player I did not mention the last time I covered the Gamblers was Mason Lohrei, who has elevated his game lately. Lohrei has 6g and 17a on the season, 23 total points. He's picked up 13 of those points in the last 10 games, including 4 of his 6 goals. Well traveled veteran Michael Ferrandino (1g, 8a) is holding the fort on the blueline. Ferrandino has played 200 USHL games and has a +/- of +10.

OK, well it was another glass half full weekend last week. After dropping a bad one in Plymouth, we managed to right the ship a little and grabbed an OT win at home, both against the NTDP U17s. So the last couple weekend pairs the Phantoms (13-14-4-1) have played .500 hockey and after breaking the losing skid we were on prior to that, we're just a game below .500 to start the week. This weekend we get to play a pair against a Western Conference opponent we've already seen one this season, the Tri-City Storm (16-13-3-2). It's a little odd for us to play a western team a third time in a season, we usually play just a pair of games both either home or away, but we already met the Storm at the Fall Classic. We won that game but both teams have changed a bit since.

The Storm had a slow start to the season but turned things around enough to currently be in second place in the Western Conference. They're lead in scoring by Colby Ambrosio (19g, 15a). Ambrosio probably won't dazzle you with his physical skill set but his IQ and decision making hasn't just made him their top scorer, it also landed him on the NHL's CSS report. Matthew Knies (8g, 21a) is an '02 born rookie who plays a very good north-south game and has decent play making ability. Benji Eckerle (13g, 12a) is a returning forward who, in addition to offense, is responsible defensively and a good utility player and an overall well balanced forward.

On defense, Mitchell Miller (3g, 10a) is a NHL CSS B-ranked skater. He's great at carrying the puck up ice and can go coast-to-coast if given the room. Kyle Aucoin (2g, 9a) is a C-ranked skater, very good on his skates and a good puck mover. He's probably not the biggest player on the blueline and maybe not the guy they want fighting for the puck along the boards.

If the scouting on the skaters sounds a little boring, here is where we get to the fun part - goaltending. A little over a week ago, it was Daniel Allin and Joe Sharib. Allin was the workhorse posting a 13-10-2-2 record in 28 games with a 2.71 GAA and a .885 SV%. Sharib played in 6 games with a 2-2-0-0 record, a 3.27 GAA and a .844 SV%. Neither of these goaltenders were lighting the world on fire but I don't think either one was particularly bad. Both could have had better save percentages but both, Allin in particular, were not what I would call bad.