We're back from the holiday break, and the Phantoms (10-11-0-3) are closing out 2018 with a road trip through Iowa. This is basically a remix of the road trip they made in week 4, the same three teams in a different order. Our first stop is Cedar Rapids (12-11-2-1), then Waterloo (16-6-3-1), and finally Dubuque (11-9-3-3).

Our first opponent is the RoughRiders. Nathan Smith has 14 assists for the season, as well as 4 goals to put him on top of the 'Riders in both assists and total points. He also has a +/- of +13 to lead the team. Jason Polin leads the team in goals with 12, including a hat trick against Central Illinois in the game before the break, as well as a pair of assists. Liam Walsh is a more balanced scorer, 9g and 9a, on the season.

On defense, Kyle Looft (1g, 6a) is a veteran defenseman who earns his keep on the blueline. Adam Bäckehag is another defensive-minded d-man we're likely to run into this weekend.

Goaltender Blake Pietila has been a huge part of the 'Riders success. The second year netminder has played in 18 games with a 9-7-2-0 record, a 2.99GAA and a .901SV% with a shutout to top it off. Since they have managed to ride Pietila this season they traded us Christian Stoever and brought in a netminder who is expected to play one more season in the USHL, Troy Kobryn. Kobryn has done well in his limited action, appearing in 7 games with a 3-2-0-1 record, a 2.34GAA and a .913SV%. He also has 1 shutout as well.

Then onto the USHL's second ranked team, the Black Hawks. The Hawks have an explosive trio of European forwards. Leading them is Vladislav Firstov, a rookie from Russia who is projected to be a second round draft pick in 2019. Firstov leads all rookies in most scoring categories, including goals (16) and assists (15). Behind him is a Czech import, Matej Blümel (14g, 17a) and a second year Swedish import, Emil Öhrvall (16g, 13a).

If you are reading this, I have managed to find time from my job to write a preview. I apologize for missing last week's. We played a heckuva game in Plymouth, beating the massively talented U18 squad in OT. Seriously, they had at least 4 or 5 players dressed that will be 1st round NHL draft picks. With the win, we're finally at .500 on the season.

This week, the Phantoms (9-9-0-3) are back at Covelli for the last 3 home games in 2018. Our opponents this week is the Chicago Steel (13-8-1-0), in a rare back-to-back-to-back series at home against the same team. How rare is this? I don't think we've ever faced the same team 3 straight days at home in the history of the Phantoms.

Anyway, Chicago is a team playing a little better than some expected. They've managed to take advantage of some opportunities and have passed Central Illinois for second in the Eastern Conference.

They will be without their leading goal scorer this weekend, Robert Mastrosimone (11g, 6a) who is representing the USA at the World Junior A Challenge. They'll be looking for a few forwards to step up in his absence. Travis Treloar is a guy likely to get some more ice time with Mastrosimone out. The '01 born rookie is tied for second on the team in goals (7g, 4a). He has excellent puck handling skills, is a competent skater and can finish plays.

Nick Abruzzese (5g, 19a) is the team's leading assist man and also leads the team in overall points. Abruzzese is in his second season with the Steel, and while he's not the biggest guy on the ice, he's quick and smart and can use his speed and skating to open up a passing lane.

Another interesting player is Adam Robbins, son of Larry Robbins, who owns the Steel. Despite the obvious conflict of interest, Adam Robbins is proving he's not just there because of nepotism with 6g and 12a for second place on the team in points.

On defense, Matteo Pietroniero (7g, 6a) is a solid two-way defenseman. The second year Steel blueliner is tied for second on the team in goals and fourth in total points without sacrificing much in the way of defense. In the 5 games he played against us last season, he had 3 goals and an assist. He is also not shy of the rough stuff and leads the team with 49 PIMs.

John Spetz (2g, 8a) is another veteran who can add to the offense, but is primarily a defensive guy. I also like their rookie dmen. Owen Power is a '02 born blueliner weighing in at 6'4" - 214 lbs. Luke Ried is a '01 born rookie with a lot of upside to his game as well.

Well, we're 10 weeks into the season already. The Phantoms (7-9-0-2) have been playing .500 hockey for the past few weeks, and are trying to get back to .500 for the season. This week is the "revenge" week, as we face the Fargo Force (10-7-0-2) who knocked us out of the the Clark Cup Finals to end last season.

The Force are quite a different team than what we saw last May, which is not unusual in junior hockey. While there are some familiar faces, still, a lot of their strength comes from players who weren't in last season playoffs. Foremost is Hank Crone, another player who decided to leave the NCAA and return to to the team he played for the previous season. Crone is 2nd in the league in assists with 19 on the season, as well as 3 goals. Josh Nodler is second on the team in points (7g, 12a) , a 17 year old, 5'11" 204lbs rookie. Nodler has great skating ability and can use his big frame to protect the puck. Leading the team in goals is a veteran from last season, Ben Meyer, who has 11g and 7a.

On defense, the Force have a few guys with USHL experience but not necessarily all with the Force. Connor Mayer (3g, 6a) has over 100 games played in the league,  bouncing from Sioux City to Madison then finally finishing up last season with the Force but did not see any post season action. Colin Ubekile (5a) has over 130 games played, 2 season in Des Moines before hooking up with Fargo this season. Xan Gurney (2a) is a guy I'm pretty familiar with. He got his start with the Chicago Steel at the end of the 16-17, getting thrown into the Steels lineup on the last game of the regular season then playing most of the playoffs, including eliminating the Phantoms in the first round. The Steel would go on to win the Clark Cup. He would get traded to Fargo midway through last season and played part of the playoffs, though not the finals. He's been a part of 2 winning cup runs. He was injured to start this season but is back, and the Force are a better team for it.