Well, it seems like it's been forever since I posted anything other than the podcasts. Since the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak and the subsequent shutdown of the USHL season, as well as the disruption of pretty much everything everywhere, we haven't had a lot of information other than obligatory press releases. With half a month to go until players are supposed to report, here is what I have.

Let's start off with some departures in the bench and hockey ops staff. The first was assistant coach and scouting director Nick Peruzzi, who has taken his services to the Lincoln Stars. Nick left in April, not long after the season was cancelled. More recently, equipment manager Michael Bingham relocated to the Tri-City Storm. Neither departure was announced by the Phantoms and there has been no word on replacements.

Another recent development that doesn't directly affect the Phantoms, but I believe will factor heavily into any plans to start the season is the devastating derecho that swept through Iowa. In addition to unfathomable destruction to homes, businesses, and farmland, the storm heavily damaged two USHL arenas. The Des Moines Buccaneers barn's roof was lost in the winds, as well as probably significant water damage from the rain. Things are worse in Cedar Rapids where the RoughRiders home ice, ImOn Ice Arena, had part of the building collapse. They are waiting on engineers to even start assessing the damage. All of that is still secondary to the still ongoing disaster, and I would like the people of Iowa to know that they are in our thoughts as they begin the slow recovery process.

In terms of the team and starting the season, we do not have a lot of information at this point. What we do know is glass half full/empty news. The league's statement on playing a full season starting this fall is over a month old and with no new news or any evidence of any teams having a return to play plan drawn up, it seems the fans are left in a holding pattern. With so much still being debated and ironed out, this is not a surprise. What we have heard through rumors and reading between the lines of other statements, everything seems to be based on a normal start including holding the Fall Classic. I even have on good authority that there is a tentative schedule drawn up for the league. Most of the major players in Canadian junior hockey as well what NCAA hockey hasn't been canceled are pushing start dates back to December.

Travel restrictions to Canada and Europe are expected to put a huge dent on import players. Good news for the Phantoms, Georgi Merkulov did not return to Russia, so working on re-entry will not be a problem for him. Yusaku Ando is still expected to be able to return as well. From what I've heard, none of our Canadian draft picks were in camp but a couple free agents from up north did come. With a 14 day quarantine mandatory for Canadians returning from the USA, having Canadians in camp is a little bit of a surprise. Now things can be very different when the main camp rolls around, however the two Canadian players we selected in the Phase I (Futures) draft have signed with Canadian Major Junior teams which makes it very unlikely they come to Youngstown. Jake Furlong (3rd round) signed with the OHL Halifax Mooseheads while Sam Oliver signed with the QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders. Considering the uncertain situation crossing the border, as well as the USA still struggling to contain the virus, this seems like the logical and smart choice.

Players from overseas have additional issues. A travel ban on people from the European Shengen area could possibly affect at least a pair of Phase II (Entry) picks. Slovakian Artur Turansky (7th round) and Hungarian Levente Keresztes (14th round) both might not be able to get into the country. Belarus, to the best of my knowledge, has not been restricted from entering the country so Vladislav Barkovsky (9th round) should be able to enter the country if he wishes, although at least one site has him remaining in his home country for the next season.

The canceling and delaying of many NCAA hockey programs is likely going to cause some players to remain in the USHL for another season. Programs that plan on starting in December or later (spring) might throw things into confusion as players who started the season in the USHL might join their NCAA club late, leaving empty spots on USHL rosters.

As I said earlier, there are schedules made for a normal (or near normal) start. These might be only intra-conference play, meaning Eastern Conference teams only playing other Eastern conference teams and Western conference teams only playing other Western conference teams. The exception to that would be the 4 Iowa teams, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Dubuque, and Waterloo. With half of those teams homeless right now, the Iowa division seems unlikely. I think that will be a tipping point for the league, but how farthings fall over will play out over the next couple weeks.

Also, many states have limitations to gatherings that can change suddenly. Currently, Michigan limits indoor gatherings to 10 people, that effectively eliminates fans from the Muskegon Lumberjack's and the NTDP's arenas. I find it unlikely that any club, outside the NTDP, can even operate without fans. If other states in the USHL footprint implement similar limitations, it could be hard for the league to operate in any capacity.

There is still too much we don't know. And time, like the virus, doesn't slow down for sports. In any event, the league is holding it's cards very close to it's vest, and fans are left wondering what to plan for. We'll do our best here to try to dig up news, facts, and even credible rumors to try to keep you in the loop. However, it would be best for USA Hockey and the USHL to get their plans in order soon. But we all know how that goes in the U.

Edit 8/16/20: Now it appears both USA Hockey NTDP head coaches have departed the program for other jobs. Seth Appert has taken the job as the AHL Rochester Americans, the minor league affiliate for the Buffalo Sabers. Meanwhile, respected journalist and USHL scout, Jeff Cox, is reporting that John Wroblewski is taking as HC for the Ontario Reign, the LA Kings AHL affiliate. That leaves a big hole in the program weeks before players are supposed to report.