Information for the first round of the USHL playoffs is trickling in and even though the seeding hasn't been finalized, we do have some dates. We'll either face Muskegon or Dubuque, depending on who finishes the as the lower seed. Both teams have 2 games left and Dubuque has a game and a half lead (3 pts) in the standings. In the event of a tie Muskegon will have more regulation wins which is the first tie-breaker. Additionally, this season the team with home ice advantage will play at home on games 2,3,5. The lesser seeded team will play at home on games 1 and 4. I'm not sure when this format was introduced and if this will pertain to all rounds. I assume this is to allow the home ice team to play their games on the weekend and start the playoffs as soon as possible.

Game 1 @ Muskegon/Dubuque Wed. April 15th Dubuque 7:05pm CST/Muskegon 7:15pm EST
Game 2 @ Youngstown Fri. April 17th 7:05pm EST
Game 3 @ Youngstown Sat. April 18th 7:05pm EST
Game 4 @ Muskegon/Dubuque Mon. April 20th Dubuque 7:05pm CST/Muskegon 7:15 EST
Game 5 @ Youngstown Wed. April 22nd 7:05pm EST

OK, so it's been a while since I've had any updates here mostly due to real world woes and a major lack of time (and not enough coffee). For the most part, the recaps and previews are a little redundant. I haven't had much to offer that the official outlets haven't already covered. There hasn't been a lot of real news to cover. We've been winning, a team record 8 straight games, which requires less scrutiny. No news is pretty much good news in this case.

We haven't made many roster moves at all since the final cuts during preseason. Grant Meyer was released and Lukas Craggs was added to the protected list in late November. Earlier this month Trey Bradley was traded for draft picks and defenseman Carter Ekberg was added to the protected lists. Ekburg hasn't dressed and the Phantoms have been rolling with 22 players, when healthy and not suspended. Vas Kolias spent a few weeks out with an injury and when he returned Tommy Parran was out, leaving us with six defensemen usable. That leaves us down to 21 players, a full bench, and a suspension or minor injury can cut that down to 20 or less. Prior to this season, 20 players were all you were allowed to have on the bench but this season teams can dress 21. Hockey can be a war of attrition, having a shorter bench than the other team can give them the advantage, especially with injuries and penalties. In these situations you need to play smart and disciplined and for the most part we've done that admirably. In any rate, it would be a good idea if we filled Bradley's spot on the bench, either with Ekburg, a trade with another USHL team or getting a guy from the NAHL. At this point in the season I don't think we can add imports and after March 1st, affiliate players must have finished their current teams season. March 2nd is the trade deadline.

So, how have we gotten to this 8 game streak? I think the biggest reason is that all the current pieces have found where they fit and we've managed to sell the system. Our star players, particularly Kyle Conner and Max, are hitting their stride and are now 2nd and 4th in the league in points. If there is any downside, there are still a little bit of inconsistency in net. For the most part, I think coach Noreen is getting better at judging which netminder will match up against the opposition but both goalies have shown issues, epseciall when challenged early. To be fair, during this streak Chris Birdsall stole us a game against Dubuque, a 3-2 win when we were grossly out-shot and Colin DeAugustine plays a strong 3 games in less than 3 nights on the road and won all three. If the duo can keep this up and build upon their recent success, we'll be in great shape.

Yesterday afternoon showed only the second time this season the Phantoms official USA Hockey protected list was changed. Prior to this the only addition was adding Lucas Craggs to the list (he was previously an affiliate) and dropping Grant Meyer. Yesterday after the Phantoms announced that Trey Bradley was traded to Sioux City, it was expected he would be off the list. However, the Phantoms still have a full 23 man roster with the addition of Carter Eckberg. Barring some sort of colossal error on USA Hockey or the USHL in editing the list, and this is certainly a possibility, we have an unknown player on our roster. 

I had to hunt down what Eckberg's stats. The list gave his last team as the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks and I believe that was a mistake. Here's what I have. Born May 15, 1997 plays defense, stands 6ft 2in, weighs 185lbs and hails from McMurray, PA. He's split the season between high school AAA varsidy (PIHL) and U18 AAA Minor (NAPHL). Playing for Peters Township in the PIHL he's recorded 3 goals (1 shorthanded) , 6 assists and 2PIMs in 11 games. With the Esmark Stars of the PIHL he has 6 goals (2 on the poweplay), 17 assists and 28 PIMS in 24 games. He appears to have been  in the 4th round. I also see reports of him later. I'm not sure what happened with his NAHL prospects or if he just opted to stay home for school.

I'm not sure when or even if he's supposed to join the team. I show there are 3 games still to play for Peters Township, the NAPHL regular season has ended. Both his clubs look like they should be playoff bound. It probably depends on how he wants to finish his seasons and tie things up scholastically. Billeting is going to factor in too. It's an interesting move by the Phantoms, albeit just on paper for now. Maybe he'll be moved to the affiliate list or traded/moved/dropped for another prospect. We'll know in the coming week or so as the USHL's various deadlines for moving people are almost here.

Anyway, instead of a game recap (we won in Muskegon) from a Fasthockey broadcast I didn't entirely see and follow, I figured I would do some research on Eckberg. With teams able to dress 21 men this season maybe it's not a bad idea to work a young defensman in. He's already decent size for an underager and looks like he has some decent offensive skills without sacrificing his defensive responsibilities, on paper at least.