- Written by Justin Irwin
- Category: Opinion and Editorial
- Hits: 363
Well, a pretty rough work schedule and some other projects that took priority and killed last weeks preview. This weeks came close to suffering the same fate but I managed to squeeze in some time at work. Last weeks road trip to Chicago was a pretty big success, defeating the Steel and knocking them out of first place for the first time all season. The Phantoms (23-13-4-1) inched a little bit up in the standings and this week take on the Bloomington Thunder (17-17-3-2), a team struggling to keep it's footing in the standings and may have just given up trying. This week has the distinction of being the first big fire-sale week, teams who aren't expecting to make the playoffs are trading off players that won't probably be back in exchange for draft picks. I half expected to be announcing the Phantoms acquiring some assets but I guess we're comfortable with what we have or just not paying the price teams are asking. In terms of buyers and sellers, the Thunder so-far have been the latter.
So, the Thunder are at .500 and must not think they can climb back into it. This week they sent forward Tarek Baker to Sioux City, so far this seasons big spender, and netminder Logan Halladay to Tri-City. Both of these players have been on the team since the inaugural season and both were dressed for the teams debut. They still have a team and players looking to prove something for themselves. Vladislav Dzhoshvili, who played some games for the Thunder in their first season, leads them in goals scored and points with 15g and 16a. The Russian forward is a '98 birth year and eligible for a couple seasons, depending on his commitment to the University of Vermont. Mitchell Madison (11g, 12a) and Ethan Somoza (10g, 13a) are also dangerous on the offense. On the blueline, the best defenseman is probably Wyatt Kalynuk, who has 4g, 19a and a plus/minus of +7, top among their defense. Also on the blueline is Daniel Willett, who has played over 250 USHL games, an andall-time record. Nether Kalynuk or Willett are very large players and lack of physicality on the back end may be a big issue with the Thunder. In net is Gabriel Mollot-Hill who has a 8-7-1-2 record, has appeared in 23 games, pretty much splitting duty with the departed Logan Halladay. Mollot-Hill has posted a 2.29 GAA, a .922 SV% and has 2 shutouts this season. He's a solid goaltender but we'll see how he handles having the extra load and pressure of being the clear number one. Called in to backup is Harrison Feeney, who played a few games to start the season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. In 4 games with the 'Riders he was shelled for 2 losses and a shootout loss posing a 4.26 GAA and a .884 SV%. He then played 16 games with the New Jersey Junior Titans of the NAHL, posting a 3.11 GAA and .901 SV%. It's safe to say the Thunder will try to ride Mollot Hill this week and probably the rest of the season.
For the Phantoms, a lot of things are hopefully coming together. First off is Eric Esposito. The younger Esposito brother has always shown a lot of speed and quickness on the ice. However, he's made more of a name for himself with the physical stuff. Lately he's turned the speed into point production though, 5 goals in the last 7 games. I've seen his potential to be a top scorer since the tryout camp in 2014 and now it looks like he might be putting it together. Last weekend was pretty big for Max Elllis, 2g and an assist. The young tender has shown flashes of having good offensive creativity, using good hands, speed and vision. If he can use that to put points on the board going down the stretch it will be a huge boost for the team. Austin Pooley also had 2g and an assist last week. He's already surpassed his goals scored from the past 3 season combined with 14 on the campaign and has 7a, equeling his output in each of his 3 previous seasons. On defense, Steven Ruggerio has given us a lot more physicality on the blueline, along with Jake Gingell. Along with the more mobile defensemen like Alec Mahalek and Dominic Dockery, we have a very formidable back end. At this point it's pretty redundant to point out the work Ivan Kulbakov has done in net. A 1.97 GAA, .915 SV% and 2 shutouts plus now he leads the league in minutes played with 2015. He made a some spectacular saves against Chicago, particularly a couple back-to-back saves in Saturday's game when the defense hung him out to dry. Britt League looked good as a backup but has been out with a lower body injury. Jon Mor is the only affiliate backup I am aware of currently and if Kulbakov needs a rest it will probably have to be the 16 year old from the Chicago Young Americans U16 team.
- Written by Justin Irwin
- Category: Game Recap
- Hits: 529
Sometimes weekday games can be a little unpredictable. It's hard enough sometimes for the home team to get the energy ramped up or keep it ramped up for an odd game night, even if it's Thursday instead of Friday. This can mean a smaller crowd and just a slight break from the routine. This goes double for the visiting team, road legs are just a little tougher to shake off. Maybe that explains the way the first two periods went last night, leading into an exciting third frame and eventual overtime and shootout.
The Sioux Falls Stampede came to town and took a little while to show up at the game, everyone except for goaltender Jeremy Swayman. The Phantoms came out and had the energy in the first period. The played a good physical game with some very aggressive forechecking, trapping the neutral zone well and the offense was definitely in attack mode. Despite outshooting the Stampede 12-4, Swayman held the Phantoms off the board and both teams went to the lockers scoreless. In the second frame, the Phantoms seemed to lose a little of the momentum and the Stampede managed to find some defense. Shots were 4-4 and again neither team found the back of the net. I had predicted special teams wouldn't be too big of a factor and both sides had a few powerplay chances through two periods. It looked like I was going to be right on that prediction for the evening. The third period would prove me all sorts of wrong.
Things would escalate quickly in the third. Ivan Kulbakov bobbled a rebound after a routine glove save. As he dove to his right to cover it, a good bit outside his crease, Stampede forward Jack Doremus plowed through him sending him to the boards. Doremus was issued a charging penalty but Kulbakov remained on the ice for several minutes. We're getting pretty used to seeing this, Kulbakov sometimes milking the situation for a penalty or rest. Since he already had the penalty and was down quite a bit longer than usual, this was a scary moment for the fans. Emergency netminder Nathan Reid, a 2000 birth year, was even starting to put on his mask and looked ready to come into the game. Kulbakov recovered and the Phantoms went to work on the powerplay. Coale Norris took a wrist shot from the left faceoff circle though traffic to break the shutout deadlock at 3:01 of the frame. A few moments after the ensuing faceoff and the Phantoms were in the box and 1:27 after the Phantoms goal Eric McAdams would get his own rebound off a blocked shot in the slot and fired it past the glove of Kulbakov.
- Written by Justin Irwin
- Category: Opinion and Editorial
- Hits: 1980
The Phantoms (20-12-4-1) are back at the Covelli this week after a road trip that saw us get 3 of 6 possible points on the road. We lost a little ground to the teams tied with us and ahead of us, but we put some more ground behind the teams behind us and are still in fourth place and still within good striking distance of the teams we're chasing. So, depending on how you look at it the glass is half empty or half full. Myself, I'm just glad the glass will be in front of me this weekend to pound on when the Sioux Falls Stampede (15-16-1-2) come to town.
The Stampede are another Western Conference team I have very little data and even less actual scouting on. They're lead on offense by a couple first year USHL players. Jason O'Neill is a talented goal scorer with 16g on the season and has also added 10a. Austin Albrecht is more of a playmaker with 5g and 26a, tied for second in the league in assists. Matthew Quercia is another well touted forward, a CSS ranked rookie with 5g and 4a on the season, someone who could break out at any time. On defense, Kasper Kotkansalo is a Finnish blueliner with good size, a CSS ranking and has a plus/minus of +12 on the season. With only 4 assists he's mostly a shutdown defenseman. Another blueliner who shows up as a top prospect is Jack St. Ivany, though he's registered a plus/minus of -5 and only 7a on the season. Sometimes the stats are deceiving, I'm keeping my eye on him. In net Mikhale Berdin is a Russian born netminder who has had the majority of their wins. With a 10-6-1-1 record, a 2.78 GAA, a .923 SV% and 2 shutouts, I'd call him the number one goalie for the Stampede. Behind him is Jeremy Swayman. Despite his CSS ranking and numbers not much different, he hasn't had quite the success as his counterpart. He's 5-10-0-1 with a 2.85 GAA and a .917SV%.
The Phantoms are coming off a loss in OT, a loss in regulation and a win in a 10 round shootout. All of this was in a little less than a three day span and Ivan Kulbakov was in net for all of it. Kulbakov hasn't had a night off since his suspension, with Britt League out for undisclosed reasons. Honestly, I haven't had time to even check my sources and if he's out this week I'll probably dig deeper into it. Kulbakov has been a workhorse and even stopped all ten shooters in the shootout in Bloomington to cap the long weekend off. Goaltending definitely hasn't been the issue, offensive production has been. We need the top players to step up. Tommy Apap and Austin Pooley have all managed to step up a little the past couple weeks, we need them to add some consistency now. Alex Esposito hasn't had a point in the last 9 games, this would be a good week for him to break that streak. Nicolas Werbik hasn't had a goal in 8 games, another player I'd like to see with goal or two against the Stampede. The defense has been outstanding. Adding Steven Ruggerio and pairing him with Jake Gingell really solidified things, adding a good physical edge to the blueline. The big news has been the trade of Ty Farmer to Muskegon. It's not a surprise he was moved, he just did not find his spot this season. This leave Andrew Patrillo as the extra defenseman. We haven't seen any affiliate defensemen play yet this season, we'll see going forward.