The second week of USHL action is in the books and the Phantoms put a pair of marks in the win column. Granted it was the U17 NTDP squad but the Phantoms looked impressive despite some mounting injury problems. Noah Lalonde and Garrett hall are both still sidelined and now team captain Tommy Apap missed the trip with an injury. Also, in addition to the injuries, Eric Esposito did end up with a 2 game suspension for the altercation with Brady Tkachuk from the previous game. This meant Sam Craggs finally got to see some ice time in a regular season game and affiliate Jack Malone got some USHL action early in the season.

Defenseman Marcus Joseph got things going for Youngstown on Friday. Just coming out of the penalty box and getting into the play, and with the Phantoms still with a man in the box, he took advantage of a Bode Wilde fumble on the blueline and took the puck up ice and slid a shot five-hole on USA netminder Keegan Karki 6:47 in. A little over halfway through the first USA failed to clear seveal times and Sam Craggs had a grade A chance go off the post and back out in front for Austin Pooley to pop in to make it 2-0. With 1:17 left in the frame, Evan Wisocky took a pass from Alex Esposito in the slot and despite a USA defender getting a stick on it, the puck found it's way behind Karki. Shots in the first period were 16-6 Phantoms.

The Phantoms went back to work in the second after USA almost got on the board, Joel Farabee being denied a shot by an agressive Ivan Kulbakov and the Phantoms defense clearing a puck laying still behind their netminders back. On an offensive zone faceoff, Pooley tied up his man and Chase Gresock moved in from the wing to grab the puck in the circle and snapped it passed Karki to make it 4-0. The NTDP would get on the boards a few minutes later with 5:08 left in the frame when defenseman Mattias Samulesson would get a rebound in the slot off a Farabee shot and burried it behind Kulbakov. Pooley would get it back with his second of the night with 1:11 in the second, firing a shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Shots in the second were 11-4 in favor of the Phantoms, the NTDP did not register a shot on Kulbakov for the first 14:05 of the period. Coale Norris scored the only goal of the final frame when Jack DeBoer failed to clear the puck on a weak attempt and put it on Norris's stick and Norris launched a missile from near the blueline to add insult to injury. The final score was 6-1, shots in the 3rd were 14-7 Youngstown and 39-17 in the game.

It's good to be back home. After a couple weekends in Plymouth, Michigan, the Phantoms looked to kick off their home season with the Madison Capitols coming to town. We were hoping to build on the success of last week against the NTDP U17 squad but playing a regular USHL team is a much different beast than playing against kids in face cages, no matter how cherry picked the kids are. Fortunately, the Phantoms were more than up to the task, especially netminder Ivan Kulbakov, as the Phantoms blanked the Caps 2-0 in the first ever home opener shutout in team history.

The opening frame was mostly a feeling out process for two teams that haven't played each other since late last season. The Phantoms quickly settled into their game, an aggressive forecheck and backcheck that left the Caps struggling to get out of their zone and unable to to really set up much in the Phantoms end. Despite the Phantoms not giving hem much room, the first frame was pretty evenly played. That is until a Michael Karow dump in took an unusual bounce off one of the stanchions. Madison goaltender, Daniel Lebedeff, had gone behind the net to cut off the dump but the puck went right into the low slot area for Austin Pooley to easily put into an empty net for his 5th of the season at 16:18 of the first. Shots on goal were 7-6 Madison but the Phantoms had the lead heading to the locker room after the first.

The Phantoms began to squeeze the Caps in the second, holding them to just 4 shots on Kulbakov. On at least two occasions it looked like they initiated contact with the Phantoms goalie in an attempt to stir things up and possibly cause the aggressive netminder to think twice about playing the puck. This backfired in two ways. First, they got called for a minor penalty on the second one, clearly clipping him when he did not have the puck. Secondly, the Eastern European goaltender did not seem to be rattled and quite the opposite, seemed more into the game and his teammates responded physically to protect their goalie. The frame was scoreless with the Phantoms outshooting the caps 9-4. 

Well, you can't win 'em all, or at least they say. However, last night the Phantoms played the same team as they did 24 hours prior and got a much different result. As I predicted, Madison dug down and finally started to find their offense and the Phantoms, despite a late push, were unable to equal the Caps.

The Phantoms drew first blood. A Brett Murray shot was blocked by a Madison skate but Alex Esposito swooped in to fire the puck from a bad angle that deflected off of Caps netminder Dryden McKay 8:52 into the first period. The Caps would get their first goal of the weekend on a mess in front of Phantoms goalie Darion Hanson. An initial shot appeared to hit the post and sit behind Hanson and was swept out by the defense, only for the Caps to put back into the net. The goal was initially waived off, I assumed for goaltender interference, but after a review the Caps were awarded the goal, Kamil Sadlocha getting the credit. The Phantoms outshot the Caps 11-7 but the score was tied going into intermission.

The Caps would get things going in the second and the Phantoms would find themselves sputtering a bit. The Caps would get their first lead of the weekend at 13:01 when Konur Peterson backhanded a rolling puck in the slot that found it's way through traffic and underneath Hanson. Alex Esposito would tie it when McKay would try to play the puck behind his net and the forecheck of Nicholas Werbik managed to dig it out and center it to Esposito for his second of the night with 3:02 left. The tie would not last even a minute, Eugene Fadyeyev snapping a one-timer from the left side faceoff circle just 0:37 after the Esposito goal. Shots were 6-5 caps in the frame.