The USHL Fall Classic is back in Cranberry.The Fall Classic Returns! - The USHL Fall Classic is back in Cranberry.
A big hello to all the Phantoms Phans and Phollowers! Okay, enough with the cheesy spelling. We're back and hopefully this will be a better season all around for the Phantoms, the USHL, and hockey in general. While the pandemic is doing a rollercoaster of ups and downs, the USHL Fall Classic is this week. The Phantoms will kick off the campaign mid-week against some foes we haven't seen in a while - the Lincoln Stars and Waterloo Black Hawks. Neither opponent had a good season in 20-21, but none were quite as bad as us. Both won 10 more games, though they played 4-5 games more. Dear Hockey Gods, I hope we are done with the missed games.

With very little data on either team, this is going to be an odd preview. Starting with Waterloo, who's biggest change is on the bench. P.K. O'Handley, who had been the head coach since 02-03, stepped off the bench for a front office role. Matt Smaby steps into some big shoes in his first year of USHL coaching, and it will be very interesting to see how this affects the Hawks.

On offense, John Waldron has the experience. While not known as a prolific scorer, he's been a consistent depth player who might just take his offensive game up another notch. In terms of returning scoring, Michael La Starza is their top point getter from last season, or at least as far as I can find. The '04 forward notched 11g and 13a last season, and he'll be someone to watch this season. Carter Batchelder is an interesting prospect, having played in the Minnesota high school system and put up very good numbers at that level.

We’ve reached that time of year. The USHL Playoffs are upon us. Aaaaaaaand, the Phantoms aren’t a part of them. Now, we’ve known this for a while. But, if you can’t make the playoffs, what is the next best way to finish out the season? That’s right! Play the spoiler!

Dubuque, after an 0-10 start to the season, was able to squeak past the NTDP for the 4th and final spot in the East. Going into the final weekend, most everyone outside of Iowa had Team USA penciled in. The Saints had a 3-in-3 with a game against Muskegon and two with Green Bay. And Team USA? 3 games against the lowly Youngstown Phantoms. Dubuque won 2 of 3, and so did the Phantoms. Some people out there with opinions stated that the Phantoms screwed USA in more ways than one. With the possible points percentage that was used to rank teams that didn’t play a full 54 game schedule, Dubuque and Green Bay actually benefited from playing less games, both of which due to being unable to reschedule postponed games with the Phantoms. That’s fair, except I would like to present Exhibit B to this argument. The U18’s were 1-3-0-1 (3 pts) in their final 5 USHL games. The U17s were 1-7-1-0 (3 pts) in their final 9 USHL games. This is from March 23rd to the end of the season. That is a combined 2-10-1-1. A potential 28 points, they got 6. But yeah, blame the Phantoms.

Now that the soapbox is back under the chair, in this playoff preview we’re going to take a look at all four 1st Round Matchups. That’s right, for the first time this season, there are numbers from the Western Conference! I’ve beat around the bush enough, so let’s jump right in. I want to point out that these charts will be from the viewpoint of the higher seeded team.

Series Chart #1 Chicago vs #4 Dubuque

Hello Phantoms fans, hockey fans, and number geeks! I took last week off due to the postponement of the Youngstown-Green Bay series. As of now, it’s all but certain that these games will not be made up. Add that to the two games with Dubuque that will not be made up, and barring any future cancelations, the Phantoms will end up with a 49 game season. When it’s all said and done, especially with the way the season started, this is nothing to sneeze at.

And thanks to the insanely high tree pollen count this past week, I would know a thing or two about sneezing.

While I have this pulpit, let’s talk about the phenomenon known as the “Dad Sneeze”. This has been a running internet joke for about a year now, that when a man reaches a certain age, his sneezes become louder and more forceful. There is a reason for this. Anyone that is reading this around my age (37) or older, ever try to suppress a sneeze and pull a back muscle or feel like you bruised a rib? Exactly. So I, and many others, let them fly the way God intended. I can take a nap and need a trip to the chiropractor afterwards. (Shoutout to Dr. Joseph Scott)

As you can see, I really don’t want to talk about this last weekend with Chicago, and have chosen the act of sneezing to delay the inevitable. And I feel I have ridden that horse as far as it can go, so let’s get into the numbers. We’ll start with the Phantoms last 10 games.

Phantoms Season Chart, Last 10 Games