Now that the Christmas holiday has past us it's time to get back to hockey. The Phantoms (13-7-5) only have one game this weekend but it's a road game against the team directly ahead of them in the standings, the Muskegon Lumberjacks (18-7-1). And the last time they were in Muskegon things got ugly, with there still being some repercussions. According to the USHL's hockey operations twitter account a few weeks back, head coach Anthony Noreen will not be behind the bench tonight due to a one game suspension from that game on 11/28, almost a full month ago with seven games played since. For those that don't remember, Tommy Parran jumped off the bench in response to a cheap shot by Tom Marchin that left Matt Miller down on the ice for several minutes. Parran was ejected and suspended 3 games while Marchin was only given a game suspension. In addition this was handed out:

OK, I'll skip the part about how an owner of the 'Jacks is on the USA Hockey's Junior Council and their GM is a VP of USA Hockey and the chairperson of the Junior Council. It's obvious things don't go our way in these instances. We're probably just lucky we're not feeling worse fallout from last weekends line brawl against the USA NTDP U18 kids. Matt Miller got a single game suspension, I assume for being the secondary fight or possibly removing an opponents mask since his opponent was under 18 and wearing a grill. For their part Casey Fitzgerald got a game suspension and Nick Boka got two while the guy who started it all, Matt Tkachuk, got off with only a game suspension which I assume was the initial spearing of Josh Nenadal. With Tkachuk's history I find it insulting he got off with only a single game. I have no clue why Boka got two games, possibly one secondary fighting and another for not having his jersey tied down.

So without our head coach and a defenesman, we head back to Muskegon. The 'Jacks will be without their second highest point leader, forward Matej Paulovic, who will be playing for Slovakia in the World Junior Championships. Both teams will be getting key players back Christian Wolanin and Eric Schierhorn for the 'Jacks and Kyle Connor for the Phantoms. Wolanin is a major force on the Muskegon blueline and can generate offense and Schierhorn has been huge in net for them. We all know that Kyle Connor brings a set of offensive skills to the table that have earned him a high A rank on the NHL's CSS reports and has helped put the Phantoms at the very top of the USHL in terms of offensive output. Both Chris Birdsall and Collin DeAugustine have had their ups and downs this season but I think Birdsall should be the starter if he's healthy. The Phantoms last game, call-up goalie Grant Valentine sat the bench instead of Birdsall. With a holiday break at hand, I'm not sure what to make of that move.

So, I think the key story is can our offense put enough pucks in the net to beat the 'Jacks. We've managed to contain their offense well in previous meetings but in the two games we lost we did not manage our usual scoring onslaught. We're just not as good as we need to be in closer games. Since this is versus a team in front of us in the standings, we need to get two points here and in regulation. A solid win here would go a long way towards building a strong run up the standings in 2015. Since this is a road game, I'll be watching this on Fasthockey and if I write a recap and how much of one depends a lot on how well I can follow the broadcast.