Welcome to week 16, we're over the halfway mark of the season and the Phantoms are cruising. We've won 4 straight at home and have gotten at least a point in the standings the last 9 home games. We have another pair of home games this weekend before heading to Cedar Rapids for two of the biggest road games of the year so far. This weekends match-up features the first ever meeting between the Phantoms and the expansion Madison Capitols. The Capitols started out the their inaugural season pretty roughly, it took them 7 games to earn their first win. They've since turned things around some and are now 2 1/2 games behind the Phantoms and having played one less game. Since I don't have much else here for news and not much info on the expansion franchise, I'll keep this basic.

A few of the Caps have a little USHL experience before the start of the season but there are no real standout players here, at least not in how they would like to standout. Offensively, their point leader and primary catalyst is Will Johnson. The USHL rookie has 9 goals and 27 assists for 36 points, 15 points more than the next highest in points, Freddy Gerard. F. Gerard has 10 goals, the most on the team and 11 assists. Both He and his brother Charlie are from the Cleveland suburb Rocky River, Ohio so this will be somewhat of a homecoming. Both played some AAA minor with Tommy Parran with the Cleveland Barons U18. Daniel Willett and Alec Vanko are two solid defensemen that have previous USHL experience. By my data, both goalies are USHL rookies but have decent numbers. Darren Smith is 9-5-3 on the year with a 3.13 GAA and a .909 SV% with 1 shutout. Garrett Metcalf is 6-5-2 with a 2.94 GAA and a 0.917 SV%. On paper, the tandem looks like they can at least give the Caps a fighting chance. The onle player who does standout for the Caps is Chad Pietroniero. Pietroniero leads the league in penalty minutes with 148, 127 of which came after he was traded to Madison after playing 2 games with the Sioux City Musketeers. This includes 6 fights, including one in each of his last two games, numerous other misconducts and being suspended for a game 3 separate times. Otherwise he has 3 goals and 2 assists on the season, so you know what his job is on the ice.

For the Phantoms, it's business as usual for the most part. We had 5 players representing the team in Dubuque for the NHL/USHL Top Prospects game this past Tuesday. That shouldn't factor much into fatigue, especially with this weekend being a home game. I was holding off to see if the USHL Ops released any suspensions; they have not. It's safe to assume Taylor Best will not be dressing this weekend after receiving a match penalty for removing an opponents helmet during last Saturday's game vs Green Bay. Considering he was suspended a game the week before for an ugly crosscheck to a players face, it could be more than just this weekend. Best has been a very versatile player but has made taken some bad penalties the past couple weeks. Both of our goalies were on the bench last weekend and split duties so I suspect we may see the same this weekend, though Chris Birdsall looked very good at the TPG on Tuesday. Their SV% is very similar, Birdsall posting a .908 and Collin DeAugustine a .898. Birdsall has a slight edge on GAA, giving up 2.69 so far on the season and DeAugustine a 3.17. Both goalies have been good, great in stretches, but inconsistent. It will be interesting down the road to see if one of the two develops into a clear #1, in my mind neither has asserted themselves as the primary goalie. And on a team with Kyle Conner (A-Ranked on the CSS), Max Letunov (2nd round NHL draft pick) and Ryan Lomberg (a former top 3 forward on a D1 NCAA team) they story emerging on offense is Kiefer Sherwood. Last week, Sherwood eclipsed Lomberg as the leading goal scorer on the team with 17 and has scored a goal in 9 of the last 12 games. His 10 powerplay goals are 2nd in the league. Bryan Lemos and Trey Bradley have been dangerous on the ice as well and Josh Melnick has points in 11 of the last 12 games.

Things are rolling right along and right now is a great time to be a Phantoms phan. Attendance is up, the Phantoms front office has been doing a stellar job of late with promotions, and this is certainly helping to give the team a much deserved home ice boost. The past couple weekends at the Covelli have been spectacular and we need to keep that going. Come on out to welcome Madison to the league the Youngstown way and send them back to Wisconsin not wanting to come back.

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