Well, we're already 2/3 of the way through the Phantoms schedule. If your not worried about the playoff picture yet you should be. Last weekend the Phantoms took 6 of 6 points on the road to move themselves into a position to start moving up in the playoff brackets and distancing themselves a little from the teams trailing them for the last playoff spot. With a couple wins at home, a little luck and help, the Phantoms could be in 2nd place in the East by the start of next week. This weekend we get to see one of my favorite opponents, the Dubuque Fighting Saints. The Phantoms and Saints have played some epic games at the Covelli in the past, especially the 12-13 playoffs which some USHL fans still consider one of the best series in the leagues Tier 1 era. The fact we're just a game and a half behind them in the race this year makes this weekends pair of games that much more dramatic.

The last time these teams met was in October in Dubuque where we split a pair of games. The first game the Saints edged us out in OT 5-4 with Jacob Nehama and Chris Birdsall in net. The next night Collin DeAugustine posted a shutout as the Phantoms put up 6 on Kevin Reich, his last game in Dubuque before a brief stint in the NAHL and getting picked up by Green Bay. This weekend the Saints will be coming in with Nehama the clear starter and Gavin Nieto backing him up. Nehama comes in with a 18-6-4 record, 2.30 GAA and a .913 SV%. Nieto has a 6-1-0 record, 3.06 GAA and .894 SV%. I can't speak for Nieto but Nehama is a solid goalie. I don't think the Saints have any problems riding him for the weekend if he's playing hot and I assume he'll be in net to start on Friday and am basing everything off him playing the full weekend.

As far as skaters go, I won't go into details. Seamus Malone, Brett Boeing and Dylan Gambrell are names to watch out for on offense. The big story here is the mid-week acquisition of Adam Morrison from the NAHL Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees. Morrison is a '94 birth year and comes in at 6'2", 210lbs. In 16 games for RGV he's posted 1 assist and 66 PIMS. Last season in 38 games he had 1 goal, 1 assist and 142 PIMS. Of his 66 PIMS this season, 60 came from 4 fighting majors/misconducts, 1 instigating minor, one crosschecking minor and one roughing minor. To facilitate this they moved Try Dodd, who played 21 games scoring 5 goals , 8 assists and racked up 6 PIMS, to the affiliate list where he'll still be eligible to play.  It's too early to throw around the word 'thug' but you can safely assume he's not on the ice for his scoring touch. I don't know if the Saints felt they were getting pushed around, their record certainly doesn't indicate it. Whatever precipitated their going out and getting an overage enforcer, it's still to be seen if this move will pay off. There are plenty of people questioning if Morrison can skate well enough to compete in the USHL. At this level, it's a good thing to have a few players who can fight on your roster but they have to be able to contribute in other areas, Morrison is a huge unknown there.

For the Phantoms, it's going to come down to goaltending. Inconsistencies have lead to a flip-flopping situation with who is our (perceived) #1 goalie. Last weekend, Collin DeAugustine won 3 games in less than 3 days, stopping 82 of 85 shots and getting a shutout. To me, he's won back the #1 spot however, both he and Chris Birdsall have had major ups and downs. It's almost a crapshoot as to who's hot for the day. I've had a hard time second guessing coach Anthony Noreen's decisions as to who plays on what night and I've given up. I don't think I can really criticize the coach anymore, it is what it is. At this point I don't think there are any teams with better goalies to make a trade so we'll have to deal with it. We'll need our defense to step up early in games and when a goalie looks a little shaky. Speaking of defense, Vas Kolias should be back soon, I hope this weekend. The Phantoms have dodged the injury bullet pretty well so far and they managed to respond well with Kolias out but getting him back in the lineup should inject a little energy on the blueline. Kyle Connor and Max Letunov have both been playing well lately. When both stars are 'on' at the same time our offense is a sight to behold. Kiefer Sherwood has really played strong lately and is one of the most consistent forwards we have, this is probably why he leads the team in goals scored. Ryan Lomberg is in a slump however. He's gone 6 games without a goal and 1 goal in the last 11 games total, and only 2 assists over this stretch as well. If he can get going like he was earlier in the season we could be unstoppable.

The only other thing I can think of to mention is the addition of Carter Ekberg. I'll be interested to see the protected lists this week. You can never have too many talented players ready to go but it seems odd to ad an underaged defenseman if he's not going to play. Since the Phantoms have an open spot after moving Trey Bradley it would have made more sense to me to add a tough guy like Dubuque, though without having to juggle players like they did. They could just be trying to get him in the system early. I don't really know. Other than that it's time for me to get back to work so I can get off early to head to the game... see y'all there.



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