It's been another one of those weeks. Coming off the trade deadline and a couple big wins at the Covelli, I couldn't have a boring week to preview now could I? Of course I knew it wasn't going to be a 'no news, good news' week. After the fracus of Saturdays game I knew there would be some repercussions. The USHL Hockey Operations just doesn't work like that. What I didn't catch was during the melee after the Joey Raats knee to Vas Kolias, Matt Miller left the bench and joined in the scrum. End result, he's suspended 2 games and coach Anthony Noreen is suspended a game. Joey Raats got 2 games himself. I think it's pretty weak, Miller gets the same as the guy who laid a dirty hit on Kolias and our coach sits a game. I think the Raats hit should have been 3 games minimum. It says a lot about the ref, Andy Howard, since neither player got called for a penalty during the game. But the rules are the rules and the league did what they saw fit. The bottom line, after 12 straight wins our luck may have run out on number 13. The irony is pretty obvious, especially since that game will be played on Friday the 13th. If you want to up the ante a bit, these aren't meaningless games. Not that there are meaningless games, doubly so this time of the season. This week we play the Western Conference and overall USHL point standings leaders, the Sioux City Musketeers. If we want to win the Anderson Cup for the league leaders in the regular season point standings, wins here will go a long way. Friday's game is also our game in hand against the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, who only play once this weekend.

Offensively, the Musketeers are the second best in the league, next only to us. We have the 1st, 3rd and 5th leading scorers in the league with Kyle Conner, Max Letunov and Josh Melnick respectively. They have the 2nd, 4th and 8th in Adam Johnson, Robert Carpenter and Joe Snively. It's a safe assumption that we'll see some high tempo offense. Defensively, Niel Pionk is their leader. He's a gritty veteran blueliner, defensively responsible and also a capable play-maker who can move the puck well. Additionally they have a pair of young, 17 year old, defensemen who have posted good numbers on both sides of the ice in Ryan Zuhlsdorf and Jacob Wilson. Anchoring everything, in net they have Collin Olson. The 20 year old netminder is in his second year as a goalie for the Musketeers after playing two years for the USA NTDP before heading to Ohio State University. Things didn't work out at OSU and he left and landed in Sioux City, but not before he was drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 NHL draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. This season he's posted 24-7-4, a 2.73 GAA, .914 SV% and 3 shutouts in 38 games, all of those as the starting goalie. Backing him up is Cameron Gornet. Gornet, 8-7-1, has a 2.44 GAA, .914 SV% and 1 shutout in 17 games, 13 starts. I'd expect to see Olson both games unless something goes wrong for the Musketeers.

So the Phantoms have two opponents this weekend, the Musketeers and circumstances. Friday nights game especially, is going to be a test of a lot of things, discipline and focus being among the most important of those tests. Fortunately,this isn't coach Noreen's first suspension of the year. He served a game suspension back in December for a similar incident of a player, Tommy Parran, leaving the bench. That incident, which took place at a November game in Muskegon included a 3 game suspension for Parran. The game that coach Noreen sat, we won 2-1 in a shootout against the LumberJacks in Muskegon. John Ronan and Brad Patterson should know how to handle things OK. Losing a top 2 defenseman for the weekend normally would be rough. Adding Conner McDonald and Alec Vanko, two top line defenseman themselves, should cushion that blow. Miller's loss will still be felt, his shot blocking doesn't show up in the stats but he's been huge, especially on the penalty kill. If anything, we just need to pay attention to details like line changes. We also need to stay out of the penalty box. We'll probably also need some luck. I know it sounds strange but I think we're due a little in the Karma department. The team has been doing a lot of the little things right. Hockey is also a sport where you can make your own luck, just get the puck to the net. Maybe we'll get a good bounce or two. We're also 1-0 on Friday the 13th games this season having won 6-4 against Dubuque last month.

I know I'm not the only one who sometimes feels like everything is against the Phantoms. It's too bad the refs couldn't keep control of the game last week and the Stampede took advantage of that when they couldn't get a win to take cheap shots. We end up paying more than they did for one bad decision that didn't even amount to much. It is what it is. If we can fight through and get our thirteenth or even fourteenth straight win, the momentum we gain will be immeasurable. And I know none of the staff or players would say this, but it actually takes some pressure off because if we lose it's the leagues fault. At least, that's how the fans will see it. So what the Phantoms need now is a huge crowd at the Covelli. I know Saturday's promotion will go a long way but let's try to get it going for Friday. I know the players would certainly appreciate the push. Let's let everyone know, you can try to bring us down but you'll never break our spirit.