The Phantoms come into this weeks action #1 overall in the USHL standings, already punched their ticket to  the playoffs and riding a league record of the Tier 1 era for consecutive wins. Since my work schedule got weird again and the broadcast quality on Fasthockey was loathsome I gave up on anything meaningful for a recap of last weekend. I'm pretty sure the official recaps did better than I could. Late game heroics on both ends of the ice, including a ten-bell save from Colin DeAugustine that has gone viral and a 24 save shutout for Chris Birdsall. Three wins in less than three days and we've even got a little bit of a cushion in terms of the top spot in the standings. You couldn't script it any better and it couldn't come at a better time. The Phantoms look like they're finally getting a little of the respect they deserve, at home, with the league and even at higher levels. Respect and $0.99 will get you a cup of coffee at the gas station on your way to work. Enough said, the Phantoms are back to work this weekend, this time with a pair of games in Omaha against the Lancers.

This trip to Omaha is the final Western Conference road trip, at least in the regular season. I've seen them described as a runaway freight train and every win seems to build momentum. Max Letunov was back last weekend after missing the previous week and with no suspensions from last weekend and Kevin Conley only having one game left on his from the weekend before, we're as close to a full and healthy roster as any team can hope for at this time of the year. That really helps keeping the legs fresh, especially on the road. The players we acquired at the trade deadline are meshing quite well and all of the little things just seem to be clicking into place. At this point it would be easy to overlook a team like the Lancers. Omaha hasn't clinched their playoff spot yet but they're close enough not to have to worry. I'm sure they would like to wrap that up at home and even more, I'd bet they would love to be the team that ends the Phantoms streak.

The Lancers are exactly a stacked team but they do possess some weapons on offense, including a few NHL draft picks. The most dangerous with the puck on his stick is Shane Gersich, a 5th round pick of the Washington Capitals. Originally a draft pick and affiliate of the Lancers, Gersich spent last year with the USA NTDP U18 team, poached like Steve Ruggerio was from us this year. Gersich is back and has tallied 26 goals on the season. Setting up a lot of the Lancers plays is Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, who's playmaking skills are as good as his name is long. This NHL CSS B ranked forward has 38 assists to lead the lancers. Defensively, they have a good mix of veteran and talented rookies but I'm not exactly familiar with them enough to comment. One player however, has a little bit of an interesting back-story. Matt Joyaux came to the Lancers after playing last season with the Redhawks of Miami University. After a decent freshman season, he decided to leave the the D1 University for the USHL, having previously played a couple games with the Chicago Steel but mostly Junior A in Canada with the BCHL, and landed in Omaha and later committed to Ohio State University. Presumably, he'll get more icetime in the USHL and then at OSU. In any case, he looks like a pretty competent defender. In net, things have been a little rough. The Lancers started off with high hopes for netminder Hayden Hawkey. Hawkey and the Lancers had a rough start to the season, probably not all his fault, and he only posted a 5-7-2 record with 2.99GAA and a 0.896 SV% before going down with an ACL injury in December. Carrying the load is Kris Oldham, and he has a fairly impressive 18-5-4 record with a 2.57 GAA and 0.904 SV%. He's backed by Zach Driscoll who's 7-3-2, 2.92 GAA and an 0.895 SV%. 

I guess the biggest issue for the Phantoms from here on out is focus. If they just play the game in front of them from here on out we're fine. Being on the road makes it a little easier to keep from getting distracted. There are only two home games left and likely only one game facing a potential Eastern Conference playoff opponent left on the schedule. The other four are on the road though there may be some fan support for the April 10th game in Ann Arbor. If there is anything to look forward to this weekend, the USHL's pre-Tier 1 record wins is 19 set by the Des Moines Bucaneers in 1998. Elsewhere in the league, Saturday's Cedar Rapids vs Dubuque match will have consequences on the Eastern Conference standings and first round match-ups. Cedar Rapids has clinched a spot and Dubuque and Muskegon are tied for the final two spots with a very comfortable margin and only 3 games behind Cedar Rapids for 2nd place (and home ice advantage in the 1st playoff round) with 7 games left and Cedar Rapids probably having the tougher schedule. Then after this weekend, the next two weekends each feature one home game, both on Saturdays. The final two chances to cheer on the Phantoms before it gets serious. Three chances, I guess, if toy want to catch the bus to Ann Arbor.