The Phantoms 17 game winning streak came to an end last weekend but the race for the Anderson Cup is still very much alive. The Phantoms will go into action this weekend just a game and a half, 3 points, ahead of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the East and only a game ahead of the Sioux City Musketeers in the West, though the Musketeers only have 3 games left instead of 4 to play. To win the Anderson Cup and a guarantee of home ice advantage throughout the playoffs the Phantoms still need to win 3 out of the last 4 games at this point. With 3 of those last games next week this weekends focus is pretty obvious, bring on the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The 'Jacks are fighting for 3rd place in the East and at this point the reward for that is not playing the Phantoms in the opening round. They have a half game over the Dubugue Fighting Saints and are riding a 5 game win streak, currently the longest in the league. They'll play a game in Ann Arbor tonight against the NTDP U17 team before heading to Youngstown. In the overall series between these two teams this year, the Phantoms have a 3-2 edge. Home ice has not been an advantage because in every meeting, the visitor has won. Each team has managed an extra point in the shootout.

The 'Jacks are a familiar team. I shouldn't have to break down things much. Tom Marchin and Matheson Iacopelli lead the goal scoring. Iacopelli, a 3rd round Chicago Blackhawks pick in last years NHL draft, hasn't performed as well as many have hoped in the goal scoring department but we all know that he's a huge force on the ice and when he's given room to get going that he can be very hard to stop. One of the keys, as always, is containing him. Griffin Molino is tied with Josh Melnick for the leagues lead in assists, he's also someone to watch for. Defensively, as usual, Christian Wolanin is the keystone on the blueline and an able offensive contributor with 13 goals and 25 assists on the season. To compliment him the 'Jacks added Corey Schueneman from the Des Moines Bucaneers at the trade deadline. Schueneman is solid defensively has 15 goals and 29 assists on the season. This gives the 'Jacks one of the most solid groups of defensemen in the league. Also among the best in the league collectively is the goaltending tandem of Eric Schierhorn and Michael Latorella. Schierhorn, 25-12-4, 2 shutouts, leads the league in save percentage, posting a .929 as well as a 2.41 GAA. Latoerella, 9-5-0 with 1 shutout, has been fair with a 3.18 GAA and a .910 SV%.  The 'Jacks are good on defense usually, though they've been known to give up a few blowout games this season. Over the last 5 games they've allowed less than 1.5 goals per game so they're defiantly getting into playoff mode on defense.

The Phantoms last game in Omaha was the first in a few that featured a fully healthy and active roster, only healthy scratches Ty Farmer and Kevin Conley. This time we'll be without suspended players Matt Alvaro and James Winkler, 1 game for checking from behind and 2 games for head contact respectively. Both suspensions were certainly warranted and fairly light, both being first time offenders. Both players had also been elevating their games to fill in for other players duirng the past few games so it will be interesting to see who steps up with these guys out. And with AAA minor leagues having finished up, it could be an affiliate player stepping in. To me, Colin DeAugustine has been the better goalie down the stretch. He and Chris Birdsall are putting up good numbers 2.70 and 2.56 GAA on the season and both a .910 SV%. Despite the better GAA, DeAugustine has been the more consistent in net and I think the overall #1 goalie now. Health-wise, as I've said previously, the Phantoms are as good as you'll see at this point of the season. Most of the players are going to have dings but majority of Phantoms players aren't showing it. Max Letunov might not be playing 100% but that's about it. We'll probably work in some games off for a lot of guys over the next few games, giving some affiliates a chance, though that might not start until the Chicago game. 

The Phantoms would love to get a home win in the most relevant game left at home in the regular season. Suspensions aside, there isn't anything wrong to report here. the Phantoms have worked hard to get to this spot and a little more hard work and we'll see the payoff in the playoffs. The only thing more we need is a good crowd to cheer them on. 

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