Week 2 is harder than the first week to preview. It always seems like I should have actual data and not just the preseason hype. So now I have to come up with something after last weeks fairly typical season opener against the NTDP 18s. To complicate matters this week we're back in Plymouth facing off against the NTDP U17 squad on Friday and Saturday. Needless to say, I don't have a lot of data on the U17s but don't think this is going to be any easier because they're so young. Last week in their season opener at home they beat Muskegon 7-2.

It's hard to quantify the U17. The majority of the team is unknown to me and they have only played a single regular season USHL game. Heck, most of what I know is because many of these kids have fathers with connections to the game. Some players have generated a bit of a buzz and one is Johnny Gruden. His dad, John, is better known, a former NHL player, assistant coach with the NTDP, and former coach of the OHL's Flint Firebirds. Yeah, the guy who got fired twice by the same owner in the same season before the OHL removed the owner. The younger Gruden is a a gifted forward who understandably chose the NTDP over the OHL. With good hands and vision, I think he's probably going to be a first or second round 2018 NHL draft pick. Another forward with a NHL connected father is Jack Deboer. His father, Peter, is a longtime head coach in the NHL, having coached the Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and now the San Jose Sharks. Jack is decent sized center for a '00 born player6'2", 180lbs. Another bigger '00 forward with an Jacob Pivonka, 5"11 and 190lbs, whose father Michal, was one of the all-time great Czech players and played 12 years for the Washington Capitals. On defense is the U17 that I most want to see, K'Andre Miller. Miller doesn't have an NHL famous father but  is quickly developing into an outstanding two-way defenseman who keeps things clean on the blueline and also provides a huge boost to the offense. And at 6'3", 192lbs you have to wonder what they're feeding these 2000s. If you're looking for kids with NHL players for fathers, there is Adam and Mattias Samuelsson - no relation to each other. Adam is the son of famous Pittsburgh Penguins agitator, Ulf Samuelsson, who won 2 Stanley Cups with the Pens in 91 & 92. At 6'5", 220lbs, Adam already is larger than his father and probably a little less of an instigator. Or at least I hope he's not the hit-man his dad was or we're in deep trouble. He's touted as a close down defender, as most would guess, and has a good reputation for his active stick on defense. Mattias is the son of Kjell Samuelsson, who spent 14 years in the NHL and won a Cup with Ulf and the Penguins in 92. At only 6'3" and 205lbs, he isn't the giant his dad was... yet. He does have a good shot and plays good defense and will probably be looking to make a name for himself. In net are two goalies I don't have much on. Keegan Karki earned a 2.00GAA and a .935 SV% in the first game. Ryan Ullan posted a 3.00 GAA and .889 SV% in preseason/exhibition.

Now for the Phantoms. We're still a team looking for identity and it's hard to build that playing against a non-standard organization like the NTDP. Coale Norris was rewarded with a goal for his hard work. He's a player I think could really be a major factor as his game develops. Alex Esposito has clearly elevated his game from last season and could be a very dominate player as well as a leader by example on the ice. Tommy Apap and Chase Gresock seemed to explode towards the end of the game, too late to change the outcome but definitely something that can be built on for this weekend. Max Ellis and Griffin Loughren skated well and Curtis Hall looked good, showing some growth in his game also. On defense, I thought Alec Mahalak quietly had a very solid game. I thought there were some mistakes made on defense as the game progressed but that was expected with the lack of USHL experience on the blueline. Darion Hanson didn't fare well in his first game. Pucks seemed to find ways into the net at times. I don't know how much I can fault the netminder in his first game and he made some top notch saves at times, but I feel he could have stopped one or two that went in and that could have swung the momentum in our favor. I'm pretty sure we'll see a split between the goalies unless the starter Friday has a really good or really bad game. A couple players were listed as injured scratches last week, maybe we'll see one or two of them healthy and inserted into the line-up or Andrew Petrillo, who was a health scratch on defense.

So what do we need to do this week to get a couple wins and some points in the standing? the first order of business should be to find our game. It just never fully developed last week. Everything seemed to be on track in the first frame but started to fall apart in the second and by the time we got back on track. Hopefully we can build off the strong finish and work on some team chemistry in the week between. Another key will be discipline, or at least not taking dumb penalties or letting the U17s get under our skin. I'm pretty sure I mentioned something similar last week. We did see a couple breakdowns in the third period and I think the second one needs to be addressed. We laid a clean, hard hit on a NTDP player and they responded. Sure there are times you'll have to stick up for yourself, even playing kids in face cages. But with less than five minutes to play you're in dangerous territory. Earlier in the game, you might be able to use the energy a big scrum or fight may give your team but that late you're just asking for suspensions. I actually waited on this preview to see if the league would post any suspensions from last week to see if Eric Esposito and Brady Tkachuk got anything out of last weeks fracas. Unfortunately, the USHL likes to wait on these things so no news isn't necessarily good news.We went 1 for 4 on the PP last week which doesn't sound bad but the goal came late and on two of the previous powerplays we did not register a shot on goal and looked like we lacked any sort of plan or direction on the man advantage. Special teams were a major problem last season, we need to do much better this season. The PK was 2 for 3 and looked OK despite letting in the first goal.

That's it. In a nutshell, I'm just looking forward to seeing some kids whose dad's I rooted for and against and hoping the Phantoms pick up wins 1 and 2 on the season. We'll wait and see how (or if) the USHL handles last weeks altercation. The refs conveniently called it roughing so there is wiggle room for the league to pretend nothing happened. I hope to see some Phantoms fans up in Plymouth for the games, there were a few there last week. I plan to see both, I have a hotel booked in Levonia for Friday night. NCAA football season is in full swing and Wisconsin is in town to play the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Expect a lot of traffic Saturday and if you were planning on seeing both games and grabbing a room and don't have reservations, I would start calling around. If you don't make is, the home opener is just around the corner. I hope to see you all soon.

 

 

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