On offense, the Steel lost a few big names that we won't miss. Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Sam Colangalo, and Mathieu De. St. Phalle are among names we got sick of hearing called the last couple seasons that we won't hear this season. The bad news is they still have a lot of firepower. The top returning point scorer from last season - and this season's second overall scorer in the league - is Sean Farrell (6g, 10a), a 4th round pick of the Montreal Canadians in the 2020 NHL draft. Farrell has played a lot in the USHL, more than 120 total games dating back to the 17-18 season with the NTDP. He's a smart player with his head up always looking to make a play, and this season he seems to be finishing the play more.
Leading the team and the league in scoring is Matt Coronato (8g, 10a). Coronato, now in his second season, is a NHL CSS B-ranked skater who has tremendous speed and uses it to drive the play up ice. He is a big catalyst for the Steel. In terms of pure goal scoring, I think the leagues 3rd overall scorer Mackie Samoskevich (3g, 10a) will be a top contender. Samoskevich is a crafty '02 with a CSS A-ranking, amazing hands, vision, and a wicked shot. I think he'll live up to his CSS rating eventually, let's not be the ones to help him.
On defense, Ryan Ufko (3g, 4a) returns for a second season. The CSS C-Ranked defenseman brings a load of defensive and offensive talent that makes him dangerous in all 3 zones. Jack Babbage is in his fourth USHL season, his second with the Steel after playing for Sioux City. Babbage (3g ,3a) has decent size, good skating ability, and his experience makes him a go-to shutdown defenseman. Sam Lipkin and Lukas Gustafsson are both CSS C-Ranked skaters and players we'll have to watch for.
In net, it's Ian Shane as the incumbent netminder now in his second season with the Steel. Shane posted respectable number behind Victor Ostman last season. He played 3 games against the Phantoms and won all 3 but gave up nearly 4 goals per game, relying on the offense to get it done. This season he's appeared in 5 games with a 3-2-0-0 record, a 4.82 GAA and a .839 SV%. Nick Haas is the expected backup netminder but he has put up pretty decent numbers, maybe giving Shane a run for the top spot. Haas has a solid background in prep school and in his 3 games has 3 wins, a 2.53 GAA and a .915 SV%. That is more than a 2 goals per game difference over Shane.
For the Phantoms, obviously the big news is a few more familiar faces in the lineup. The return of Jack Malone was a big surprise for a lot of fans. Malone, a 2019 Vancouver Canucks pick spent last season at Cornell University, but the current pandemic situation has put a bit of a speedbump in his path. He opted to return to his junior team where he played 121 games and in his last season he scored 19g, 40a (57g). His vision and solid decision making give him amazing play making ability. Saturday also saw Ben Schoen return to active duty. Schoen's impact was pretty immediate and his hat trick was the difference in the win over Muskegon.
In net, we've got our first in person look at both our current netminders. Mattias Sholl got the nod in Friday's loss. He was the difference between a close game and a blowout loss. His athletic ability was easy to see and he made several great saves in the second period to keep the game in contention. Kyle Chauvette got his first win on Saturday. Chauvette plays more of a positional game, square to the puck and more conservative in his movements. He was challenged a lot less than Sholl, so it's hard to compare performance.
So what is in store for this weekend. Well, the Steel have the leagues top 3 scorers and 4 of the top 5. That seems intimidating but at this point it's because they have a few more games under their belt. The Phantoms will need to make sure they pay attention to details in all 3 zones. Early mistakes can quickly put you down a deep hole against a team like the Steel but teams that mind their fundamentals can quickly negate the offensive advantage. Puck support will be another key factor to go along with that, it'll be a team effort. Also, getting pucks to the net will be vital. The Phantoms struggled to get shots on goal Friday and to start Saturday against Muskegon. If that happens against Chicago, it will seem like our goalie is under siege real quick. The best defense is plenty of good offense.
Also, it's an odd schedule. The first game is Thursday at 3:05PM EST, with Friday and Saturday starting at 8:05 PM EST. It's on Coach Patterson to have them ready getting off the bus. It also makes it hard for a lot of fans to follow along for that Thursday game. I'll be at work so I'm not sure how much I'll be able to take in myself. We'll hopefully be back at the Covelli to finish out the month the following weekend against Green Bay. "Hopefully" is the key work, and hopefully I'll see you then.