Well it's Friday and more importantly, (in my best Mike Lang voice) it's a hockey night in Youngstown. After a split decision in 2 rounds against Fago last weekens Fargo, the Phantoms get a home-and-home against our arch nemesis, the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The reason I wait until Friday morning to write this is because this league likes to spring things on you at the last minute and that's just what these two clubs did yesterday evening. Late Thursday, they announced a trade. Phantoms forward, #88 Blake Christensen, has been sent to the 'Jacks for a 6th round Phase II (Futures) draft pick. We also swapped Phase I (Entry) draft picks, the Phantoms getting the 'Jacks 3rd round and the 'Jacks getting the Phantoms 4th round and picked up 'future consideration.' FC terms are always sketchy but Muskegon also is announcing that the Phantoms get one of their affiliate forwards in the deal, James Winkler of the USPHL (premiere) Portland Jr. Pirates. The 6'3" 194 pounder has 6 goals and 1 assist in 16 games with his current club. He's a 1995 birth year player (18 years old) but born on January 1st so he's about as old as a '95 player as you can get. He's a 1996 birth year (4/22) and a commit to Northeastern University.*

I'm not sure how Christensen fits into Muskegon's picture since tonight is our first look at them. They've only a few returning players from last season from what I can discern. It's not out of the question that Christensen plays tonight in Youngstown or tomorrow in Muskegon but probably not. Matt Iacopelli is the Lumberjacks top scorer but they have a nice balanced mix of contributors down their roster. Trevor Morebeck is one of those contributors but he'll be sitting out the weekend due to a 2 game suspension for an Elbowing infraction last Saturday against Dubuque. Additionally Mason Jobst, on of their most experienced players, is on the IR. This sets up affiliate Grant Jozefek for his first USHL game. Don't let the fact that he's only 16 years (and 20 days) old fool you. In his freshman year at high school he led all scorers in the State of New Jersey with 51 goals and 52 assists. He added 109 points in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League and 3 goals and 10 assists in 8 games with the New Jersey Hitmen of the USPHL (U18). He'll definitely be a kid to watch out for and not just in the future.

The Phantoms get head coach Anthony Noreen and sniper Kyle Connor back from the World Jr. A Challenge. The Phantoms representatives in Nova Scotia won the gold and hope to translate the experience into something positive for the Phantoms. This was Noreen's first time getting the nod for a tournament like this so I'm especially interested to see what he can bring back to our table. With Christensen being shipped off to the enemy and no affiliates coming in that I know of, I assume we'll be getting back some injured players... or at least I hope so. Other than that I don't have much to talk about for the Phantoms.

Now for this week I expect a much more physical game and it's not like we've been playing soft. I mean we need to get to hitting anyone who touches the puck and including the goalie. I wouldn't mind seeing a goalie interference call, but one of the keys to winning will be keeping emotions in-check in a hard hitting game. 'Initiate, don't retaliate' is the expression and I think that will be the way to go here. If you see the refs arm go up against them, just walk away. I think net-front presence is the other key. We need to outnumber their players in front of the cage. Muskegon has a good tandem in net with Eric Schierhorn and Jordan Uhelski. Schierhorn (2.35 GAA, .937 SV%) played some the the NTDP last year and is 4-4-0 this year and Uhelski (3.70GAA, .888 SV%) was Kevin Lindskoug's backup last season and is 4-2-3 this year. Rebounds, deflections and screens go a long way and we're not doing enough to set those up. I'd like to see bodies like Conor Lemirande parked in front of the cage, especially during poweplays. Steven Ruggiero is a defenseman, but he's a fast skater and has good skills for someone as young and with the frame that he has and I wouldn't mind seeing him go to the front of the net on the PP.

As always, a good crowd at the Covelli won't hurt the Phantoms any. The 'Jacks are a good rival and a fan favorite to come out to jeer against. Let's make them as uncomfortable as we can.

*Thanks to Hockey Fan for pointing out the correction and college commitment.