What to say about the Fighting Saints? I did not have a lot of information prior to the start of the season and after a pair of in-person viewings in January, I still feel like I don't really know enough to give a good preview. Robert Cronin is their leading scorer with 12g, 10a. Last season he was more of a role player, a valuable asset on the PK, but this season he's taken on a more offensive role. Connor Kurth is a rookie to keep an eye on. The '03 forward is described as a "wide framed" (5'11", 214lbs) "down low" player who can really run a defense ragged grinding and fighting for the puck. In his rookie season so far he has 10g, 12a. Just a step behind them is Daniyal Dzhaniyev, a former NTDP player who followed up his 2 season in Plymouth by staying in the USHL, initially to play for the Madison Capitols, and now wears a Saints uniform. The small, skilled forward has great vision and IQ, not to mention excellent skating , and has 11g, 10a this season.
Defense is where I start running into issues, I know the names and have seen a few of them more than twice but I don't really have an opinion on them. Brayden Doyle is a servicable veteran defenseman. He's responsible on defense and can contribute on offense as a playmaker, 3g and 11a on the season. Ian Pierce, Michael Feenstra, and Evan Stella are all experienced Saints blueliners. It's not that I feel Dubuque has a bad defensive core, I just feel they could be a a lot better.
In net it's been mostly Hobie Hedquist. Hedquist has appeared in 13 games with a 3-7-0-0 record, posting a 4.56 GAA and a .832 SV%. The Saints have cycled out a few goaltenders as backups. Aiden McCarthy (now with Lincoln) and Reilly Herbst (now with Omaha) have come and gone and Dubuque has settled with Czech native Lukas Parik. Parik is an '01 netminder and a 3rd round 2019 NHL Draft pick of the LA Kings. Last season he played juniors in the WHL but since major junior is not happening right now in Canada, he's found a spot in Dubuque, but not before playing in the World Junior Championship for his home country. In Dubuque he's appeared in 7 games with a 3-2-2-0 record. He's put up decent numbers, 3.25 GAA and a .865 SV%. We will see if he has usurped Hedquist for the top netminder spot.
I don't have much to add from last weeks preview on the 'Jacks. I guess I can say Jack Williams had a goal in each game against us.
For the game against the Saints, we'll be without Jack Malone. He was suspended at least one game for an elbow in last Saturday's game vs Chicago. Reilly Funk is probably not ready to return from his lower body injury so the Phantoms will be missing a few key pieces on offense. The good news is Collin Purcell is back and looked to be getting his legs back in the game he played in Muskegon. Yusaku Ando has been picking his game up lately, posting a goal in 2 of the 3 games last weekend.
For the Phantoms, playing Dubuque might be the best medicine. We're 3-for-3 against them this season, the only team we've beat more than once. However, they're an increasingly improving team so we'll have to improve our game as well. Hopefully we can win a game in Dubuque and bring back some momentum to the Covelli. We know we can beat Muskegon, most of our issues lie with us. A good start to the week might be just what we need.
And now for the "home factor" this week. Last Saturday's Military Appreciation night was the best draw we've seen this season with 1,049 in attendance. Most seasons that would be pretty low for a promo like that but this season it is the best audience the Phantoms have played in front of, home or away. I don't think we have anything that big going this weekend but we'll see what kind of crowd we can get with the big rival rolling into town. Anyway, I hope to see you there.