The Phantoms (2-2-0-0) had one of their biggest weekends in team history. Putting 106 shots on goal in 2 games, 57 of those in our home opener, the Phantoms set a few team record in earning a pair of wins in a home-and-home against the NTDP U17s. This week the Phantoms hit the road to Madison (1-1-1-0), a trip they did not make last season with the Capitols forced to opt into a year dominancy due to the pandemic. 

The Capitols will be anchored by forward Reid Pabich (2g,1a). Pabich is entering his third full season in the USHL and returns to the Caps after playing a season in Sioux Falls. He plays a full 200ft game and usually earns his goals by hard work, scoring in the dirty areas. Quinn Finley joins the Caps after being taken first overall by Madison in the 2020 Phase 1 draft but spending his rookie season in Chicago, scoring 1g, 5a in 39 games with the Steel. In 3 games with Madison, he has 2g, 1a with one of those goals an head turning OT winner against the Steel. Another potential threat comes from Kyle Kukkonen, a 6th round draft pick of the NHL Anaheim Ducks. Kukkonen is an excellent skater and puck handler and looks to use these skill to create time and space to make plays.

On defense, they are a lot less experienced. One top prospect with some USHL experience is Luke Mittlestadt, brother of former Green Bay standout and current Buffalo Saber Casey Mittlestadt. Luke is a different player than his brother, a defenseman and a more traditional blueliner at that. He's an excellent puck mover, a good relay man or the guy starting the play up ice who can occasionally lose pursuers with his footwork. The former Caps #2 overall USHL Phase 1 pick (2019) spent last season in Minnesota, picking up some affiliate time in Lincoln. Another dman with some experience is Cade Penney, who played some last season with Green Bay and Omaha.

So far in 3 games the Caps have rolled 3 different goalies. Returning to the Caps, where he started his USHL career is Simon Latkoczy. The highly touted Czech netminder played last year with the Steel and was a huge part of their Clark Cup Championship. He also got Madison's only win of the season against the Steel, stopping 28 of 30 shots. A pair of rookies are in contention for the backups spot, each getting a game in Cranberry at the Fall Classic. Tyler Shae gave up 6 goals on 32 shots in a loss to Des Moines and Marino Ramirez allowing 2 on 27 in an OT loss to Tri-City.

The Phantoms, for their part, had a really positive weekend. Team Capitan Jaden Grant had 3 goals on the weekend, showing his leadership is not just off ice. Newcomers Adam Ingram and Ryan Alexander both had 2 goal games, adding 3a and 2a respectively in the game they didn't light the lamp. With 10 players scoring goals on the weekend, it was a little of everyone contributing. The powerplay was much more aggressive and went 3 for 7 against the NTDP, a major improvement. 

The defense was a major factor, a little sloppy in the first part of Friday's game but they eventually shored it up. Trey Taylor won USHL Defenseman of the Week for his efforts, adding 1g and 4a to boot. Bayard Hall turned a lot of heads Saturday, adding a shorthanded breakaway goal. We've noted his improved play in tryout camp and to start the season but that was a eye popping reminder as was his +/- of +4 in that game. All in all, everyone on the blueline looked comfortable minus a period and a half on Friday.

In net, Owen Bartoszkewicz shrugged off a tough start on Friday to stop 24 of 28 in the 7-4 win, the first of his USHL career. In his defense, the defensive play in front of him was partially responsible for some of the 4 goals and the positive turn around. All parts seemed to grow a little in that game. On the season Bartoszkewicz has a 3.53 GAA and a .879 SV%. Other than a few moments Saturday, the momentum was squarely in our favor in our barn and Kyle Chauvette seemed to enjoy the change stopping 24 of 25. So far this season he's at a 1.52 GAA and a .955 SV%

So for the first real bus trip this season, the Phantoms have to keep the momentum going and the feeling of how they played last weekend fresh. Madison is a team that is much better on the ice than on paper. At least better than they have the right to be after going dark for a season and some clear issues seasons before that. The Caps home opener was a big one with a nice crowd, a change of pace for the Caps. The Phantoms would do well to try to get some hits, if not some goals, early to take the crowd out of it before they can be a factor. Other than minor issues, I don't think the Phantoms will need to change too much this week at all.

It'll be a while before we're back at home but if things go well, these trips can make a new group gel. Chances are, we'll see the results of the next couple weeks when the Phantoms return to the Covelli. And for the first time in a while, I feel really good that we'll see an even better team then.

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