Early season off-weeks suck. I'm just throwing that out there. It breaks my groove just when I've gotten into it. That said, maybe the Phantoms (2-4-0-0) needed a week off to regroup after a pair of losses on the road in Madison. It's not just that they were losses, but that they looked completely out of sorts on the ice, especially Saturday, and only scored 1 goal on the weekend. This week, the Phantoms will jump back into action on the road, a trip to Cedar Rapids (1-4-0-0) to play the RoughRiders, a team with struggles of their own and a few familiar faces.

The 'Riders top scorer will be a name you probably recognize, Cole Burtch. Until the off week, he wore a Phantoms jersey and was our leading returning scorer from last season. After notching a goal and an assist for the Phantoms in 6 games, he put up a pair of goals and an assist in his debut for the 'Riders. The only other scorer on their roster with multiple goals is Adam Flammang, with 2. Their forwards sport a few more Youngstown ties. Yusaku Ando, traded in the off season, has an assist in 4 games and Nate Hanley, who we traded to Green Bay last season after 14 games, is back with the 'Riders who drafted him.

I don't have a lot on their defense, what I've seen of it so far has not left a big impression other than it needed some help. In the trade with Youngstown last week, we also sent them Cole Teleki. I liked the play of Eric Pohlkamp, a heavy framed '04 defenseman who can play physical. He's someone I think will develop into a top 4 guy by next season, if not before this season is over.

Their goaltending situation is curious, a bit messy even, but when isn't it in Cedar Rapids? Last we left the 'Riders, before the 19-20 shutdown, they were cycling through netminders to backup Derek Mullahy. Among the 4 goaltenders who filled the role (and at least 7 emergency netminders who did not play) was Geno "Andrew" Pichora. Pichora had played 6 games for the 'Riders posting a 3.04 GAA and a .897 SV%. He played for Danbury of the NAHL last season and some for the 'Riders in preseason this year, but his preseason play did not earn him a roster spot, and now he's playing for New Jersey in the USPHL NCDC.

That leaves a pair of new goaltenders who aren't getting a lot of help. They drafted a Latvian '02 netminder in the Phase 2 draft, Bruni Bruveris, who has a few games of KHL experience. Bruveris has a 1-1-0-0 record and the 'Riders only win on the season in a 1-0 OT shutout at the Fall Classic, one of the best games of the event. Bruveris has a 2.50 GAA and a .919 SV%. Connor Hasley, an undrafted overage netminder, has an 0-3-0-0 record, a 3.68 GAA, and a .897 SV%.

The Phantoms are coming off a pair of losses followed by a sudden trade. They have had plenty of time to process things but that isn't always a good thing. Losing your top veteran scorer puts a lot more on players like Jaden Grant (3g, 0a), who in addition to being the team captain is now the top returning scorer from last season. Newcomers Ryan Alexander (4g, 2a) and Adam Ingram (3g, 3a) are already putting in a big effort and putting up big numbers but might be called upon to dig a little deeper. The Phantoms might get a boost in the possible additions of our top two Phase 2 draft picks. Morgan Winters (round 1, 10th overall) looks to be off the IR and Buffalo Sabers 3rd round 2021 NHL Draft pick, Stivin Sardaryan (round 2, 10th overall) should have overcome most of the obstacles keeping him out of the lineup (and country.)

Incoming from the Burch & Teleki trade is veteran defenseman T.J. Schweighardt. The '01 blueliner has plenty of experience playing in now his third USHL season, something that might help stem the bleeding a little. Honestly, I don't get the trade. We also gain a Phase 2 6th round pick but it seems we gave up a lot for defensive experience. I don't think defense has been the biggest issue this season. Veteran Carter Rose (1g,3a) and newcomer Trey Taylor (1g,4a) have played pretty solid minutes on defense and contributing heavily to the offense. The rest of the blueline is coming along on schedule, or at least as well as the team as a whole. Assistant captain Bayard Hall has also been noticeably impressive and his improved offensive contributions have been fun to watch. 

Both netminders have had moments they might want to redo, but on the whole have not played badly, both with a 1-2-0-0 record. Kyle Chauvette still seems the top goaltender with a 3.36 GAA and a .903 SV%. Owen Bartosczkewicz is not too far behind with a 4.03 GAA and a .871 SV%. Some of the gap in their stats might be due to the play in front of them though.

The biggest factor this weekend I think will be special teams and that's in our favor if we can capitalize on it. The Phantoms are the least penalized team in the league so far with only 52 PIMS and the 'Riders with the most at 138 PIMS. The biggest problem is that the powerplay is an Eastern Conference worst at 13.6% while the 'Riders are 4th at 23.8%. If we can get going on the PK, I think we can put Cedar Rapids behind the 8-ball unless they have a pretty quick turnaround on discipline. 

The biggest issue in the losses has been the lack of scoring, 2 of the 4 losses have been shutouts, plus a 1 and a 2 goal game. We're going to need to find ways to score. The PP has to be one part of that, but we'll need to come up with ways to generate offense, especially after giving up the first goal or two.

So about 20% of the Cedar Rapids skaters have ties to the Phantoms now. After the trade, we're going to see & learn a lot about the new Phantoms front office, and quickly. After this weekend the 'Riders come to Youngstown for a pair of games the following week. If we can pull off some big points it'll look like a pretty good deal. If not, well, it'll be interesting to see the post game interviews.

We'll be back for a three game weekend after this trip. Lets hope we can get back on track this weekend before a big home weekend. I'll probably focus mostly on the Chicago game ,so look forward to that next week.