The Phantoms head to Muskegon this weekend!The ups and downs of a season can surprise you sometimes. After a 5 game losing streak against teams we expected to be much more competitive against, the Phantoms (4-6-0-1) managed to break out and earned 4 of 6 points last weekend. After dropping a 3rd straight game to the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders on Friday, they managed to win one against the 'Riders and then put a smackdown on the defending Clark Cup champion Chicago Steel. Let's hope they can keep the momentum swinging their way when they take to the road to play the Muskegon Lumberjacks (1-6-1-2), who are struggling mightily.

The 'Jacks aren't exactly bad on offense, when they get any offense. The second leading returning scorer on the team, Quinn Hutson, is second in scoring on the team in points and the top goal scorer with 6g and 2a. Hutson is an opportunistic scorer and playmaker who had 3g, 8a in 10 games against the Phantoms last season. The third returning scorer from last season is team captain Jack Williams, who could play his 130th USHL game (combined regular season and playoffs) this weekend. Williams only has 1g and 2a on the 21-22 season, something that has to concern the 'Jacks. Joey Larson is a decent sized forward, an '01 with good BCHL and NAHL experience, who has showed he can help on offense with 5g and 2a. Last seasons tender Owen Mehlenbacher was expected to contribute more this season but the '04 only has 1g and 2a this season. Ethan Whitcomb is another '04 who is highly touted but only has 1a in 7 games this season. 

If anyone is to blame for the 'Jacks issues, it's not Jacob Guevin. Guevin, a true rookie defenseman last season, put up 45 points (7g, 38a) in 53 games and leads all  'Jacks in returning scorers. Not surprising, the versatile defenseman leads the 'Jacks with 1g, 12a so far this season. His vision, all around hockey IQ, and how he handles and distributes the puck is as good as any in the league. The 'Jacks picked up Las Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Noah Ellis in the offseason from Des Moines. Ellis, a third year veteran, should have been a boost to the blueline, plus an occasional assist or goal. He only has 2a on the season but his +/-is 0 is the best on the blueline for the 'Jacks. I'm really hard pressed to say much else on the 'Jacks defense. From what I've seen, it's pretty much a mess. I'll pick Jeremiah Slavin to be someone who might start factoring into the 'Jacks. He's only a +/- of -1 on the season in 5 games and his brothers Jacob and Josiah have great USHL pedigrees, and now play professionally in the NHL and AHL, respectively.

In net is where you really notice the disfunction in Muskegon. They started the year rotating 3 netminders with the returning starting netminder Jan Skorpik, along with 2020 Phase 1 draft pick Cameron Korpi and Carson Limesand looking to be the backup. To make a long story short, Limesand, who had Muskegon's only win, ended up in the NAHL early and Skorpik followed just recently with the 'Jacks adding Platon Zadorzhny, an '02 Russian, who played his first game last weekend. Out of all that, Korpi has the best numbers on the team with a 0-2-0-1 record in 4 games played, a 4.44 GAA and a .842 SV%. Zadorzhny gave up 6 goals on 34 shots in his first game. For the record, both Skorpik and Limesand seem to be doing very well in the NAHL.

The Phantoms offense has been hit or miss this season. That said, Adam Ingram (6g, 6a) and Ryan Alexander (6g, 2a) have lit the lamp with some regularity and are just fun to watch on the ice, and not just on offense, either. Team captain Jaden Grant has 5g 3a, and in the 4 games that he has scored goals in, we've won. In the games he has not, well... we have not. Newcomers Stivin Sardarian (1g, 2a) and Morgan Winters (3a) now have some experience, 5 games a piece, and are both great skaters and inject a lot of energy and should start showing more offensive gains very soon. 

On defense, Trey Taylor has been very impressive. In addition to being one of our best defenders, he's added 2g and 5a with both goals and 3a on the powerplay. We've needed a solid quarterback on the PP for a while and Taylor looks like a strong candidate. Veteran Carter Rose has the best +/- on the blueline with a +4, tied for the best on the team with Ryan Alexander. TJ Schweighardt, who came over in the deal for Cole Burtch and Cole Teleki, has showed his worth. He is an exceptionally mobile defenseman, a great skater who can play physical hockey as well. He looks like he will fit in fine with the Phantoms style of play.

Kyle Chauvette, 3-3-0-0, had the best weekend I've seen from him in a Phantoms jersey. A 4-2 win against Cedar Rapids followed by a 5-1 win over Chicago. He stopped 47 of 50 shots for a 1.50 GAA and a .940 SV% which was good for USHL Goaltender of the Week honors. He was aggressively challenging shots and flashing the leather, showing tremendous confidence. On the season he's a 3.25 GAA and a .894 SV%. Owen Bartoszkewicz is 1-3-0-1, has a 3.11 GAA and a .887 SV%. Bartoszkewicz has played well but still shows a little room to develop (as would be expected) but has also been victim of some poor play in front of him.

The key for the Phantoms this week is a fast, hard start on the road. The Phantoms have certainly had their share of issues this year, but the 'Jacks have had a lot themselves. For Muskegon, it starts in their own end where I've seen some horrible play out of them. An aggressive forecheck and sustained pressure early by the Phantoms can take them off their game early and put up quick points. The 'Jacks give up 5.3 goals per game and only score 3.3 per game. The Phantoms are 4-0-0-0 leading after 1 period, the 'Jacks 0-4-0-0 trailing after 1 period. The Phantoms have to be ready to play when the puck drops and not let up.

The Phantoms return to the Covelli Centre next weekend to take on the Madison Capitols. Hopefully, they'll be more up to the challenge than last time.