And just like in some fairytale movies, sometimes the heroes have to travel on a long journey to defeat the villain. Only this isn't a movie and the Phantoms (8-9-1-2) have to take a journey to Dubuque this week because the Covelli Centre kicked us out for Disney on Ice. Three home games that will be played on our opponents ice. I guess the villains are real, the Fighting Saints (11-5-2-2) are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and third in the USHL. 

The Saints are stacked with veteran players and none more experienced in this league than Stephen Halliday, now in his fourth USHL season. In 175 USHL games he's amassed over 150 points and currently is tied for the most points in the league 15h and 17a (32 points). You don't play that many games in this league without a certain level of work ethic, and hard work is how Halliday scores his goals. Second in scoring is Connor Kurth (13g, 14a) who is in his second USHL season. He's an excellent skater and has a lot of finesse with his puck handling and puck movement, someone you never take your eyes off of when the biscuit is on his stick. Rounding out the top scorers with 22 points is a trio of second year players, Kenny Connors (10g, 12a), Trystan Lemyre (10g, 12a), and Ryan Beck (4g, 18a).  This is a very capable squad of forwards who can score or set up goals when needed.

On defense, the Saints aren't lacking in experience either. Michael Feenstra has 150 games under his USHL belt. Having more than four seasons experience on the blueline is of immeasurable value to any team. Looking over the stats and scouting reports you would almost miss Zane Demsey, 20 games played and a modest 7a on the season. Then you glance over to the +/- column and see he's a +19 so far, with only 20 games played. He's only been in the minus 2 games this season. That usually means you're doing your job well in your own zone. Another name that pops out is Lucas St. Louis, an '05 rookie defenseman. His father Martin was a prolific scoring forward in the NHL, a Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as an Olympic Gold Medal winner for Canada. His brother was a forward for the NTDP. It's odd seeing that name on the back of a dman's jersey. But someone has to play defense on the family team, I guess.

 In net is where I think the Saints might be having a little bit of a issue, with a pair of first year goalies who are maybe having just a bit of an issue transitioning to the USHL. Paxton Geisel, who had a mediocre season in the NAHL in 20-21, has played in 11 games with a 6-2-0-2 record. He's posted a 3.30 GAA and a .873 SV%. Splitting duties with him is Philip Svedebäck. Svedebäck is a 4th round NHL Draft pick for the Boston Bruins and has put up some decent numbers in the Swedish junior system. In 10 games played on the season, he's 5-3-2-0 with a 3.61 GAA and a .868 SV%. Neither Geisel or Svedebäck are performing particularly bad, but neither has really managed to push themselves to the next level.

The Phantoms are coming off a pair of losses where they needed to be much better. Adam Ingram continues to impress, leading the rookie scoring and tying the Phantoms longest ever point scoring streak (Brett Murray) at 14 games. Evan Werner got his first USHL goal and now that he's broke through with one, you get the feeling he might have a few more under his belt. Winter Wallace has also had a much more noticeable impact on the offense, now if he can just tone down the penalties and especially the late ones, he'll be a force to reckon with. 

Defensively, TJ Schweighthardt has not disappointed on the blueline. He has been a tough player to get through for opponents. That said, he was caught down low in the offensive zone at least once in the losses to Green Bay. I don't know if the Phantoms are deliberately cycling him low or not, but forwards having to stop rushes can go bad very quickly, discretion is the better part of valor here. Newcomer Andrew Centrella looked OK in his first outings as a Phantom. As a player who might be around past this season, he'll be someone to keep an eye on and see if he was worth the trade.

In net, Kyle Chauvette did not have his best weekend last week. He'll need to bounce back quickly, and with three games on the trip, I suspect we'll see Owen Bartoszkiewicz as well. Chauvette is 7-4-1-1 with a 2.99 GAA and a .904 SV%. Bartoszkiewicz is 1-5-0-1 with a 3.95 GAA and a .889 SV% We'll probably need both netminders to be sharp from the drop of the puck and it would be nice to see them get a little extra help from the skaters, particularly not turning over the puck in bad areas.

My keys to the game this week are going to be, firstly, winning puck battles, particularly stepping up on the 50/50 or better pucks. Competing for the full 60 minutes is another thing that did not go well last weekend and will need to be addressed. I think if we can improve on those areas, we'll be fine. 

The Phantoms vs Saints has historically been a good matchup regardless of either teams standing. It's a shame we won't get to see it on Covelli ice but you can't fight something that big, so here we are. It'll be a while before the Phantoms are back at home so we need to get some points on the road where we can, and that is this week.