Happy Holidays folks, it's... what week is it, again? Things have gotten busy, and with me missing the last preview before a week off, I'm playing catch up on a lot of things, including hockey. The good news is the Phantoms (9-11-1-3) have managed to end a 6 game losing skid with a solid win over the NTDP U18s in Plymouth. The better news is our next stop is back in USA Hockey Arena to play the U17s (1-10-0-0) on Thursday. After that is a New Years Eve game in Muskegon (13-10-1-2) to round out 2021. 

The NTDP U17s. I'll be honest I have not seen enough of them to really say much, they aren't really an impressive group yet. This will eventually change. In the Week 2 Preview I had mentioned Gabe Perreault as a potential top scorer for the team and he's been that with 3g and 8a. Will Smith and Oliver Moore are both just behind him with 3g, 6a each. Will Vote leads the team with 4 goals. Again, I don't have much in the way of scouting reports on anyone in particular, all of them seem to have a well rounded set of skills.

I'd almost skip mentioning the defense but I did that last time. Only one defenseman is on the good side of the +/- column and that is Kai Janviriya who is a +1. The rest range from -4 to Zeev Buium at a (as far as I know) league worst -17 in 11 games played. I did like Aram Minnetian's defensive play and skating ability in the two games earlier in the season despite the Phantoms lopsided victories in those games.

In net, guess what? I have no real opinion on any of the 3 goaltenders. This isn't unusual, it's the hardest position to develop and you aren't going to get exceptional 16 year old netminders with every birth year. That said, in terms of games and minutes played, I guess Michael Chambre is the top netminder with appearances in 8 games and the U17s only win and points on the season as well as 5 losses of record. On the season he has a 5.09 GAA .881 SV%. Trey Augustine has played in 7 games, recorded 4 losses with a 5.78 GAA .861 SV%. Carson Musser has appeared in 3 games, only 1 as the netminder of record for a loss. He's registered a 4.51 GAA and .894 SV%. These guys could really use a hand from the defense.

I covered the 'Jacks in my Week 6 Preview, the top players haven't really changed much. I hadn't mentioned Phillip Tresca, who is now third in total scoring for the 'Jacks with 12g, 14a. Tresca does a good job of making himself available in areas to finish plays when he's not working hard at setting them up. Joey Larson (16g, 6a) and Ben Strinden (12g, 10a) are both producing on a regular basis, contributing significantly to the 'Jacks turnaround. Last time I mentioned that team captain Jack Williams only had 1g and 2a and the 'Jacks really needed him to get going. Since then he's added another 3g and 13a for 4g and 15a total, a marked improvement and good news for Muskegon fans. 

On defense, Jacob Guevin still leads the 'Jacks in total scoring with 3g and 25a, good for second in scoring among USHL defensemen. Noah Ellis, a Las Vegas Golden Knights draft pick, is still a huge part the defense as well. I've covered that in a prior preview, so this time I'll throw in Tyler Dunbar. Dunbar always seemed to be more of an offensive defenseman to my eyes, despite not scoring as much last season as he did in his rookie season. This season he's back to contributing on offense, 2g and 10a, but he leads the 'Jacks defensemen in +/- at +9 as well and has put him on the NHL draft radar.

Last time the story with Muskegon was a big change in netminding, bringing in a relatively unknown Russian goaltender. That worked well so they decided to do it again. Last time it was shipping off Jan Skorpik and bringing in Platon Zadorozhny. Zadorozhny quickly proved himself and in 11 games played is 7-4-0-0 with a 2.98 GAA and a .894 SV% as well as a pair of shutouts. This time it's Alexander Kuleshov being brought in from Russia at the end of November. Kuleshov, an '01, has 7 appearances and a 4-1-0-0 record with a 3.28 GAA and .884 SV%. The 'Jacks are still carrying '04 netminder Cameron Korpi who hasn't played since 12/3 but has dressed as the backup. In his 5 appearances he's 1-2-0-1 with a 4.06 GAA and .885 SV%. Despite the numbers he earned a C rank on the early NHL CSS list.

For the Phantoms, mostly it's been boring... and that's good. The only excitement in the time off is the addition of Tomas Machu, an '03 defenseman from Czechia. Machu, a 7th round NY Islanders draft pick, played this season in their U20 system and both tiers of the pro league so he has considerable experience. He's not huge but has decent size (6'4", 190 lbs) and a long reach and is a decent skater. If he can acclimate to the USHL quickly, he might be a great addition to our defense. Affiliate Reese Laubach has also been added to the roster, an '03 forward with 12g and 16a in 28 GP for the Northstar Christian Academy AAA U18 (USPHL U18). 

Otherwise, the Phantoms got Kyle Bettens back for the last game after being sidelined for a few weeks with an injury. Kyle Chauvette earned USHL Goaltender of the Week for his play in the game against the NTDP U18s. You don't normally see that given to a player who gave up 2 goals in the only game he played that week and that is indicative as to just how absurdly good he had to be to get the win. In the scoring department, Evan Werner has goal in 4 of the last 5 games. The Phantoms scoring has been centered around a core group so getting this kind of secondary scoring is a big boon for the Phantoms.

The keys to winning against the NTDP U17s is simple, play up to our level and not down to theirs and do not let up on them. If we get lax it could get ugly but we're 2-0 in Plymouth this season and 3-0 against the combined NTDP so as long as we play our game to our potential, we'll be good this weekend. For Muskegon, it's a bit more complicated. The 'Jacks are a better team now than the start of the season to be sure. We saw a little of that in our first 2 meetings. The 'Jacks are bottom of the East in both powerplay and penalty kill still so special teams should favor us. The real test will be scoring even strength goals and will likely be a test of both teams netminders, Muskegon is 2nd in the league in shots per game (33.81) and the Phantoms are 4th (30.38).

And that will end 2021, and we'll be back at the Covelli to start 2022. A pair of wins this week could put us back to .500, and that would be a great point to start for the new year. Until then, have a safe and happy New Years Eve. 

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