So here we are, in the grind of the season where I don't have a lot of new news. It's hard to write a preview that doesn't read the same as the last, especially with the Phantoms (14-12-2-3) not playing teams in the Western Conference. After splitting the pair of games in Muskegon last weekend, it's nice to see the Phantoms play some fresh faces. Wait, someone just told me we've played these kids before. I jest a little, but the USA Hockey's National Team Developmental Program Under 17 squad (1-13-1-0) doesn't leave much of an impression yet. We'll see after this week. Not only are these teams meeting for the first time on Covelli ice this season, but they'll play 3 games in (less than) 3 days.
Again, I've mentioned in past articles I don't have a lot of scouting reports and not a lot of in person viewing. I'm going on just pure stats and, boy howdy, are those bad. William Smith leads the group in scoring with 6g, 8a. Second on the team and tied for the lead in assists is Oliver Moore with 4g, 9a. Rounding off the double digit scorers is Gabriel Perreault with 3g, as well as 9a to tie with Moore in that column. The rest of the team not only have less than 10 points but the closest is 5 players who have some combination of goals and assists for 5 points.
Defense is horrible. Last time I previewed them they only had 1 player on the blueline with a positive +/-. Nothing has changed, Kai Janviriya is still that only guy, still with a +1. The rest range from -5 to a pair with -17. The only consolation this time is that there are now a couple other players in the league that are worse.
In net, they still are carrying 3 goalies, something not uncommon this season in the USHL. By record, I guess Michael Chambre (9gp, 1-6-0-0) is their "top" netminder. He's posted a 5.41 GAA and a .873 SV% along with the U17s only win of the season. Next up is Trey Augustine (9gp, 0-5-1-0) with a 4.94 GAA and a .869 SV%. He has their only other point in the standings, an OT loss to the Phantoms. Lastly, with limited playing time, is Carson Musser (4gp, 0-2-0-0) with a 4.76 GAA and a .885 SV%.
Last week, we saw the Phantoms struggling a little to get things going again. After fighting back for an OT win, they were shut out the next night. Friday night Winter Wallace had arguably his best game as a Phantoms with a pair of goals. Newcomer Charlie Lurie got on the boards with his first as a Phantoms as well. In Saturday's loss, I noticed a lot of line juggeling, including a line of Wallace, Lurie, and Stiven Sardarian for most of the third period after all 3 players started the game on separate lines as left wingers.
Kyle Chauvette was dinged for 7 goals, he was visibly not as sharp as usual but the East's leading netminder still had an above .900 SV% on the weekend and is currently at a 2.82 GAA and a .908 SV%. The big story this weekend is our newly arrived netminder Jacob Fowler. With 3 games in < 3 days and the opponent being the feckless NTDP U17s, it's a likelihood he'll see some action this weekend. The question is the timing. A safe bet is Chauvette starts Friday night. Saturday will probably depend on Friday's game. Fowler had 21 games under his belt with the Selects Academy U18 AAA team, posting an impressive 1.68 GAA and a .928 SV%. He'll need some insulation getting up to USHL speed in any case, U17s or not.
Other than protecting Fowler, the keys to this weekend will be keeping the foot on the gas while trying to save some gas as the weekend goes on. These kids haven't figured it out yet but will eventually, don't give them the time to do it on our ice. Not taking penalties will go a long way to keeping some fuel in the tank heading in to Sunday. I always say that you never win those extracurricular scrums when you're playing the kids in full face cages, and we haven't. So far, we're 3-0 so far against the U17s (4-0 combined with the U18s). Seeing some role players step up and get some goals would be a big help too, it's not just the U17s only getting the majority of their scoring from a few players.
With 3 games at home for the first time this season it should be a fun weekend. Saturday is Pittsburgh Penguins Night and Iceburg will be there, that's always a fun night. Iceburg is the best mascot ever to fight Jean-Claude Van Damme. It would be great to see a packed Covelli Centre for all 3 games, but I won't hold my breath for Sunday. There are no excuses for Friday and Saturday, I hope to see you all there.