After finishing up their regular season business in the state of Wisconsin, the Phantoms (17-13-4-3) can look forward to seeing some of these season series shift to home games at the Covelli. This week, that means we'll get our first visit from the Muskegon Lumberjacks (23-11-3-3). The 'Jacks started the season with a lot of problems, but have turned things around and are now tied in the point standings for second in the East with Chicago and only recently overtaken by the first place Dubugue Fighting Saints, who made me wake up early to edit this. With the season nearing the final stretch, every point counts. And you can bet this weekend's meeting between these two rivals will reflect that.
I've covered the 'Jacks twice already and, at least for skaters, there is not much to add other than update the numbers. You can reference the week 6 and week 13 previews for deeper scouting reports. Quinn Hutson is now tied for the lead in goals and second in assists on the squad with 22g and 28a. Philip Tresca has matched his goal production and has 19a to boot. Capitan Jack Williams it the other player tied for second in assists, with 28a and 10g on the season. You can also credit Ben Strinden (19g, 21a) and Joey Larson (20g, 17a) with some of the 'Jacks success.
The 'Jacks have a few very talented two-way defensemen who contribute on offense as much as they do on defense. Lead by Jacob Guevin, a C-ranked skater on the NHL CSS list, who leads the 'Jacks in assists with 31a and 4g. Las Vegas Golden Knights prospect Noah Ellis has 5g, 17a and Tyler Dunbar is close behind with 2g, 17a. One minor surprise on the Muskegon blueline is rookie tender Gavin McCarthy, who leads all 'Jacks defensemen in +/- with a +12 in 32gp.
It's between the pipes where the 'Jacks keep me in business. It's been something new every time I do a preview. Rookie Cameron Korpi, who shut out the Phantoms in the last meeting, has the longest tenure with the 'Jacks, having played with them since the start of the season. In 11gp he's put up a 3.41 GAA and a .870 SV%, along with that shutout. First they brought in Russian netminder Platon Zadorzheny. Zadorzheny had played in 13 games with a 9-4-0-0 with a 3.11 GAA, a .888 SV%, and 2 shutouts. Zadorzheny was placed on the IR earlier this month. Next they brought in Alexkandr Kuleshov, another Russian. He's now appeared in 16 games with a 9-2-1-0 record, a 3.52 GAA and a .881 SV%. Recently the 'Jacks traded with Tri-City for Washington Capitols prospect Chase Clark for picks. How he figures into the mix is anyone's guess. Muskegon stated this was to improve "competitiveness" at the position, but the injury to Zadorzheny is obviously a factor here. Clark has Appeared in 8 games, most with the Storm, putting up a 2.63 GAA and a .911 SV%. He also has a shutout. In his first game with Muskegon, he played 26 minutes allowing 2 goals on 13 shots for a 4.68 SV% and a .846 SV%.
There is very little to report on the Phantoms. Late last week the Phantoms added Own Carlile to the protected list. The '03 forward with the Utica Jr. Comets of the NCDC had 14g, 28a in his season there. He has not been added on the USHL roster, I am not sure when or if they plan on putting him into the lineup. And with the USHL trade deadline looming large, he might have been added to be part of a later move. Interesting enough, he was in the 'Jacks camp prior to the 20-21 camp by way of the Phase 2 draft. The only noteworthy injury on the Phantoms is Stivin Sardarian, who has been out the past few weeks. His continued absence is a sizable hole to fill and with no timetable for return, it's hard to say if that factors into the Carlile pickup.
Netminder Jacob Fowler got his second start and second win of his newly minted USHL career, and his first road action last week. His win Friday moved him to 2-0-0-0 with a 1.74 GAA and a .938 SV%. You can see his confidence, and the confidence in him, growing every period. Kyle Chauvette had a pretty good Saturday and is now 12-7-3-2 on the season and posts a 2.96 GAA and a .905 SV%. Chauvette is still expected to carry the load down the stretch but having a reliable backup will be critical, so seeing Fowler get his feet under him quickly is huge.
The 'Jacks don't have any major injuries, other than Zadorzhevny, I am aware of. They may have some players missing due to ejections last weekend in a rough pair of games against Madison. Both Tyler Hotson and Owen Mehlenbaucher were tossed with major penalties and game misconducts on Friday and Saturday respectively for head contact and cross-checking respectively. I'm not sure how much a short bench might affect the 'Jacks, but we'll see how it plays out.
I think the key to winning this weekend will be the Phantoms dictating the pace and keeping the scoring down. The 'Jacks have the most goals for in the East (165) but give up the 2nd most (152). Contrast that to the Phantoms who give up the least (116) and score the third least (117). The 'Jacks hold a minor advantage in special teams but I don't think that will be the big factor this weekend unless it gets things get out of hand. The only thing I will note there is that the Phantoms really need to pay attention on their powerplays. The 'Jacks are tied for the league lead in shorthanded goals with 8 while the Phantoms have given up the most at 10. Shorthanded goals can be real backbreakers and we can't afford to give up points on our powerplay against as potent an offense as Muskegons.
It's been a few weeks since the Phantoms played at home. We're hoping there aren't as many issues this weekend, ice problems or power outages, like the last time at Covelli. Saturday is First Responders Night with $2 beer to boot. I hope to have some highlights to share with the recaps so stay tuned.