Well, here we go again. It's opening day on the road in Ann Arbor Saturday against the Team USA NTDP U18 squad. If this sounds familiar we opened on the road against them last season. This is where the similarities end. Last season we had a lot of issues going into opening weekend, an extremely inexperienced defense, starting a back-up goalie who we had already rode the entire preseason, not to mention the distraction of waiting to know if Nathan Walker was returning. This year we have a couple returning defensman as well as another USHL veteran we traded for. This year we have two goalies competing for the starter role. And believe me, there is no questions on who is going to fill the net this season as we have a plethora of talented forwards. The only question, in my mind, is which team is more prepared heading into the gate. We only played two games all preseason and a scrimmage against a NAHL team. The U18 team played 4 USHL preseason games plus most of them have played with each other since last season. I think this is definately and advantage for the NTDP.

 

One of our preseason games was against this squad and we lost 6-3. Of course, preseason games are never a perfect indicator and should be forgotten before the opening puck drops but there are a couple things things the Phantoms should have learned from it. First of all is we can't get caught in a special teams battle with this team. I think we're going to have among the best special teams in the USHL this year but that doesn't matter against this squad. In the preseason game they scored a pair of SH goas on the same powerplay and added a pair on the PP. Team discipline will go a long way towards keeping the puck out of our net. Discipline also factors into the second lesson, and that's to initiate and not retaliate. Ryan Lomberg started out great, setting the tone early with a huge check on Matthew Tkachuck in the Phantoms defensive end. Tkachuck was obviously not happy with Lomberg and the two would butt heads throughout the game. As the game went on and things started going south for Youngstown, the situation also started to turn. In the 3rd period, less than a minute after the Lomberg assisted on a Taylor Best goal to bring the Phantoms to within a deuce, both players end up trading a few bumps that end up in Tkachuck initiating an altercation that got both misconduct penalties that removed them from the remainder of the game. Tkachuck wins this one since his team doesn't need his offensive skills as much as the Phantoms needed Lombergs. Tkachuck is in high-school, Lomberg has played two years of D1 college hockey, Lomberg has to be the smarter player on the ice. I don't want to single out Ryan,  Kris Mylarri took minor + misconduct penalty and Chris MacMillian, who was later cut from the team, took, a major and game misconduct. I hope that if the Lomberg/Tkachuck rivalry carries over, and I suspect it will, that Lomberg has been coached that discretion is certainly the better part of valor. He has to find a way to extracate himself from situations like that. And if we had been the ones with a two goal cushion, I would have gladly seen Lomberg sacrifice himself to take a dangerous scorer (to say the least!) off the ice.

 I think the key to this game is in the start. We need to generate early offensive chances and score first. If we can grab the lead and hold it for a bit we might be able to take them off their game instead of the other way around. When these kids beat us, it's not from their superior skill, it's our own doing. They make us do stupid things, they're amazingly good at it. If they do grab the lead, we need to make sure we don't panic and try to force the play. We also need to keep things simple until the team builds some chemistry. This is harder said than done. Everyone wants to show their stuff on opening day and emotions will be a little high. Coach Noreen has to be the stabilizer. He's known for his fiery coaching style but, for the time being, I think he needs to reign that in a bit. And again, above all, is discipline and special teams. We need to limit their PP chances and not give up anything on our own. 

That's pretty much it. I may have a little something else later but for the most part I need to get ready for a road trip to Ann Arbor. I hope to see a few of the Phaithfull there. 

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