After winning 3 games in 4 days last week at the Covelli, the Phantoms (11-7-3-0) are off on the road for a 3 game in 3 day road trip. After a couple dramatic wins last week the momentum should help alleviate some road fatigue. After a quick stop in Chicago on Thursday to face the Steel (9-10-2-2) they'll head out to Sioux City to face the Musketeers (9-12-0-0). However, Chase Pearson and Ryan Bednard will be absent as they represent USA in the World Junior A Challenge in Whitby Ontario that kicks off with the first exhibition game on Friday.

The Steel have given the Phantoms some grief already this season, the Phantoms going 1-2 against them. That includes the 'home' game in Cranberry, PA (6-0 loss) and a pair of games as part of a 3-in-3 road trip (4-1 win & 3-1 loss) starting in Michigan against the NTDP. A couple names stand out in those two, Jake Jaremko had 5 goals and Marcel Godbout had 3 goals and 2 assists. The Phantoms have to make sure that these guys don't get going. Tanner Laczynski, tied for league lead in assists with 17, is another important cog to the Steel but he and Max Zimmer will also be at the WJAC and more than likely not in the lineup. Grant Gabrielle and Charlie Raith have performed well on defense. The Steel's biggest assets have been in net. Danial Vladar, a 3rd round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, has been in net for 80:39, a little over 4 periods of play against the Phantoms, and has a perfect record stopping all 25 shots and earning a shutout. In the last game between these teams he was injured on a James Winkler shot that broke his mask, cutting him near the eye. He left the ice trailing blood and missed the next weeks pair of games. On the season, he's posted a 2.12 GAA and a .925 SV% despite going 3-5-1-2 on the season. John Lethonen has played 98:43 against the Phantoms, and has a 3.04 GAA and a .900 SV%, stopping 45 of 50 shots, getting credit for 1 win and 1 loss. On the season, he's 6-5-1-0 with a 2.82 GAA and a .906 SV%. I've documented the Steel's struggles before, but I'll just reiterate one area. In their new home arena at Fox Valley, they're only averaging 591 in attendance per game and their largest crowd was only 904. Home ice without a crowd can be worse than a road game sometimes.

The Musketeers aren't exactly setting the league on fire either. Add in that they'll be missing one of their core players in defenseman and team captain Ryan Zuhlsdorf, who is also tied for the league lead in assists with 17, as well as forward Josh Wilkins who are also at the WJAC. That leaves a Finnish duo of Teemu Pulkinin (8g, 9a) and Eeli Tulvanen (6g, 10a) as their best offensive players. Jacob Wilson will be the guy to watch on defense. He and Lukas Craggs dropped the gloves in a game late last season at the Covelli that featured a lot of rough play and extra-curricular activities. Cameron Gournet is the incumbent goaltender. In 16 games played he's 6-10-0-0 with a 2.65 GAA and a .908 SV%. Behind him is Evan Smith, a 7th round Nashville Predators draft pick. In his limited play, 5 games, he's 3-2 with a 3.05 GAA and a .904 SV%.

And we kick off December with a full schedule of hockey. After a disappointing week 10 at home the Phantoms (8-7-3-0) look to rebound against a familiar rival and a couple of games against a Western conference opponent. First up is a Wednesday morning game against the Muskegon Lumberjacks (9-8-0-0) the a Friday and Saturday evening pair against the Des Moines Buccaneers (8-11-2-0).

The 'Jacks beat us at the Covelli last week 0:45 into OT on a penalty shot by Rem Pitlick. After the Phantoms managed to tie it up with less than two minutes to go in the game the quick loss in the extra frame Left the home team more than a little stunned. I'm pretty sure that didn't sit well and will still be fresh in the players minds. I'll be pretty quick about this - it's payback time. If you want to read about who to watch for on the 'Jacks squad look at last weeks preview. I'm pretty sure not much has changed for them since then and they'll try to play the same game.

Then a pair against Des Moines. There isn't a lot of good I can say about the Bucs, but having not seen them in a couple years outside of Fasthockey, there isn't a lot I can say first hand at all. They have the third worst record in the league and the worst goals for per game (2.19) and goals against (3.33). Offensively,a pair of veterans lead the goal scoring with 8 a piece. Patrick Grasso is a small (5'7", 152 lbs), skilled forward in his 3rd year with the Bucs. In stark contrast Zach Jordan is a big (6'3" 212 lbs.) power forward, also in his 3rd USHL season. Also noteworthy at forward is Nikita Pavlychev. The second year Russian forward is a 7th round NHL draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins and known as tough customer who will play a physical game before and after the whistle. Defensively, Nick Wolff and Alec Rauhauser are a pair of veteran defensemen with good size and skill. Pavlychev and Wolff combine for an average of more than 6 minutes of penalties a game, so you can see how things roll in Des Moines. The biggest weakness looks to be in net, both goalies are in their first year of USHL action. The guy getting the majority of the work is Czech born Jan Ruzicka. Ruzicka is 6-6-1-0 in 13 games played and has posted a 3.33 GAA and .891 SV%. Behind him is Nick McNab who is 2-5-1-0 with a 2.96 GAA and a .905 SV%.

And we're into the Thanksgiving week with a pair of home games framing the holiday. The Phantoms will play host to the Muskegon Lumberjacks (7-7-0-0) the night before and the NTDP U18 (4-1-0-0) squad the night after with a day in between to cram in some turkey. It's rough having games around a holiday like that but it's better to be at home rather than on the road.

First up is the surging Lumberjacks on Wednesday. The last time these two teams met about a month ago, the 'Jacks were one of the worst team in the league but had only played just 4 games. Since then, 10 games later, they've improved their game and are now batting .500 on the season. This is after what looked like a fire-sale, sending players off to other teams before a full blown mutiny. What seemed like a sure recipe for staying at the bottom of the standings has turned the team around. Last weekend they had a 5 game win streak ended in Dubuque. Since that game back in October where they scored their first goals of the season, Rem Pitlick and Matej Paulovich have been hot. Both only had 2 assists prior, now Pitlick is sitting at 6g and 7a while Paulovic is sitting at 5g and 6a. Since then Defensemen Carson Vance and Keegan Ward have found other homes so I'm not too familiar with their defense, so this is probably still an area of weakness. Trever Hamilton is the only defenseman I can really say much about. The veteran '95 born blueliner is a solid, two way defenseman with 2g, 6a and a ton of experience and stability. The biggest reason for improvement that I can see is the play of Joey Daccord. The 7th round Ottawa Senators draftee has played big in net, both literally at 6'3" 205 lbs and figuratively with a 7-5 record posting a 2.47 GAA and .909 SV%. His backup, Devin Cooley has only played a couple games and has an 0-2 record with a 4.76 GAA and .831 SV%. It's pretty easy to see which is the top goalie and we can assume Daccord will start on Wednesday.

Then on to Black Friday. The Phantoms will be shopping for their first win of the season against the NTDP U18 squad that's beat us twice on the season. After a 3-0 shutout in Plymouth a couple weekends ago, we'll need a sale on goals. I'm standing by the same old stuff, keep your eyes on Clayton Keller (4g, 6a in 6 games) and Kieffer Bellows (5g, 3a in 6 games). These kids are expected to be high draft picks in next years NHL draft and watching them play on opening night and in Plymouth I can definitely agree with the scouting reports. Chad Krys is an excellent defenseman, a very gifted skater, and another very likely draft pick. I also like the physical play of defenseman James "JD" Greenway. His brother Jordan was a 2nd round draft pick of the Wild and played forward for the NTDP, and both use their big frames to make things difficult on their opponents. The key factor for the NDTP is their goalies. Jake Ottienger is 4-0 in USHL action and has a 1.79 GAA and a .930 SV%. He's been in net for both games against the Phantoms. Joseph Woll is the number two goalie but you wouldn't know by his numbers. Only playing a couple USHL games and only 1 complete game, he's 1-1 with a 1.23 GAA and .939 SV%. His only complete game was a 1-0 loss to Omaha this past weekend, the U18s only USHL loss. His win cam in relief of Ottienger against Chicago where he helped the NTDP battle back to a 3-2 win in a shootout. Suffice it to say, no matter who the goalie is we'll have to work hard to beat him.

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