It's Halloween time and the Phantoms (4-2-1-0) will be spending the weekend in scary Sioux Falls for a pair of road games against the Stampede (5-4-0-0). This is the second real road trip of the season, the first being an OT loss to Dubuque and a win against Green Bay, the weekend before last. The last time these teams met was late last season in Youngstown with the Phantoms taking both games as part of their USHL record 17 game win streak. The real story was the end of the second game when Joey Raats lined up Vas Kolias in what I considered to be a deliberate attempt to knee the young defenseman. The Phantoms would have the last laugh as Raats left a 2-on-0 for his goalie that Josh Nenadal finished off for a goal with 2:13 left to put a final nail in the coffin of a 6-2 win. Kolias was helped off the ice but not seriously injured. There was hope for a rematch in the Finals but our early exit dismissed that and the Stampede went on to capture the Clark Cup.

The Stampede lost their top scorer from last season, Kiefer Bellows, to NTDP poaching but don't think their offense has no weapons; enter Parker Tuomine. The German born right-winger and team captain is in his second years in the USHL and so far leading the league in goals scored with 8, also contributing 3 assists for 11 total points which puts him third overall in the league. Collin Peters is also up there with 4 goals and 6 assists. Defensively,they look a little thin to me. Second year defenseman, Chaz Switzer is a versatile guy who can also play a forward position if need be. Joseph McGuire is a more defensive minded blueliner that played a limited amount for Bloomington last season. An X-factor on defense is '95 birth year Garrett Cecere, a Colorado College decommit who prior to playing a full season at Colorado College last season, played two USHL seasons traveling around from Dubuque to Tri-City and then to Sioux Falls. Backstopping the Stampede is Ales Stezka, a Czech import and 4th round NHL draft pick of the Minnesota Wild. Stezka, 3-3 in his 6 games played, seems to have bumped incumbent goaltender is Stefanos Lekkas out of the number one spot with a 2.86 GAA and a .911 SV%. Lekkas 2-1 in 3 games played, isn't far behind with a 3.02 GAA and .908 SV%.

We're already heading into the fifth week of USHL action and even though we only have one game this weekend I've got a lot to talk about. Of course that may be due to the fact that this weeks opponent is last years playoff villains, the Muskegon Lumberjacks. But before I get to that I need to make up for not having a recap of last weekends games, mostly due to personal issues and Fasthockey issues. Friday against the Dubuque Fighting Saints, Ryan Bednard kept us in a game where we were massively outshot and down 2-0. Goals by Vas Kolias (shorthanded) and Yushirō Hirano got us back in it and forced overtime where Keegan Ford won it 3-2 on a powerplay, their second PP goal of the game. Sean Petrie also had a fight with Ford on the evening. The Phantoms recovered and went into Green Bay to face the Gamblers where Colin DeAugustine held the fort while we were outshot and a pair of goals by Kris Myllari, one on the PP, lifted the Phantoms to a 2-1 victory. Pretty much as I figured, Ford would fight and score and special teams would dictate the outcome. The Phantoms take three of four points on the road and head back to the Covelli to face the 'Jacks, who eliminated us from the playoffs last season. The last time they were in town was a heartbreaking double overtime loss.

The 'Jacks come into Youngstown at the bottom of the USHL standings but have played the least amount of games at 4. Their offseason was a slew of issues including bankruptcy and a change in ownership, lease issues with their arena that left a lot of doubt, and the usual junior hockey turnover. The first two issues have taken care of themselves, the latter is another story. Having lost players like Ian Iacopelli, Griffin Molino, and Tom Marchin, just to name forwards, has left the offense in disarray. After opening with an OT win in Waterloo, they've lost three straight at home by progressively worse goal deficits of 3, 4 and 5 goals. Tied for second in the league for lowest goals scored per game at 2.00 and giving up a league worst 4.75 goals per game, it's pretty easy to see things aren't going as planned. Stunningly, they're averaging the most shots on goal in the league per game at 39.25 and the biggest shot advantage, outshooting opponents an average of 12.5 shots per game. There were high hopes for returning prospects Robbie DeMontis and Matej Paulovic but neither is finishing plays and both only have a pair of assists a piece. The only multiple goal scorer on the roster is Collin Adams, a '98 born player in his first full year of USHL action, with 3 goals so far. They have a decent group of returning defensemen including Trevor Hamilton, Bo Hanson and Mitch Eliot. They added ex-Phantom Carson Vance just to bolster the backend. The area that things get interesting is in net. Last years tandem of Eric Schierhorn and Michael Latorella are gone, Schierhorn to the NCAA and Latorella traded to Tri-City, where he failed to make the roster for what I hear are off ice issues. A lot of the 'Jacks hopes this season are pinned on Joe Daccord, a 7th round Ottawa Senators draft. His transistion from Tier III junior hockey to Tier I hasn't gone as well as planned as he's posted a 4.02 GAA and a .842 SV%. Devin Cooly is the number two goalie and has 5.33 GAA and a .800 SV%. I'm not sure if the lack of offense is related to the huge number of pucks going into their net, vice versa, or if they're completely unrelated but the bottom line is they're giving up way more goals than they score and it shows. Also noteworthy, the 'Jacks will be without big, tough winger Keegan Ward who has been suspended a game for spearing.

This weeks preview is going to be short. Between work and a death in the family, I haven't had a whole lot of time to prepare any notes. I don't have a whole lot of data on either team to begin with but would have liked to talk about some trades and suspensions but, in the long run, I don't think it really matters. At this point, the Phantoms (2-2-0-0) biggest opponent this weekend is themselves and maybe a good road trip weekend is just the place to sort things out. With that said, the Phantoms will be loading the bus and heading to Dubuque to face my favorite opponent, the Fighting Saints (3-2-0-0), then head up to Green Bay to face the Gamblers (1-3-0-1). Like the Phantoms, both teams are looking to sort out some issues keeping pucks out of their net. The Phantoms and both opponents are giving up around 4 goals per game while only scoring around 3.

The Saints are always a tough opponent, no matter how things are going on the season. Despite giving up more goals than they've scored, they're still above .500 and looking strong. They're anchored on the backend by veteran defensman and this seasons captain Keegan Ford. The scrappy blueliner left the University of Wisconsin last season to return to the Saints and gave them a real boost and is back this year for his fourth season with the team. He's always been a big presence on defense and not afraid to drop the gloves but this season is bringing a little more on the offensive side. His 3 goals on the season is tied for the team lead and only needs one more to tie his best season mark. The real question is goaltending and their top netminder, Hunter Miska. Miska comes after a few good season with the NTDP then two very successful seasons with the Princeton Vees of the BCHL, a top Junior A league, where he lead the league last season in both GAA (1.88) and SV% (.931). The BCHL isn't a league known for goal tending and defense, it's a scorers league. Jackson Castor is the backup and, without actually seeing him play, on paper he looks like a solid second goaltender.

The Gamblers are also struggling a little and, unlike the Saints, are showing it early in the standings. Like the Saints, the X-factor is in net. Adam Huska came over from Slovakia last season to finish the season with the Gamblers, and despite not winning a game in 5 appearances, 4 starts, he impressed not only the Gamblers but also managed to get the attention of the scouts and landed with the New York Rangers in the 7th round of last years NHL draft. So far, his numbers are mediocre but I'd think it safe to assume he's adjusting to the league and will improve if the team can put some help in front of him. Behind him in goal is Kevin Reich. If you've read anything I've written on him you'll know I've never been impressed with the German netminder, I'm not sure how he keeps making back into the USHL. He does seem to be more comfortable with the Gamblers. On the offensive side, Sam Saliba was last seasons best scorer for the Gamblers and is starting out where he left off.

feed-image RSS Feed