Well, if your reading this I've defied my own expectations and actually managed to write a followup. If you didn't read it, I published the first article a couple months ago with what little information I had on the roster, mostly just returning players and a few names from the tryout camp. We were currently without a head coach but most of the rest of the bench was intact. A lot has changed since then and with a full Phantoms roster plus full USHL protected and affiliate lists in hand I think I can get in a few words before the season starts.

The biggest changes are on the bench. The Phantoms did not disappoint when it came to finding a new head coach. John Wroblewski comes to the team with a wealth of hockey coaching experience. He's been a notably successful assistant and head coach at the AA minor pro level (ECHL) and an assistant coach at the AAA level. Coming out of a franchise imploding from the top down, the Rochester Americans as the AHL affiliate on the Buffalo Sabers, Coach Wrobleski is a guy looking to make his name at the top level of USA junior hockey. I like his outlook on the situation, being able to move to a level where he's not feeding players up levels during a season, but success in the minors doesn't mean success in junior hockey. After talking for just a few minutes with him, most of my doubt disappeared. It's easy to see how young players will respond to his leadership. However, that wasn't the only turnover on the bench and locker room. Assistant coach John Ronan took a job with Mercyhurst College, leaving assistant Brad Patterson as the only guy on the coaching staff from the previous year. As of yet the Phantoms have not named a replacement. Also moving on is equipment manager Adam Wadell, moving to the Atlanta Gladiators of the ECHL. Stepping up in his place is Josh Famularo, who previously worked for the California University of PA running three separate teams, including the DIII men's team.

The goaltending situation hasn't changed since the last article. Colin DeAugustine enters his last season of USHL eligibility without a college commitment. I'm sure he's had offers but this fact may be a good motivator to push his game to the next level for the scouts. Coming in to back him up and maybe looking to usurp the top spot is Ryan Bednard. Bednard comes in already commited to Bowling Green University and drafted in the NHL, a 7th round pick of the Florida Panthers. DeAugustine played 2 1/3 games, allowing 6 goals on 60 shots for a .900 SV%, and a 2.57 GAA, not far off his stats last season. Bednard played 1 2/3 games, faced 49 shots and stopped them all. Like with Chris Birdsall last season, I think having a little duel between goaltenders for the number one spot is a good thing. I think it will only improve this season.

Week 0, the last chance before final roster cuts. That's what this weekends Pittsburgh Showcase means for the Youngstown Phantoms. Coming off of a historic Anderson Cup winning season, now the team has to reload for another run and do so without quite a few key pieces from last season. We already have a couple of games against NAHL teams to our preseason credit so this weekend we get to focus on regular league competition, or at least the NTDP. We don't have any regular USHL teams on our preseason schedule, we'll see how that plays out in a couple weeks.

Let's start with the familiar faces. The returning players from last season are Colin DeAugustine in net, defensemen Matt Miller, Vas Kolias, Kris Mylarri and Ty Farmer and Chase Pearson, Matt Alvaro, Lukas Craggs, Kevin Conley and James Winkler for Forwards. This gives us a really solid core with a very strong defense and a lot of grit. A few other players have a little affiliate action, Ryan Bednard in goal, Ryan Shae on defense and Grant Meyer and Justin Cmunt for forwards. So far in NAHL preseason games we've seen a lot of promising new players. On the blueline John Kovacevich and Luke McInnis have looked good. Kovacevich is a big, 6'4"- 217 lbs, with a good cannon while McInnis is an mobile guy who can jump up on the rush much like Kolias or Farmer. For the forwards, Yoshirō Hirano, Partrick Kramer and Eric Esposito have been standouts. Hirano, a Japanese import, seems to have the most consistent scoring touch. Kramer showed a decent shot but biggest asset has been being in the right place at the right time. Eric Esposito is a guy who can use his speed and stick handling to start a rush as well as finish it.

Added to the mix late are forwards Tyler Drevitch and Alex Esposito. Both were in the Muskegon Lumberjacks camp and early cuts. Drevitch, a '95 birther year,  played last season with the Des Moines Buccaneers and the Lumberjacks and brings USHL proven experience with him, as well as grit. He's not a high scorer so he'll probably look to impress with his defensive game and with the rough stuff. This might be hard only laying the NTDP twice. Alex Esposito, who is Eric's older brother, is also looking for a chance to move into the USHL after making the Phantoms All-star game in tryouts last season but not the final cut. Both are going to have to outwork players who have a jump start in camp. Because of that they warrant keeping a special watch on.

We've played 60 games and it's all for this. Throw out most of what you know from the regular season, this is the playoffs. After winning the Anderson Cup it's time to get serious. Up first we have a very familiar opponent in our long time division rival, the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The Phantoms have owned the regular season series 4-1-1, with the 'Jacks also getting an extra point in a shootout loss. Out of the 6 games, 5 of them have been won by 2 goals or less. If you take away the single blowout game for us, the 8-0 trouncing we put on their affiliate goalie Jacob Gwillim, the series goal differential is only 3 goals in our favor. This could be a very close series. Also, home ice hasn't been that much of an advantage, we're 1-1-1 at home and they're 0-2-1. That's right, out of 6 games only one has been won on home ice. That was the last meeting just a little over a week ago when we beat them 5-1 at the Covelli.

Goalies will be a big key for both teams. Our tandem of Chris Birdsall and Colin DeAugustine have steadily improved over the season and are both certainly looking like they're in playoff form. Over the season Chris Birdsall is 18-7-5 with a .914 SV%, a 2.46 SV% and 3 shutouts. Colin DeAugustine is 22-6-1 with a .910 SV%, a 2.66 GAA and 2 shutouts. However, in the season series with the 'Jacks Chris Birdsall went stopped 80 of 83 0.964 and a GAA of 1.66 and a shutout. Colin DeAugustine has stopped 85 of 91 with a 0.934 GAA of 1.66. Both goalies have really stepped up the pace against Muskegon and will need to continue that over the possible 5 game series. Goaltending has been solid most of the season for the Lumberjacks. Eric Shierhorn has carried the load, playing in 43 games on the season and going 26-13-4 with 2 shutouts. He posted a league leading .927 SV% and a 2.51 GAA. Michael Latorella, who had some injury issues, was 9-7-0 with a shutout and put up a .907 SV% and 3.22 GAA. Versus the Phantoms Eric Shcierhorn has stopped 116 of 126 shots for a SV% of .921 and a GAA of 2.5. Michael Latorella was 40 of 42 in his shootout win with a .952.

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