Now that the Christmas holiday has past us it's time to get back to hockey. The Phantoms (13-7-5) only have one game this weekend but it's a road game against the team directly ahead of them in the standings, the Muskegon Lumberjacks (18-7-1). And the last time they were in Muskegon things got ugly, with there still being some repercussions. According to the USHL's hockey operations twitter account a few weeks back, head coach Anthony Noreen will not be behind the bench tonight due to a one game suspension from that game on 11/28, almost a full month ago with seven games played since. For those that don't remember, Tommy Parran jumped off the bench in response to a cheap shot by Tom Marchin that left Matt Miller down on the ice for several minutes. Parran was ejected and suspended 3 games while Marchin was only given a game suspension. In addition this was handed out:

OK, I'll skip the part about how an owner of the 'Jacks is on the USA Hockey's Junior Council and their GM is a VP of USA Hockey and the chairperson of the Junior Council. It's obvious things don't go our way in these instances. We're probably just lucky we're not feeling worse fallout from last weekends line brawl against the USA NTDP U18 kids. Matt Miller got a single game suspension, I assume for being the secondary fight or possibly removing an opponents mask since his opponent was under 18 and wearing a grill. For their part Casey Fitzgerald got a game suspension and Nick Boka got two while the guy who started it all, Matt Tkachuk, got off with only a game suspension which I assume was the initial spearing of Josh Nenadal. With Tkachuk's history I find it insulting he got off with only a single game. I have no clue why Boka got two games, possibly one secondary fighting and another for not having his jersey tied down.

Once again I'm late with the preview because of a rough work schedule. I'll be brief about it because I think you all know what's going on this weekend. The USA NTDP U18 squad is back in town. Brendan Warren is suspended for USA from the last game, a 5 game total suspension for a check from behind to Josh Nenadal. The bad news for the Phantoms is that Jordan Greenway seems healthy. I really like watching Greenway play, I just wish I was watching him play other teams. At 6'5" 222lbs, he's a huge kid and almost impossible to defend against entirely. Also going against the Phantoms is that Kyle Connor is playing in the Junior A Challenge and will not be available until the Muskegon game on the 27th.

And you would have to live under a rock to have not heard about this weekends promotion. It's Pittsburgh Penguins night and among the guests of honor is Lord Stanley's Cup. You don't want to miss this!

Time to drop the weeks preview! It's a little late this week since I wanted to see how a few mid-week games around the league went before I posted this. This weeks games are on the road versus a Western Conference opponent so this isn't going to be too in-depth. I'll be honest, I don't know much about our opponent this week, the Tri-City Storm. What I do know is that they are the only team with a better powerplay percentage than the Phantoms.  The Storm are not wasting a lot of opportunities and are converting an astounding 31.71% of their PPs. 26 of their 67 goals have come on the man advantage. The Phantoms are converting 25.64% but have had many more chances, 5.31 per game average to be exact and that is the most in the league. Both teams have a player tied for most PP goals in the USHL. Kiefer Sherwood for the Phantoms and Chris Wilkie both have 7 PP tallies on the season, as does Omaha's Shane Gersich. Needless to say, this weeks storyline is special teams. The Phantoms have the 3rd best PK in the league at 86.87% while the Storm enter the game in the bottom half of the league at 78.43%.

Both teams will be without key players, competing in the World Junior A Challenge. Kyle Connor will be representing the Phantoms for Team USA. The Storm will be missing Bobby Nardella, a key two-way defensman (also representing Team USA)  with a +4 rating and 12 assists (10 on the PP). Wilkie will be their key player but will be without a main playmaker. Their #1 goalie, Alec Dillon, is a beast. The USHL rookie is 2nd in the league in GAA at 2.07 and tied for 2nd in SV% at .926. They're a little thin in relief and just recently swapped out Blake Weyrick with Jared Rutledge in a deal with the Janesville Jets of the NAHL. Rutledge played a handful of games with Green Bay before being sent to Janesville for Kevin Reich who had played for Dubuque... yeah, I'm getting dizzy too.

The Phantoms come in with a 1-2 punch of Max Letunov and Ryan Lomberg. Trey Bradley is also playing his best hockey as a Phantom with 4 goals in the last 5 games. The defense is healthy and no one is suspended. In fact, I don't think we have any serious injuries to note. Chris Birdsall is heating up in net as well, and now has a 2.63 GAA and .910 SV%. However, with two road games in less than 24 hours I think Colin DeAugustine may be called upon. DeAugustine hasn't played since being chased from net on 11/22 in Bloomington. Birdsall has made 5 consecutive starts since then.

Another small note: Lukas Craggs was officially added to the Phantoms protected list, replacing Grant Meyer

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