Well, it's been a few weeks since I've posted one of these. With the games being on the road and me on night shift and unable to get the games on Fasthockey, I haven't had much to say and in these cases I'd rather say nothing at all. So, I apologize for the absence and let's get caught up.

After the last home game, a win against Muskegon, we played the 'Jacks the next night. It was an even affair and looked to be going into overtime. The 'Jacks got a last rush up the ice and with 0:15, Matt Mendleson wristed one by Colin DeAugustine for the win. I did catch this one on FH, DeAugustine should have had that one and at least one point slipped by. Next week we fought back from being behind twice to force OT against a tough Lincoln Stars team with goalie Michel Bitzer, who we barely manage to beat in a 1-0 OT at home earlier in the season. This time it ended in a shootout and a 4-3 Lincoln win but a well earned point on the road that night. The following evening we got our first ever win in Sioux City with a 4-1 win over the Musketeers. Then we played a Wednesday night game in Indiana. We had a 2 goal lead in the 3rd but let it slip and lost 4-3 in OT. There is no glass half-full on this point. Indy is leading us by quite a bit in the standings and this is a division foe we need to get 2 points against and leave them empty handed on the night.

Earlier in the week we added Alex Rauter, a trade from the Omaha Lancers in exchange for a draft pick. The forward has decent size and sounds like he has a good skill set but just hasn't managed to get ice time in the formidable Lancers offense. He'll get a good chance to show us what he can do since Josh Melnick will be out for at least this weekend and team captain Alfred Larsson now on the IR. Tommy Parran, an emerging leader on defense, will be sidelined and Sean Romeo still won't be seeing any action between the pipes. Swapping Jake Moore for Colin DeAugustine may have been a good move but how long until we wear him down as well. It doesn't look like the Phantoms are willing to start Ryan Bednard who is only 16 years old. With Parran out and DeAugustine getting ridden the long haul here we need to step up the team defense. I'd also like to see either Lukas Klok, who was highly touted, or Alex Smith, who has a lot of USHL experience, to step up and take charge.

Our first opponent this weekend is Chicago. We beat the Steel in a shutout earlier in what was DeAugustine's USHL debut. The Steel are an improved team, having made a few roster moves and playing better overall, but still the only team in the East lower in the standings than the Phantoms. Let's keep widening that gap. It's also the Teddy Bear toss game, so bring something stuffed to throw. Next is Team USA U18. The NTDP teams don't seem as bulletproof as at the start of the season but we're still 0-3 and we're still trailing them by a lot in the Eastern standings. An odd, confusing, addition to the U18 squad is goal tender Collin Olson. The 19 year old netminder was playing for Ohio State University until early November when he left to come back to the USHL; he had played two seasons with the NTDP. Cedar Rapids had his rights and traded his to Sioux City. However, he is not eligible to play for any USHL team until the current semester at OSU is over - except the NTDP. Don't ask me I don't understand it myself. The leagues bylaws are like voodoo, old and unwritten dark rituals and incantations to be performed in the middle of the night for nefarious deeds.

It will be the simple things that make or break us this weekend like clearing the zone cleanly and getting pucks in deep. We have to watch turnovers in the grey areas around the bluelines and for Pete's sake, we need to finish teams off in the 3rd when we have them down. It's getting later and later in the season. We're starting to look better, we're at least playing like a .500 team but we have to try to get back to at least .500 here soon. Guys need to step up as leaders. In addition to Klok or Smith on defense, I'd like to see a big weekend out of Josh Nenadal. With Larsson gone for a while, he's been promoted to interim team captain. And as always, I'd like to see a loud Covelli crowd giving our guys some motivation and making it as uncomfortable as possible for the other team. Please drive safely though, it may be nasty out there this weekend.

Well it's Friday and more importantly, (in my best Mike Lang voice) it's a hockey night in Youngstown. After a split decision in 2 rounds against Fago last weekens Fargo, the Phantoms get a home-and-home against our arch nemesis, the Muskegon Lumberjacks. The reason I wait until Friday morning to write this is because this league likes to spring things on you at the last minute and that's just what these two clubs did yesterday evening. Late Thursday, they announced a trade. Phantoms forward, #88 Blake Christensen, has been sent to the 'Jacks for a 6th round Phase II (Futures) draft pick. We also swapped Phase I (Entry) draft picks, the Phantoms getting the 'Jacks 3rd round and the 'Jacks getting the Phantoms 4th round and picked up 'future consideration.' FC terms are always sketchy but Muskegon also is announcing that the Phantoms get one of their affiliate forwards in the deal, James Winkler of the USPHL (premiere) Portland Jr. Pirates. The 6'3" 194 pounder has 6 goals and 1 assist in 16 games with his current club. He's a 1995 birth year player (18 years old) but born on January 1st so he's about as old as a '95 player as you can get. He's a 1996 birth year (4/22) and a commit to Northeastern University.*

I'm not sure how Christensen fits into Muskegon's picture since tonight is our first look at them. They've only a few returning players from last season from what I can discern. It's not out of the question that Christensen plays tonight in Youngstown or tomorrow in Muskegon but probably not. Matt Iacopelli is the Lumberjacks top scorer but they have a nice balanced mix of contributors down their roster. Trevor Morebeck is one of those contributors but he'll be sitting out the weekend due to a 2 game suspension for an Elbowing infraction last Saturday against Dubuque. Additionally Mason Jobst, on of their most experienced players, is on the IR. This sets up affiliate Grant Jozefek for his first USHL game. Don't let the fact that he's only 16 years (and 20 days) old fool you. In his freshman year at high school he led all scorers in the State of New Jersey with 51 goals and 52 assists. He added 109 points in the Atlantic Youth Hockey League and 3 goals and 10 assists in 8 games with the New Jersey Hitmen of the USPHL (U18). He'll definitely be a kid to watch out for and not just in the future.

The Phantoms get head coach Anthony Noreen and sniper Kyle Connor back from the World Jr. A Challenge. The Phantoms representatives in Nova Scotia won the gold and hope to translate the experience into something positive for the Phantoms. This was Noreen's first time getting the nod for a tournament like this so I'm especially interested to see what he can bring back to our table. With Christensen being shipped off to the enemy and no affiliates coming in that I know of, I assume we'll be getting back some injured players... or at least I hope so. Other than that I don't have much to talk about for the Phantoms.

Now for this week I expect a much more physical game and it's not like we've been playing soft. I mean we need to get to hitting anyone who touches the puck and including the goalie. I wouldn't mind seeing a goalie interference call, but one of the keys to winning will be keeping emotions in-check in a hard hitting game. 'Initiate, don't retaliate' is the expression and I think that will be the way to go here. If you see the refs arm go up against them, just walk away. I think net-front presence is the other key. We need to outnumber their players in front of the cage. Muskegon has a good tandem in net with Eric Schierhorn and Jordan Uhelski. Schierhorn (2.35 GAA, .937 SV%) played some the the NTDP last year and is 4-4-0 this year and Uhelski (3.70GAA, .888 SV%) was Kevin Lindskoug's backup last season and is 4-2-3 this year. Rebounds, deflections and screens go a long way and we're not doing enough to set those up. I'd like to see bodies like Conor Lemirande parked in front of the cage, especially during poweplays. Steven Ruggiero is a defenseman, but he's a fast skater and has good skills for someone as young and with the frame that he has and I wouldn't mind seeing him go to the front of the net on the PP.

As always, a good crowd at the Covelli won't hurt the Phantoms any. The 'Jacks are a good rival and a fan favorite to come out to jeer against. Let's make them as uncomfortable as we can.

*Thanks to Hockey Fan for pointing out the correction and college commitment. 

Well, it's week 8 and the second week we'll bee without coach Noreen on the Bench or Kyle Connor on the ice due to the World Jr. A Challenge. Team USA is crushing the competition while the USHL teams look to their depth charts. The Phantoms had a dismal start to last weekends games, Sean Romeo re-injuring himself and struggling through 1 bad period which set the tone for the whole weekend. The second game showed a lot of promise but also a lot of areas we need to work on. I'm really not sure of the status of any of the scratch list except for one, which I'll detail later. Among the players missing last week were Kyle Connor, Keifer Sherwood, Alfred Larsson, Fredrik Larsson, Lukas Klok, Alex Carle and Sean Romeo. We brought in affiliate forwards Kevin Conley and Anthony Siderio and both played very well and at times looked like the bast players on the Phantoms bench.

This week we'll certainly see some new faces. Earlier in the week I detailed that we would be calling up Joseph Drabin from the Johnstown Tomahawks and yesterday the Phantoms announced that forward Trey Bradley would be joining us from the Wenatchee Wild of the NAHL. Bradley is 17 years old and check in at 5'9", 155 ponds. He has 9 goals and 7 assists (16 pts.), is a +1 rating and only 6 PIMS in 16 games. Bradley will don a #10 jersey and Drabin will wear #14. The Phantoms are obviously looking to generate some offense with the young call-ups. Also announced was that goaltender Ryan Bernard has been added to the roster. The 16 year old is from the Detroit Victory Honda U16 T1EHL midget minor squad (AAA) and checks in at 6'3", 180 lbs. He's played 4 games and recorded a 3-1-0 record with a .931 save % and 1.92 GAA. I doubt we'll see him any time soon but his stats indicate he may be able to play at the USHL level in a pinch. Also on the eligible call-up list is forward Grant Meyer from the Cleveland Barons U18 T1EHL midget major. Meyer, 17 years old, is 5'10", 180 lbs and in 8 games he's tallied 4 goals and 4 assists and 6 PIMs. Meyer was also eligible last weekend but did not play and probably won't play this weekend.

The only player I can confirm as out is Alex Carle. He was placed on the 45 day IR list on 11/5/13 retroactive 10/12/13, the last game he played (vs Indiana). I would speculate that Romeo won't be seeing the ice anytime soon by the addition of Bernard. The rest have 'made progress' but this is hockey so that just means they're still breathing.

And to this weeks opponent, the Fargo Force. The Force is a team that's really struggling. They're the bottom ranked team in the West, 3-9-0 6pts, and only ahead of Chicago for the overall leagues basement team by virtue of having played less games. They recently traded with Muskegon to get German forward Frederik Tiffels but the team is lacking any real offensive threats so far this season. Their goaltending duo looks solid on paper but it hasn't helped much. Chicago won a pair of games last weekend in Fargo, 3-0 and 5-3, and the force come into Youngstown having lost 7 straight games. Teams like this can be dangerous though, like a wounded animal, so we can't let our guard down. Again, this week I think a simpler game will work to our advantage. We need to focus on little things like discipline, getting everyone back on defense and creating traffic in front of the opposing goal. I'd also like to see the Covelli crowd create a hostile environment for the Force.

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