Sorry (again) for no recaps from last weekend; I didn't catch the games. I can easily find a few talking points and I think I'll focus on the 3rd period. Remember when things went so well last year? We were dominating teams in the 3rd period, our period! We coughed up 3 goals in the 3rd to blow a 2 goal lead to the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. The 'Riders are a solid veteran team and we out played them most of the game. This is what happens if your not careful and finish a team off and losses like these hurt you in more than just the standings. The NTDP's U17 kids know this already. The Phantoms had more than a few chances to tie the game in the 3rd against Team USA and couldn't finish on any of them.

Now we enter a couple weird weeks. It's World Junior A Challenge time. Kyle Connor is just in his second year and we already have come to expect he'll miss some games here and there for tournaments. What's new to us this years is that we'll be missing bench boss Anthony Noreen who will be assisting Green Bay's Derek Lalonde along with Sioux City's Mark Abalan. I can't say enough just how much each of these guys deserve their spots, USA Hockey should be lauded for their selections here. I've seen some arguments about their player selection but I won't comment on that here. A head coach is a big spot to be missing for a couple weeks but we have to pull through and I can't imagine a better tandem than Brad Peterson and Michael Zucker to hold the reigns in absentia Noreen.

This weekend out opponents are the Sioux Falls Stampede, coming in 2nd in the Western conference at 7-2-1 15pts. For their part they'll be without their top line of CJ Franklin, Dennis Kravchenko and Zeb Knutson who will be joining Connor and Noreen in Nova Scotia. These guys figure in most of the Stampede's scoring. This is a huge break for the Phantoms but don't kid yourself, there is still some latent potential there that could use the increased ice time to break out. They have a solid defensive crew with a bit more experience than ours, something to keep an eye on. They have one of the best goalie tandems in the league with David Jacobson and Arthur Brey, the latter being acquired after he was released by Dubuque. The netminders haven't put up the stellar records of last year though and despite having such a good back-end the Stampede are no strangers to giving up an unhealthy amount of goals in a game.

The Phantoms will be bringing in a couple affiliates to fill slots with Connor out. Forwards Anthony Siderio (1996) and Kevin Conley (1997) will suit up this weekend, wearing #10 and #14 respectively. Also noteworthy is that the Phantoms officially dropped Jake Moore and added Colin DeAugustine. the USHL announcement came this morning on Twitter. No word from the Phantoms yet. Moore played badly but I think he deserves some credit for hanging in there and hopefully he's getting a look from teams elsewhere. I won't speculate if DeAugustine will get the nod in a game this weekend but Romeo hasn't been exactly consistent coming off his injury.

I guess I should wrap up with some sort of storyline for the weekend. I guess the game plan should be KISS, keep it simple (something.) Without Noreen on the bench we need to focus on little details and not turning this into a run-and-gun game. Line changes and on ice match ups are a good place to start. I wouldn't mind seeing some defensive hockey this weekend, insulating whoever is in net. Also, with Connor and Noreen out I'd like to see the veteran leaders step their games up. In particular, captain Alfred Larsson and alternate Josh Nenadal could be more prevalent on the scoreboard. in 23 combined games the two have only 4 assists (Larsson 3, Nenadal 1) and 0 goals. Larsson's leadership is evident on the ice but he a -13 in the +/- column, Nenadal is -8.

Also tonight is breast cancer awareness night and I don't have any pink to wear Cry

Well this is going to be a short, generic preview. Things are getting to the normal grind. There are no major stories to report this week, at last not anything official. Romeo should be starting at least one game, I would expect both with there being a night off between the games. I suppose I have to put some spin on it, so how about payback weekend. Both teams we face have been off to great starts that included stealing a game a piece from the Phantoms in the 3rd Period.

Tonight the Phantoms take on the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Cedar Rapids has played the fewest games in the USHL and come in 4-1-0. Despite playing half the number of games that Youngstown has played, they've scored 1 more goal. The goals have come from 16 different players but most seem to be funneled through Andrew Poturalski and Jason Kalinowski. Sunday night, the Phantoms take on Team USA (U17) in Ann Arbor. This years U17 is, IMHO, one of the best I've seen and certainly one of the quickest to get everyone in synch. They have a lot of scorers and play makers.

The strategy should be the same for both games - play tight and stop the bad goals. Both games we played before were winnable, tied in the 3rd period. Now that Romeo is back between the pipes, we just need to keep it simple. We need to capitalize on our chances and play our game, not match theirs. Sounds easy, right?

OK, so I've heard a few people talking about a slow start to the season and how this team compared to last years team. Chatter around the Covelli and on social media is mostly optimistic but there are a number of people who seem to want to write us off already, I call this CBFS (Cleveland Browns Fan Syndrome.)  I think we've a few cases of selective amnesia. Things certainly haven't been all roses but a little perspective needs to be restored.

Let's look at how things have started this year. We opened on the road and got spanked by the kids from the Team USA NTDP. We split overtime games on opening weekend with Green Bay, they one the opener and we won the night after. Then we went to Iowa and lost late in a winnable game against Cedar Rapids before getting outmatched by Waterloo the next night. All of the preceding were with backup goalie Jake Moore, whom I'll discuss later. We called up Colin DeAugustine from the NAHL just to give Moore a rest and DeAugustine earned us our first consecutive wins with a shutout at home against Chicago then on the road for a shootout victory in Indiana. Sean Romeo returned for last weeks home games, dropping a 3-1 game to Indiana and then blanking Lincoln in a 1-0, goalie battle for and overtime win. That brings us to 4-5-1, 9 points in the standings.

Last season, this many games into the season, we were 4-6-0, 8 points. Sure we won our first 4 games, but we lost the next 6. Actually we lost the next 7 in a row and 11 out of the 12 after those 4 early wins. Already we're a half game better in the standings this year. Last years early skid really didn't seem to turn the corner until the middle of November around the time of the JT Stenglein/Cam Brown trade. I also remember fans thinking that was it for the season and we were starting to rebuild for this year. I'm guessing people forgot that down the final stretch and into the playoffs. And I don't want to forget that we acquired Josh Nenandal at the end of October. Another difference between last year and this year is that most of our losses have been in closer games, one we could have won. I pretty much consider a 'winnable game' one we're not losing by more than a goal going into the 3rd period. Out of the first 6 losses last season , only 1 was what I call a winnable game.  Of the 5 losses this year, 3 were winnable.

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