Well, I'm back in the swing of things, so here is this week's preview. The fact that we only have 1 game this weekend against the USA NTDP U17s (1-4-0-0), who I have very little data on at all makes this both easy and hard at the same time.

The Phantoms (4-3-2-0) are coming off the first part of a long road stretch where we split a pair of games against the Lincoln Stars, dropping the first one 5-3 before bouncing back for a 4-3 OT win. That leaves us a game above .500 early in the season, which is a good start for us.

The NTDP U17s usually have a pretty rocky start, this season is no different. They seem to have a talented squad but nothing like 2 years ago when they had Jack Hughes. But wait... the roster shows Jack Hughes! No, it's not a mistake - there is legitimately a Jack Hughes on the roster, but he's not that Jack Hughes. There is no relationship there, just one of those coincidences.

The leading U17 scoring forward, as far as USHL action is concerned, is Justin Janicke. His brother, Trevor, also played for the NTDP and the CIFA Flying Aces. Justin has  4g, 1a in 6 games so far on the season. Redmond "Red" Savage, son of NHL veteran Brian Savage, comes in second with 2g, 3a. In third place is Jack Devine with 1g, 4a and no prior relations to the NTDP or NHL.

It's Week 3, and the Phantoms (3-1-1-0) are looking to expand on last weekend's success at home. After sweeping the Lumberjacks, we'll have a big challenge this week with the Chicago Steel (3-0-0-0) rolling into town. Since this will be our last home stand before a long road stretch, this is an important weekend for the Phantoms. It's also one of those oddly scheduled weeks with a Sunday and Monday game so make sure you pay attention to the schedule.

The Steel have a good core group of experienced forwards, and a couple of those players are well known Phantom Killers. Gunnerwolfe Fontaine (3g, 1a) is one of those guys, 6g and 2a in 6 games against us last season although only 1g and 1a were in our barn.  Matthieu De St. Phalle is the other with 2g, 6a on us last season with a goal and an assist in Youngstown. Adding to their firepower this season is former NTDP player Sean Farrell who has 3g and 2a so far this season.

For defensemen, they have 7 players on the roster and all but 1, '03 born Ryan Ufko, have solid USHL experience. This early in the season that is worth it's weight in gold. Owen Power and John Spetz are both big game players who are defensively responsible and also known to be able to contribute on offense when needed. But with so many veteran blueliners, it's hard to single out just these 2 players, they're all good.

The hockey season is officially underway and the Phantoms (1-1-1-0) are looking to improve over a decent, but not great, opening week. After dropping the season opener at the Fall Classic in Cranberry, PA and bouncing back the next night for the first win of the season, then dropping a heart breaker in OT for a home opener, we're back again and facing an old rival in the Muskegon Lumberjacks (0-2-0-0). It's hard to tell how heated things will get in the early season but these two teams have met each other in some pretty chippy contests in the past.

The Jacks dropped both of their games at the Fall Classic. With returning forwards Alex Gaffney and Danil Guschin, the Jacks were expected to have a powerful offense. Cam Knuble, Oliver MacDonald, and newcomer Luke Mobley were also supposed to add to the fire power. We haven't seen that so far. Gaffney and Gushin were held off the scoresheet in Cranberry with only MacDonald and Mobley scoring a goal a piece. AJ Hodges looked like he could add some offense if the team could just get rolling.

On defense, during the Fall Classic, I thought veteran Nash Nienhuis and ex-OHL blueliner Zach Malik were extremely good on both defense and offense with both netting a pair of assists, the only players on their roster with multiple points so far. John Prokop and Ryan Poorman looked competent.

In net is where things look bad for the Jacks. Last season Brandon Bussi took the reigns for Muskegon. The netminder snuck into the lineup and took advantage of an injured returner and some other situations to lead the Jacks to the playoffs with some exceptional goaltending. Eventually backing him up was Ryan McInchak, who was traded in preseason to Des Moines. And out of the 5 netminders on their original protected/affiliate list, only Jack Williams made the team. Williams was originally drafted by Chicago, but was picked up in a trade for picks.