The Phantoms (18-19-5-1) really needed a good weekend at home to keep themselves moving forward in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They managed a pair of regulation wins against Muskegon, and this week they make another bus trip to Iowa. First up is a stop in Waterloo to face the Black Hawks (29-11-2-0) then it's on to Des Moines to face the Buccaneers (19-21-1-2).

The Hawks are led by a group of veteran forwards. This includes the teams top scorer Xander Lammpa (13g, 28a), a skater with excellent puck and stick handling skills. Griffin Ness (17g, 23a) is a versatile two-way forward who takes pride in playing defense as well as being the Hawks leading goal scorer. Wyatt Schingoethe (13g, 28a) to me is one of the more interesting players on the Hawks. The NHL CSS C-ranked skater was tendered last season by Waterloo and played all 62 games of the regular season last year, plus 3 of the Hawks 4 playoff games. He has a high hockey IQ and a very developed all round set of skills. Another, high C-ranked forward for the Hawks is former NTDP player Ryder Rolston (15g, 14a), who had 4g and 1a in 6 games against the Phantoms last season.

On defense, Brehdan Enghum (3g, 12a) leads the team in  +/- at a positive 19, as well as leading the defense in scoring. Ethan Szmagaj (0g, 14a) is a good skater and playemaker who can use his wheels or his passing to get the puck out of trouble and up ice for a scoring chance. Mason Reiners is a stay at home defenseman that interests me as someone who might be a dark horse draft pick.

In net is where the Hawks shine. Gabriel Carriere is the #18th ranked NHL CSS netminder for North America. In his 28 games played he has a record of 17-6-2-0 and has posted a 2.82 GAA, a .899 SV%, and a shutout so far for the season. Logan Stein, in his second USHL season, is more than a capable backup. His stats are actually better than his partner but his NHL CSS ranking is only #28. With 19 appearances under his belt this season he has a 12-5-0-0 record, an impressive 2.22 GAA, an equally envious .915 SV%, and a league leading 4 shutouts. Two goalies on the NHL's scouting report is impressive and a huge reason for Waterloo's success this season.

Well, if you are reading this, we're back in full swing. With updates being a little hit or miss the past couple weeks, it's good to be back to normal operations. The (16-19-5-1) Phantoms need to get back to "normal" and by that I mean .500. That's not happening this weekend but we can get close. And to help we have the Muskegon Lumberjacks (18-19-4-0) rolling into town and we've had a lot of success against them this season.

First up is offense. The 'Jacks have had a few issues scoring, same as us. Danil Gushin (18g, 20a) and Alex Gaffney (12g, 16a) are the names that have been mentioned a lot this season, I've covered them enough. Rhett Pitlick (12g, 22a) will be the big focus of this preview. Rhett, a 5th round Montreal Canadians draft pick, isn't the power forward his older brother Rem, former 'Jacks forward and the USHL's 15-16 season goal-assist-points leader/Player of the Year. Rhett is a smooth, hard skating forward with soft hands. His speed and agility can throw defenders for a loop, good luck getting a solid hit on him when he's moving.

Christophe Fillion is a guy who's flown under the radar but is now third on the team in scoring with 11g, 18a. He notched a pair of goals against us on New Years Eve in the 'Jacks only win against the Phantoms this season. Cameron Berg, a fast skating forward, came to the 'Jacks in December in a trade from Omaha where he was originally tendered. He has 16g and 12a in 38 games, 14 of his goals and 10 of his assists came in 24 games in Muskegon.

Well, the Phantoms (16-17-5-1) are still struggling to break the .500 mark again. Last weeks 3 of 4 possible points against Cedar Rapids was offset by the previous 1 out of 6 points to Green Bay. That leaves us pretty much spinning our wheels in the 6th spot in the East. That's the good news for the week. The bad news is, this week we get our first taste of the Eastern Conference's 2nd place team, the Dubuque Fighting Saints (25-9-1-0). A lot has been said in the media about the Chicago Steel's loaded roster, overlooking the Saints and what might be one of the most exciting offenses we've seen in a while. Let me tell you why this squad is worth the price of admission.

The offense for the Saints is lead by the '01 born Jackson twins, Ty (13g, 32a) and Dylan (16g, 26a). They're not the biggest players in the league but they're fast, they're crafty, and they can give your defense fits trying to keep tabs on them on the ice. They have the vision, IQ, and the creativity to match their speed, and that makes them as dangerous as any linemates in the league. Riese Gaber isn't related by blood to the Jacksons but he is certainly cut from the same cloth (24g,12a). You can just go back and reread the description of the twins and you know what Gaber is about. Mark Chermeta, (15g, 22a) is a good east-west player who can pull the trigger on a shot or set up for a pass. Former Central Illinois Flying Ace Stephen Halliday (8g, 17a) is the only Saint currently on the NHL's scouting report. Halliday is a bigger forward who can use his size and passing ability to make plays. He's fairly cool-headed and able to think on his skates.

On the blueline, they have a good core group. Aiden Fulp (1g, 9a) is a seasoned USHL defensemen with a good head on his shoulders. Braden Doyle (7g, 19a), a 6th round L.A. Kings draft pick,  is a good offensive defenseman who has good poise, skating and play making ability. If he manages to get a little better at defensive positioning, he might be a force to reckon with. Kaelan Taylor and Luke Robinson are both very good at keeping the puck out of their own net and have a +/- of +20 and +19, respectively.