So it begins... again. Yes, we're finally back with some hockey, and it's a busy week to begin the season.

First off, the Phantoms head to Cranberry, PA to the Fall Classic and face an Eastern Conference opponent in Cedar Rapids, and a Western Conference foe with Tri-City. Then, for good measure, we're back home at the Covelli Centre to face Madison. All this after only playing a handful of games in preseason and those having been against Tier II teams (NAHL). At least we won those, it would be embarrassing to lose to NAHL teams. Yes, Muskegon, I'm talking about you.

First off, the RoughRiders. Last season was a rebuild year for the 'Riders and this year they are hoping to continue that. They have a few returning forwards that could be dangerous this season. Grant Silianoff is their returning leading scorer, who had 41 points (18g, 23a) last season, as well as showing up on the NHL CSS reports. Jack O'Leary (7g, 15a) and Max Sasson (8,9) are both guys who the 'Riders will look to for veteran points. 

On defense for the 'Riders, having Will Francis back will be a big boon. The Anaheim Ducks draftee has a +/- of +9 while adding 2g and 8a. Will Zmolek will be back on the blueline after adding 4g and 22a last season while keeping a +1. 

In net is where things get weird for Cedar Rapids. Troy Kobryn was assumed to be the top guy in goal but that changed when he left for Merrimack College. Turns out Merrimack's newest recruit, Christian Stoever, deferred a year and the 'Mack brought in Kobryn to replace him. If you'll remember, the 'Riders traded Stoever to us last season. Stoever ended up in Des Moines where he started his USHL career before moving to Cedar Rapids. Small world, huh?

Well, here we go. It's the "second season" and you can pretty much hit the reset button. The Phantoms (0-0) did not get the help they needed this weekend from Central Illinois (R.I.P.) or Muskegon, so they finish in third place in the Eastern Conference with no bye in the first round.

This means we face the 6th place team, the Dubuque Fighting Saints (0-0). We've played the Saints four times, dropping the first one at the Fall Classic, but beating them the next 3. We havn't faced them since December 30th, so a lot has changed since then.

The Saints are an odd team. Despite being one of the biggest teams in the league, 2nd in average weight at 187lbs and 1st in average height at 6'2", a lot of their damage is done by smaller players. Matias Maccelli is their top scorer by far, leading the team in both goals and assists, 31 and 41 respectively, which tied him with Erik Haula as the top scoring Finnish player to have played in the USHL. The 5'11", 165lbs winger is a projected 3rd round NHL Draft pick, can stick handle in tight spaces and has a great shot.

Keeping with the trend of smaller forwards is the line that is probably the most exciting to watch outside of our 3M line, the lineup of Reise Gaber (22g, 28a), and the Jackson twins, Dylan (13g, 31a) and Ty (15g, 25a). The line averages 5'8" and 151lbs but use their speed and agility to drive teams crazy.

They do have some larger forwards that will contribute in their own way. Derick Contessa (11g, 9a) and Cooper Haar (6g, 11a) can grind players down on the boards, both are 6'3" and 205+ lbs. Willie Knierim, who left Ohio State after 2 seasons there, is the big guy to watch at 6'3", 206lbs. However, he has also put up 18g and 29a and also leads the team in PIMs with 140, double the next guy in line.

Well, it's come down to the last week of the regular season. We've come a long way from the start of the season in Cranberry, and we're still fighting for postseason positioning. We're not 100% in charge of our own destiny, we need a little help with Chicago, but a pair of wins would put the Phantoms (34-21-1-4) into a second place seed in the East and a first round playoff bye. That means we don't have to play 5 games in 6 days and possibly 7 game in 10 days. To get to that 2nd place spot we need to jump ahead of Chicago, who has a the tiebreaker over us, and keep pace with Cedar Rapids, who we hold the tiebreaker over. All of this means we need to win at least 1 game and probably both against the NTDP U17s (7-18-1-5).

I haven't done a preview on either of the NTDP teams this season, mostly due to lack of time. The U18s are well documented, I didn't really feel the need. The U17s, I didn't really have the scouting data I've had on other U17 teams. Since there is a possibility we'll see these guys in the post season I wanted to get something out.

For forwards, Thomas Borderleau is their leading scorer with 10g and 11a in 31 games. However, this is offset by a plus/minus of -23. Behind him is Luke Tuch, the younger brother of former NTDP and current Las Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch. The younger Tuch has good size and skill. He's played in 27 games and has 5g, 11a, and a little less hideous +/- of -8.  On defense, I really like what I've seen of Eamon Powell. Powell (31gp, is a good two-way defenseman with good skating, good gap, and can move and shoot the puck. Jacob Truscott is another solid defenseman.

In net, Drew Commesso is the top guy for the U17s. He's played in 22 games with a 5-10-0-4 record, a 3.46GAA, a .891SV%, as well as a shutout. Backing him up is Noah Grannan with a 2-7-0-1 record in the 14 games he's appeared in. He's posted a 5.00GAA and .839SV%.