Well, we're back from the holiday break and have a big week ahead of us before we get to see the boys back at home. After dropping 4 in a row, 1 out of 8 possible points, the last 2 weeks before the break, the Phantoms (11-10-4-0) dropped to just a game above .500. That's rough with the first team we face coming back is the league's best, the Chicago Steel (19-4-1-0).

Then for good measure, we close out 2019 with a New Years Eve tilt in Muskegon (9-13-2-0) on Tuesday. I'm throwing that in with this week's preview since it closes out our road stand and I don't want to have to cram in a preview early next week. 

We're already pretty familiar with both of these teams so this is going to be pretty quick.

The Steel are loaded for bear, it's hard to look past that. Topping their offense is Matthieu De St. Phalle(16g, 14a), who is tied for the leagues lead in points with teammate Sean Ferrell (9g, 21a). Then you have Sam Colangelo (12g, 12a), a versitile, hard working winger with a heckuva shot. Add in another guy who is know to score a lot against Youngstown, Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (12g, 10a). And this is just scratching the surface of their forward depth. One player I've overlooked is Brendon Brisson (9g, 13a), a NHL CSS C-ranked skater who is always digging pucks out of the corner or winning a 50/50 battle somewhere on the ice.

As good as the Steel's forwards are, I think their defense is better. Owen Power (7g, 18a) is probably the most underrated defenseman in the league, possibly the most underrated skater, period. He's 11th in the league in points, top among defensemen by far. The only thing I can see as a possible strike against him is his +/- which is only a +1. We all know that stat is misleading, Power is a formidable player in his own end as well as on offense. Then with players like Uula Ruikka, John Spetz, and several other veteran blueliners, the Steel are tough at both ends of the ice.

We're back with the previews. This one is going to be short since I'm pressed for time, and we're playing a weak team we've seen a couple times already. This week the Phantoms (11-8-4-0) are heading back to Wisconsin to face the Madison Capitols (3-19-1-0).

So the Caps are bad. Really bad. Carson Bantle is about the only bright spot on the roster right now with 10g and 14a. They traded their second leading scorer, Kristof Papp (10g, 9a), to Des Moines for netminder Christian Stoever and Patrick Schmiedlin. This is one of those questionable trades, at least as far as Madison is concerned. Des Moines gets another decent scorer but lose a goaltender that many thought was having a very good season and challenging for the top spot for the Bucs.

Stoever, as Phantoms fans know from last season, is a more than capable netminder when he gets a little help from the five guys in front of him. There are netminders who stand on their head when hung out to dry by the defense, but Stoever is not Dominic Hasek. In his first game for the Caps he gave up 5 goals on 42 shots to Green Bay in a Gamblers shutout. Patrick Schmiedlin, a C-ranked skater on the CSS, played 2 games for the Caps and has 1 assist and 2 games worth of suspensions to serve.

I don't see either player for Madison able to make a significant impact on this year's run. Schmiedlin might be a piece of the puzzle for next season, if he sticks around, and Stover might be able to help a young netminder in rookie Simon Latkoczy (4.50GAA, .875 SV%). This season is probably a wash for the Caps. We'll see what happens when the USHL trade deadline nears. Anything is on the table then and some expect players to be looking for a trade out. Carson Bantle would fetch a good price if they were willing to trade him.

It's Thanksgiving week, and the Phantoms (9-6-3-0) have a full plate and I'm not talking turkey. Over the course of 4 days we'll play 3 games in 3 different cities, none of which are Youngstown.

First up, we'll work up an appetite with a trip up to Plymouth to face the NTDP U18s(11-7-0-0). Then back home for some dinner and a nap before heading up to Green Bay (9-6-1-2) on Friday then over to Madison (2-15-1-0) on Saturday for the leftovers. Yeah, we'll play almost as many road games in 1 week as we did home games over 2 weeks. Welcome to the USHL. Since I'm pressed for time to get this done before I head up to Plymouth for that game, I'm thankful we've played 2 of these teams this season and I can fall back on those preview articles.

I've already covered the U18s. Nothing much has changed here. Ty Smilanic has been out with injury, if he does make it back that'll be a big lift for the U18s. Forward Matthew Beniers and defenseman Tyler Kleven won't be in the lineup, they were both suspended for that game.

Green Bay will be the focus of this weeks article. We haven't played them yet and they have a pretty good team. Jesse Tucker was the Gamblers leading scorer last season and continues that this season with 11g, 9a. The underrated '00 is a fairly composed forward, ready to make a play or take the shot and can back check an help out on defense. Despite being injured for most of last season, McKade Webster (5g, 10a) was a late 2019 NHL Draft pick (7th round, Tampa Bay). He's a very competitive player who will use his speed to drive the defense back. Ryan O'Reilly (6g, 6a) was a 4th round Detroit pick last NHL Draft. He's bounced from Madison to Fargo and then Green Bay. He's big (6'2", 202lbs). He's got a laser shot, decent skating, and plays aggressive hockey. There is a lot to like with O'Reilly, you just hope he doesn't show it against the Phantoms.