And just like in some fairytale movies, sometimes the heroes have to travel on a long journey to defeat the villain. Only this isn't a movie and the Phantoms (8-9-1-2) have to take a journey to Dubuque this week because the Covelli Centre kicked us out for Disney on Ice. Three home games that will be played on our opponents ice. I guess the villains are real, the Fighting Saints (11-5-2-2) are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference and third in the USHL. 

The Saints are stacked with veteran players and none more experienced in this league than Stephen Halliday, now in his fourth USHL season. In 175 USHL games he's amassed over 150 points and currently is tied for the most points in the league 15h and 17a (32 points). You don't play that many games in this league without a certain level of work ethic, and hard work is how Halliday scores his goals. Second in scoring is Connor Kurth (13g, 14a) who is in his second USHL season. He's an excellent skater and has a lot of finesse with his puck handling and puck movement, someone you never take your eyes off of when the biscuit is on his stick. Rounding out the top scorers with 22 points is a trio of second year players, Kenny Connors (10g, 12a), Trystan Lemyre (10g, 12a), and Ryan Beck (4g, 18a).  This is a very capable squad of forwards who can score or set up goals when needed.

On defense, the Saints aren't lacking in experience either. Michael Feenstra has 150 games under his USHL belt. Having more than four seasons experience on the blueline is of immeasurable value to any team. Looking over the stats and scouting reports you would almost miss Zane Demsey, 20 games played and a modest 7a on the season. Then you glance over to the +/- column and see he's a +19 so far, with only 20 games played. He's only been in the minus 2 games this season. That usually means you're doing your job well in your own zone. Another name that pops out is Lucas St. Louis, an '05 rookie defenseman. His father Martin was a prolific scoring forward in the NHL, a Stanley Cup winner with the Tampa Bay Lightning as well as an Olympic Gold Medal winner for Canada. His brother was a forward for the NTDP. It's odd seeing that name on the back of a dman's jersey. But someone has to play defense on the family team, I guess.

Well, once again I apologize for missing a preview and a recap. It was Chicago, and we know how those go anyway. This week the Phantoms (8-8-0-2) are back on the road against the Green Bay Gamblers (6-10-0-1) as both teams travel to Rochester, NY for the inaugural USHL America Cup. Since it really hasn't been that long since the Phantoms 7-2 rout of the Gamblers in Green Bay a couple weeks ago, this isn't going to be a normal preview. Plus, I have to pack so I think I'll change up the format a bit.

The Gamblers are a team on a bad slide. Last week they got their first win in 8 games, a 5-2 victory over the hapless NTDP U17s only to give up a 5-2 loss to the same U17s the next night. I am really hard pressed to come up with anything that I didn't cover in Week 8 and feel I may have over estimated the Gamblers a bit. Matt DeBoer wasn't mentioned last time and I was mildly surprised by his speed and skating ability. He is the son of Vegas Golden Knights head coach and former NHL player Pete DeBoer, and his brother Jack played 2 seasons with the NTDP. So it isn't that I wasn't expecting a certain degree of skill, but he exceeded that by more than a little. 

One of the notable changes for the Gamblers will be the addition of Wisconsin native, '03 forward Trey Zagrzebski from the OHL's Barrie Colts. In the shortened 19-20 season, Zagrzebski only recorded a goal and and assist in 43 games for Barrie. Last season, due to the OHL shutdown, he played in the USPHL's Premier division, opting to play in his home state for the Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings. Sure he put up over 2 points per game, 23g and 26a in 24gp, but this isn't even the top tier of Tier III league. This season in Barrie, he only dressed for 3 games and had 1 assist. Maybe playing closer to home will help him but this doesn't seem like a huge addition from my view.

We're officially sick of talking about Madison (10-3-1-0) but we still have to play them on Friday. The good news for the Phantoms(6-7-0-2) is that we beat them once (and lost once) last weekend, and this week it's only one game against the Caps. We'll also take a little trip across Wisconsin on Saturday to face Green Bay (5-7-0-1) for the first time this season, so I think I'll just focus on the Gamblers this week. They are right behind us in the standings, so this week will be a big test of just where we stand in this campaign.

The Gamblers rarely dazzle opponents with their scoring prowess. Their top scoring forward and leading goal scorer is Jackson Hallum (6g, 6a) a 3rd round Las Vegas Golden Knights pick in 2021. A lot of his success is from his skating ability and raw speed. Defenses have to be aware when he is on the ice, he can be gone in a second. John Mittlestadt is second among forwards in points and team in goals, with 5g and 1a. John is the brother of former Gambler and current Buffalo Sabre, Casey, and Luke, a current Madison Capitols defenseman. John follows his brother in having a pretty complete skill set and great awareness. Rounding out notable scorers is Brody Lamb, a 4th round New York Rangers pick in 2021. Lamb has a rifle shot but, while he chooses to shoot more often than not, is a good passer as well with good vision. You have to know what his options are before committing.

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