I had the good fortune to see the Phantoms in both contest this past weekend. Taking the ice against a loaded and well prepared Team USA, and a developing Jacks group. Well like most all of the teams the Phantoms are facing a lot of "new". Team USA is not, and playing that way, so I'm not going to tell you what you know already about the 18 u team.
Starting on the bench for the Phantoms, Noreen was always a good LT on the bench under Carr. I have to say, however; there looks to be a new charge in the air. A positive charge. Noreen is intense. In a way that the boys look to, and identify with, fueling them. Smiles, head pats, and serious intent-full instruction are the order of the day culminating with selfless execution on the ice. This Phantoms team may lack on paper a lot of the skill they had last season. Yet the early look says they will be the best USHL team YT has ever put on the ice. Better bench leadership? Better locker room leadership? Better team chemistry than they have had since the NAHL Cup win? May be all three, but at the end of the day this Phantoms team will compete in all three zones, ever period, every shift.
In goal, the big, square O'Connor and the smaller, athletic Romeo goalies are up to the task. O'Connor had the start against USA. Had three bad goals beat him high, which for his size and style is unacceptable. I will give a pass at this early juncture considering that even though his d core is vet, there are some of the getting to know you breakdowns in d pairings and how those were overcome the next night at Muskegon, O'Connor gets a pass in my book. Romeo played an utterly kick ass game against Muskegon. Kid plays like other smaller athletic goalies and has good angles and save selections, determination and sound economy of motion, a stark contrast in look from the big quite footed O'Connor.
The D stand outs for the Phantoms are Liss, Gunn and Bradley. The other 3 of the 4 that I liked who played the best were Renouf, Lowney and Stevens. Each playing very good games, and communication was very good in the various pairings. Phantoms will remain defensively strong, and remain so again in part to the pure number of solid two way players who are forwards. As for Young I am not saying he is bad, or suspect in any way, just the others seem to be at that slight level above which will leave Noreen and company making a hard decision by the first.
Where the offense is considered I like the composition of this Phantoms roster, which again will leave the staff with a couple sleepless nights in making that determination. But here are my thoughts heading in to the Fall Classic. I am loving this great blending of small, fast east coast type forwards, and slightly bigger yet equally fast WCHA, CCHA forwards. My favorite fast East coast types start with BC comitted player Cangelosi who honest to god, looks like a second line Eagle right now, just needs the reps to be #1. Belonger, Ambrosia, Gacek, Annas, Culver, Gibson compose what I call the remainder of this group. They play a smart, fast paced game, with grit and determination every shift. The next groupl of CCHA, WCHA forwards starts with Conte, a physical, tough, in your face guy who is a driver, Collins a just an in your face and head guy who will go anywhere, and man he has a pair of hands that make you shake your head, kid has really hit his stride, and needs to play for a Miami or Mi. Sweetman, Zehnal, Margonari,Stenglein, shiring , Dahl and Kortinsky Round out the forwards in this group. Anticipate these Phantoms scoring more than in past seasons.
Now out in Sioux Falls, for the USHL fall classic, the Phantoms will be showing their stuff and finalizing their roster. The level of competition among these clubs, who's players represent what amounts the top 1% of all players in their age groups, is fast, and intense. Game action can now be followed for home viewers on www.fasthockey.com at the low price of roughly 8 bucks a game.