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Will area residents embrace new Phantoms? We hope so

Published: Sat, October 3, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

The Mahoning Valley SteelHounds professional hockey team is fading from memory; the Mahoning Valley Phantoms junior hockey team has ceased to exist; the city of Youngstown-owned sports arena downtown boasts a new name, the Covelli Centre; and tonight marks the beginning of the first season for the Youngstown Phantoms, a member of the United States Hockey League.

They say change is good — but only if people embrace it.

Thus the question: Will the Phantoms, an amateur team, have more success than the SteelHounds, which skated onto the region’s sports and entertainment scene in November 2005, but bowed out in April 2008?

The owner of the new team, Bruce Zoldan, the Valley business leader who had previously owned the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, is optimistic. So is his son, Alex, team president, and coach Bob Mainhardt, who also coached the old team.

And there’s the eternal optimist, Eric Ryan, director of the Covelli Centre. Ryan has been around long enough to have experienced the disappointment of not only losing anchor tenants — the SteelHounds and the Mahoning Valley Thunder arena football team — but also having to deal with the arena’s name change.

From the time the facility opened in 2002, General Motors has paid for the naming rights. The Chevrolet Centre became a symbol of a global corporation’s commitment to the region’s quality of life.

But with GM’s financial implosion, the priorities changed.

The city of Youngstown’s search for a replacement brought forth Valley business leader Sam Covelli. For Mayor Jay Williams, Ryan and others associated with the sports and entertainment facility, the local connection is significant and important.

Thus tonight, the opening season of a locally owned hockey team, in a publicly owned arena, bearing the name of a local entrepreneur does offer an intriguing story line.

People power

In the end, however, the success of the Youngstown Phantoms and the Covelli Centre depends on the people of the Mahoning Valley.

As the experience with the SteelHounds illustrated, sustained public support is essential.

What is being promised tonight and for the 29 other home games, not including playoffs, is exciting, fast-paced hockey played by 16 to 20 year olds who hope to grab the attention of scouts for major colleges and National Hockey League teams.

Last July, at the news conference officially unveiling the newest USHL team, Alex Zoldan made the following promise about the games to be played at the Covelli Centre:

“We will have entertainment in between, something for everyone. It will be a night of entertainment with outstanding hockey, plus fans will have the ability to watch kids who someday may be in the NHL. They will have the talent to go there.”

Tonight’s game should be everything that’s been promised — and more. The Phantoms play the Indiana Ice, the reigning Clark Cup champion.

So to the question, “Will Valley residents embrace the new hockey team?” — not only do we hope so, we believe they should.

It’s about region’s quality of life, a key ingredient in the effort to attract new businesses and high-wage jobs.


1Tugboat(759 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

Can anyone recall exactly how many times we've been asked whether or not we will embrace something like this? Quality of life issues are hinged on sports?

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2smarterthanthat(10 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

Opening night attendance: 1,854. It's all down hill from here. We don't want to watch 20u amateur hockey. We told you what we wanted. We told you we didn't want the USHL. Give me the "I" any day (and I know the "I" could easily stand for inferior). ECHL is perfect. The city and Ryan panicked. Note that other teams/leagues are still calling to inquire, even in this economy. Even in this market. Such is life as a minor league town. Teams will come and go. Hopefully this one goes soon to make room for something better.

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3andersonathan(687 comments)posted 6 years, 9 months ago

One can only assume the if the current hockey team is for 16-20 year old kids. That the Valley is changing, that we can expect "Hockey Moms" to start appearing on the local scene. We can also expect that there are junior leagues around to bring young players under 16 up into this league. That there will be a movement in this area also to feed the team in young fresh talent.

I would have to say future hockey players come from skating rinks that in prospective have pee wee hockey?

I think it is great that there is a team again in the city and right now any team will do. I do think if people are putting their eggs in a basket wishing for support from a torn up community and area. Then give the people some thing worth separating cash from our wallets. Great Arena I worked there. But for a junior league it is called cheap general admission seating and cheap beer and cheap food, cheap t-shirts and caps. And then the key to it is winning. And when you are winning and producing winners and future players that have gone on to better hockey leagues. Then ask me for a little more for seats, beer and food.

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