By Greg Gulas
Hosting 215 candidates at their annual selection camp, all with heart and desire to become a member of the Youngstown Phantoms in the fall, has been the easy part for coach Curtis Carr.
Paring the squad to 25 by Wednesday as they prepare for a Sept. 1 reporting date remains his challenge.
Carr, who will enter his second full season as coach of the USHL club, admits that he has a different mindset at this year’s camp than a season ago.
“We’ve altered our plan and approach a bit this year. Last year we went after the best players, taking skill and speed because so many were very similar,” said Carr. “This year, we’ve identified areas of need and will go after players to fill those roles. What we haven’t altered, however, is that we want good kids with the right character.
“We want players who will have an impact both on the ice and in the community.”
The goalies camp attracted 46 candidates on Thursday and Friday with 16 players retained for Saturday’s games. Just six will be asked back workouts today through Wednesday.
“These are players that we’ve drafted along with high-profile free agents,” said Carr. “The difference, however, is that we have more returnees, more experience and more production returning.
“We’re concentrating on center men. We want gritty guys; players that bring a physical presence. We’ll be a better team and one that is more well-balanced,” Carr added.
The Phantoms lost five centers from last year’s squad with only Dylan Margonari (9 goals, 3 assists) returning.
Alexander Dahl, the team’s No. 1 pick from Eau Claire, Wisc. — whose brother, Jefferson, was the Phantoms captain and leading scorer two seasons ago — called the first few days a challenge.
“Working with veterans and taking shots on goalies was pretty tiring, having just gotten in after driving from Wisconsin,” said Dahl.
“I tried out last year and felt like I had to make a name for myself. This year, I feel more confident but there is still a long way to go,” he said.
Carr kept an eye on Dahl last year and remains very high on him.
“Alex is very detailed and disciplined and will face an adjustment period,” said Carr. “However, he is smart enough to play on the skilled first line yet defensive and disciplined to play on the third line.
“We’re very confident that he can fill the hole that was created when Cody Strang left for Bemidji State,” Carr said.
Patrick Conte of Niagara Falls, N.Y., an eighth-round pick who played last season for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, is very familiar with the Phantoms.
“I just want to use the camp to score some goals, make some hits and get under some guys’ skin. That is my game,” he said.
One player, Sam Anas of Potomac, Md., and the team’s No. 2 draft selection, was unable to take part in the camp after contracting the mumps earlier in the week.
“I was gearing up for camp for over a month with the hope of impressing the coaches. I just graduated from high school on Friday so it really has been a stressful week,” said Anas. “My plan, however, is to join the players the final two days and then get ready for September.”
Carr and assistants Anthony Noreen and Brad Patterson will give each player on the final roster a summer work-out program. They will also be responsible for four physical tests during that time and must report back to the staff so they can make sure they are on schedule for their fall return.
Camp will last 31/2 weeks with four exhibition games – two at home — and the three-game Fall Classic in Sioux City, Iowa, before they trim the roster from 25 to the mandated 23 players on Sept. 25.