John Padulo never expected to be here.
In Youngstown, or anywhere else in the USHL.
“I never really thought I’d be playing at this level of hockey,” the Youngstown Phantoms forward said. “I’m very blessed.”
Last year, he was a member of the Muskegon Lumberjacks that finished 17-35-8.
It wasn’t fun,” Padulo said. “It’s definitely a big change for me being in Youngstown for the first year. [Muskegon] wasn’t a playoff team, we were in last place and had a lot of troublemakers on that team.”
Now, he’s second on the Phantoms in points (20) and leads in assists (17). In last Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Steel, Padulo was held off the score sheet for the first time in the last eight games.
“I always try to work on my offensive game,” he said. “Playing with [Austin] Cangelosi and [Kyle] Conner really has helped me improve.
“I’m in a better place for me and my career. I never really thought I’d be a Phantom. I did some things to these guys that I kind of regret.”
Without mentioning any current teammates, specifically, Padulo said he picked one too many fights with last year’s Phantoms and definitely didn’t deter anyone from fighting him.
“We got over it pretty quick,” he said. “We can joke about it.”
Sam Anas, second year Youngstown player, admitted the Lumberjacks were its biggest rival last year, but that has since changed to the Dubuque Fighting Saints.
“I definitely do not like that team,” he said, bluntly.
Dubuque has beaten the Phantoms (10-13) in all four meetings, this year, by a combined score of 18-7.
“They feel like they’re superior to every other team,” Anas said of the first- place, 19-3-1 Saints. “They are playing very well right now, so they deserve it. But we’re not going down without a fight.”
Tonight, Youngstown faces Des Moines for the second time. It beat the Buccaneers, 4-3 in overtime, on Sept. 29.
“We still feel like we owe them,” Anas said. “We snuck it out with two goals in the final minute, so we really want to come out and dominate them this time.”
That’s the attitude of a leader.
Anas is an assistant captain, along with Cangelosi and Alex Dahl.
“I lived with former captains Mike Ambrosia and Dylan Margonari,” Anas said. “They set a really good example and I’m just following their footsteps.”
Padulo said he believes the Phantoms have greatly improved since that early season squeaker.
“We’re making plays now that we couldn’t make two months ago,” he said.