By Tom Williams
For USHL players eligible for this summer’s NHL Draft, honors don’t come any higher than being selected by professional scouts to play in the inaugural USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
Three Youngstown Phantoms — defenseman Chris Bradley and centers Austin Cangelosi and Richard Zehnal — are among the 40 players selected for the game that will be played on Jan. 24 at L.C. Walker Arena in Muskegon, Mich.
Because it’s his second year of draft eligibility, Bradley (1 goal, 6 assists, 7 points, plus-7 on even-strength goals) was the most surprised to hear he was selected.
“I was really excited,” said Bradley, who is in his second season with the Phantoms. “I figured it was going to be [18-year-olds] eligible for their first draft.
“So it was in the back of my mind but I was really wasn’t getting my hopes up about [being selected],” said Bradley who is committed to play college hockey for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute next fall.
Cangelosi said he was surprised when Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen told him.
“I’m excited to get to play with some of my teammates as well as some of the best players in the league,” said Cangelosi, a first-year Phantom who is second on the team in scoring with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists, plus-16). “It’s something that is kind of hard to wrap my head around.”
Zehnal also knew nothing about the game until he was informed he’d be in it.
“It was a happy surprise,” said Zehnal who is in his third USHL season but first with the Phantoms. “I feel honored to get to be a part of it.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Zehnal, who spent two seasons with the Sioux City Musketeers. This season, he has five goals, six assists for 11 points and is plus-5.
Zehnal hasn’t made a college decision and plans to play one more season in the USHL.
“I like it here a lot,” said Zehnal who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 210 pounds. “The coaching is great and it’s always better to be on a winning team. This has been fun — I love it here.”
Cangelosi said he feels he’s done “pretty well” as the season approaches the halfway point.
“I need to be more consistent bringing my ‘A’ game,” said Cangelosi (5-8, 165) who said he’s looking forward to the test of the Prospects game.
“We’ll get to see where we are at skill-wise against the best players,” said Cangelosi who is committed to play for Boston College in the fall of 2013.
The Phantoms (18-9-2, 38 points) are tied with the Dubuque Fighting Saints for third place in the rugged Eastern Conference. The top six teams in each conference advance to the playoffs.
“If anything, we were an under-rated team coming in and we’ve proved everyone wrong,” Cangelosi said. “Our goal is to prove that we can be successful at this level.”
Last year’s Phantoms missed the playoffs on the final day of the season. Bradley (6-4, 190) said the turnaround is “unbelievable. They type of team we have is so much different. It’s amazing what we can do when we work our best.”
Cangelosi’s hometown is Estero, Fla., so the colder winter in Ohio is different.
“Because of the guys on the team, I don’t mind living up here,” Cangelosi said. “But if it wasn’t for the hockey, I would absolutely hate [winter].”
Bradley admitted not being drafted last summer was disappointing.
“I’m just going to go out there and give it my best,” said Bradley who said the Prospects game won’t be like a high-scoring All-Star Game that lacks checking. “I think it’s going to be more of a showcase for the 40 kids who are involved in it.
“We’re going to be working hard to make the best impression for the scouts.”