By Tom Williams
As the Youngstown Phantoms prepare for their fifth home opener, owner Bruce Zoldan says his mission is to wrap up a long-term deal with Covelli Centre officials sooner rather than later.
“I’m thrilled that we have another year of hockey,” Zoldan said at the team’s media day gathering Wednesday at the Covelli Centre. “My goal now is to work with [Covelli Centre manager] Eric Ryan and city officials to sign a new, lengthy contract.
“It’s really important for the team’s future to sign a [new contract] for beyond this year,” Zoldan said. “For us to be able to recruit, for us to be able to keep our coaches, for us to be able to be strong as an organization, we need an extended contract.”
Last weekend, the Phantoms began their fifth USHL season with 9-3 and 7-6 losses to Team USA in Ann Arbor. Mich.
Friday night and Saturday afternoon, the Phantoms will welcome the Green Bay Gamblers to the Covelli Centre for the first two of 30 home games.
“They are always good games, rivalry games,” third-season forward Zach Evancho said of the Gamblers. “In my first year, they swept us in the playoffs.”
Last season was the Phantoms’ most successful, rebounding from a 5-11-0 start to finish 37-27-0 and in third place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference.
The Phantoms split their first two playoff games in Green Bay, Wis., then swept the Gamblers in the Covelli Centre games for the team’s first best-of-five series win.
“Beating them, especially in their rink, was such an awesome feeling,” Evancho said. “They are good, we’re good — it’s going to be a battle.”
In the Eastern Conference final, the Phantoms lost twice to the Dubuque Fighting Saints in Iowa then won two games at the Covelli Centre to force a Game 5.
The Fighting Saints won that deciding game, 4-0, and went on to sweep the Fargo Force to win the Clark Cup for the second time in three seasons.
In May, the Phantoms and city reached a deal for the final season on the Phantoms’ original five-year deal. The city declined to have the Phantoms pay $75,000 to seal the fifth-year option.
Nine Phantoms return from the 2012-13 squad, including forward Alfred Larsson who was announced as team captain.
“I just found out,” said Larsson, who explained that the players voted on Tuesday. “I’m really honored and really excited.”
Last season was Larsson’s first away from Sweden. He played 49 games for Youngstown, scoring eight goals and making 11 assists. In the nine playoff games, he scored one goal and made two assists.
“The five guys that they picked, I don’t think they could represent us any better,” said Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen, referring to Larsson and the alternate captains Sean Romeo, Josh Nenedal, Luke Stork and Tyler Spezia.
Each player plus the coaches and support staff had three votes.
“Alfred is someone everyone voted for,” Noreen said.
Larsson spent three months after the playoffs in his hometown of Malmo, Sweden.
“Last year as a rookie, I had never been outside of Sweden before,” Larsson said. “It was a big change for me to come here to the States. Great teammates and a great coaching staff took care of me. This year, it’s time for me to lead.”
Zoldan said his job is to push Covelli Centre officials for a deal sooner than later.
“The Phantoms are the sports foundation of the Covelli Centre,” Zoldan said. “We want to make sure that we have this gem in downtown Youngstown. I have to convince [them] that we can’t wait for the season to end.”