By Tom Williams
For the past two months, Troy Loney has been spending a lot of time working with the Youngstown Phantoms front office staff.
So when asked how much he was enjoying watching hockey (OK, scrimmages but still hockey) instead of juggling numbers, a smile broke out on the face of the new co-owner of the USHL team.
“It’s nice to have the hockey stuff start back up,” Loney said while watching a scrimmage during the Phantoms’ tryout camp at The Ice Zone. “I do get enjoyment out the business stuff and the planning [for] marketing and sales.
“But for me, it all comes back down to hockey,” said Loney, a former Pittsburgh Penguin whose name is on the Stanley Cup twice. “I remember my feelings from being a kid going to camps. And even as a pro going to camps.”
Loney was referring to what the families of the Phantoms hopefuls on the ice are feeling. Dozens watched on Friday as players competed for the chance to join the USHL team, a member of the only Tier One junior hockey league in the U.S.
In the spring, Loney and his wife, Aafke, bought half of the Phantoms from Bruce Zoldan. Loney, who played 15 years in the NHL and was the first team captain for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, is running the team’s day-to-day operations.
The Loneys are no strangers to the Mahoning Valley. During the Phantoms’ first season in 2009-10, their son Ty joined the team in mid-season. The next season, Ty scored 23 goals to lead the Phantoms and finished second in team scoring with 42 points. The past three seasons, he’s been playing for the University of Denver.
“The people in the Youngstown area have been fantastic,” Loney said. “There seems to be a lot of excitement out there.
“I’m happy to talk and meet with organizations who want to know more, whether it’s the Phantoms or my [career],” Loney said. ”It’s always good to meet people and hear what their ideas and thoughts are.”
Oddly, this weekend’s tryout camp is Loney’s first with the Phantoms. Because Ty finished the first season on the active roster, his position was set for the second season. That summer, he was considered a veteran.
Loney identifies with the parents who are watching their sons try to make a dream come true.
“You can always feel the tension in the arena, mostly from the parents rather than the kids,” Loney said. “They can take care of it out on the ice.”
Eleven players from last season are in camp to secure roster berths for the fall. The other 120-or-so players include draft picks and free agents with experience from the North American Hockey League as well as elite travel teams and strong high school programs.
The roster was trimmed to 40 by Saturday evening. Today, head coach Anthony Noreen’s staff will select 25 players for the team’s protected list.
For the new owners, the main goal for the franchise’s sixth season is to increase attendance at Youngstown’s Covelli Centre. In their fifth season, the Phantoms averaged 1,402 for 30 games, the fourth lowest. The Loneys hope to see a significant jump.
Loney said there have been no surprises working with the team’s front office staff.
“It’s just different,” Loney said. “Aafke and I have thoughts and ideas that we have to put in place. There were some [good ones] here before.
“We’re trying to keep the foundation of things that were good and solid and change the things that, quite frankly, weren’t as good and solid, that weren’t working too well,” Loney said. “Our goal is to make sure that people understand that when they come to see our games that they are different, that there is more excitement in the building.”