Roster decision due today
By Kevin Connelly
For fourth-year Youngstown Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen, this is the fun time of year.
For the 40 players vying for 25 spots on the Phantoms’ roster, this is the stressful time of year.
Saturday, the second full day of the team’s tryout camp at the Ice Zone, gave the coaching staff a chance to begin piecing together who will be on this year’s roster.
A group of players, which started around 120 on Friday, was whittled down to 40 just before 4 p.m. on Saturday. The challenge for Noreen, his assistants, and new co-owner Troy Loney, will be picking the final 25 names for the Phantoms’ active roster.
“It’s always a challenge, but it’s exciting,” said Noreen after watching the first cut of players scrimmage one another Saturday evening. “You know for some of these guys it’s my first time seeing them.
“You hear about them and what they bring to the table, but to finally get to see them out there on the ice is great.”
One new name with perhaps the highest expectations attached to it, is Phantoms first-round USHL draft pick Lukas Craggs.
Growing up in suburban Chicago, Craggs comes from hockey. His dad played, his older brother, Zac, played at Miami (Ohio), and his younger brother, Sam, was an invitee to the Phantoms camp.
On the ice, Craggs isn’t overwhelming physically, but he does have a smoothness to his game that was evident from his first shift.
“I try to be a two-way player,” said Craggs of his style. “I like to show off my offensive skills too though.
“I just want to put the puck in the net and set up teammates for assists.”
When assessing his own performance two days into camp, Craggs wasn’t about to give himself a high grade.
“I’ve been alright,” the 18-year-old Craggs said. “I hope I can do better [Sunday] morning, but it’s going pretty good so far.”
One of the familiar faces flying around the ice was Kyle Connor’s, the team’s leading scorer last season.
The decorated forward is participating in his third tryout camp and at this point could almost run the weekend’s events himself. Instead, he’ll settle for being the undisputed leader for the Phantoms on the ice.
“The coaches are looking for hard-working, skilled guys,” said Connor, who represented the U.S. on two different occasions last year.
“If I see a guy make a play, whether it be bad or good, I kinda go over and give him some advice on what I think would work on the next level.”
That’s just the type of leadership Noreen hopes to see from his veteran goal-scorer when the 2014-15 campaign gets under way in September.
Ten of the final 40 players spent time in Youngstown last season. With plenty of ice time still up for grabs, a player like Craggs could become a major contributor early in his USHL career.
“[Guys] said it’s gonna be a big leap coming from AAA,” said Craggs, who was a member of Team Illinois U18 team last year. “They told me ‘you are just gonna have to do your best to prepare yourself for the upcoming season.’”
The final 25-man active roster will be decided today.