By Tom Williams
Someone with NHL connections is about to become part of the Youngstown Phantoms’ ownership.
This morning, the five-year USHL hockey team owned by Bruce Zoldan will announce a new partner who has ties to Pittsburgh and the NHL.
Zoldan, who is in Washington D.C. on a business trip for Phantoms Fireworks, said Wednesday that negotiations are continuing with the Covelli Centre for another season. The Phantoms’ five-year contract expires in April.
Eric Ryan, the center’s executive director, is on vacation. “We’re working together and negotiations are moving forward,” said Ken Bigley, Covelli Centre assistant manager.
Neither Ryan nor Zoldan will be at the press conference.
It’s not the first time that current or former Penguins have been involved with Youngstown hockey and the Covelli Centre.
On Jan. 17, Penguins goaltender Jeff Zatkoff (10-3-1-1) and his fiancee, Kristen Smith, were guests of Zoldan for a Phantoms game. Smith and Phantoms goaltender Sean Romeo are from Cary, N.C. Years ago, she was the baby-sitter for the Romeo family.
“It’s exciting for me to watch him go through the ranks of the USHL and college,” Zatkoff said. “I know kind of what he’s going through.”
Romeo is in his third full season with the Phantoms. He set the franchise record for victories (31) last season.
“It’s nice to see him develop,” Zatkoff said. “I’ll be excited to see him go on to [the University of] Maine.”
The next night, Troy Loney and his wife, Aafke, were guests of Zoldan during the Phantoms’ “Pittsburgh Penguins Night.” Their son, Ty, was a Phantoms forward during the first two seasons.
A member of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup champion teams in 1991 and 1992, Troy Loney dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff. At that time, two of Loney’s former teams (Pittsburgh and Anaheim) led the NHL’s Eastern and Western conferences.
“But I also played for the Islanders and Rangers, and they [aren’t doing as well],” Loney said.
In August 2008 (two months after the Youngstown SteelHounds were kicked out of the Central Hockey League), Loney and former Penguins Phil Bourque (current Pens radio analyst) and Mark Kachowski were among those who played in a benefit game at the Covelli Centre.
The benefit organized by SteelHounds head coach (and former Washington Capital) Kevin Kaminski, was for SteelHound forward Jason Baird who had been badly burned in a lawnmower accident that summer. Baird, 33, died in January.
In 2009, Zoldan folded the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American Hockey League to create the Youngstown Phantoms. The USHL is the country’s top junior hockey league and a step above the NAHL.
Phantoms attendance this season has averaged 1,154 in 25 home games. The Covelli Centre can seat 5,700 for hockey. The Phantoms’ season ends the first weekend in April. Five home games remain.