By Tom Williams
Some of the mysteries surrounding the Youngstown Phantoms could be cleared up by this weekend.
By Thursday, USHL officials are expected to announce approval of Troy and Aafke Loney purchasing half of the hockey team from owner Bruce Zoldan.
Once approved, Loney, a Stanley Cup winner with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992, will take over running the day-to-day operations of the team.
Also this week, talks are expected to resume between the Phantoms and executives for the Covelli Centre for at least one more USHL season.
The Phantoms are pushing for another five-year deal; arena executives have been resisting anything beyond one.
The Phantoms’ original five-year pact with Youngstown and the arena expires in April. The Phantoms (16-33-6, 38 points) have four home games remaining — Friday, Saturday and April 4-5. They are in last place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference and will miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
Last season, the Phantoms finished third in the Eastern Conference, upset the second-seeded Green Bay Gamblers in four games then lost the decisive game in the best-of-five Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual league champion Dubuque Fighting Saints.
The city is expected to secure higher rental fees in a new agreement.
The Loneys are hoping attendance will increase to an average of 2,500. This season, the average has been in the 1,200 range.
Assuming the team and arena officials can reach a contract, the Phantoms will turn their attention to extending the contract of head coach Anthony Noreen, who is completing his third season as head coach and fourth with the team.
At a press conference two weeks ago announcing the Loneys’ involvement, Noreen said his contract expires at the end of the regular season but he has no plans to move on.
“I’m fully committed and invested in this team,” Noreen said. “I don’t believe my job [here] is done.”
Noreen and his assistant coaches — Brad Patterson and Michael Zucker — are likely to spend much of April scouting players in regional tournaments.