By Tom Williams
Two months before your wedding, a job search enters the mix.
Stressful recipe for most, right?
But John Wroblewski, the new head coach of the Youngstown Phantoms, says his life has remained steady despite the uncertainty since the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans replaced its coaching staff in May.
“You’d think it’s been a tumultuous summer, but internally we’ve been calm, believing the right thing would come along,” Wroblewski said Tuesday after being announced as the Phantoms’ fourth head coach in their seven USHL seasons. The announcement came three days before his wedding in Buffalo.
It’s hard to imagine too many candidates with a more varied coaching resume than Wroblewski, 34. The previous two seasons, he was an assistant with the Americans, the top farm club of the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres.
Before that, he spent two seasons (2011-13) as head coach of the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators after being an assistant for a year with the Wheeling Nailers, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ ECHL team.
His junior hockey experience includes working with the U.S. National Under-18 from 2009-10, the Phantoms’ first season in the USHL.
One of his players was Brandon Saad, who a season before had been one of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms’ top scorers in their final season in the North American Hockey League. After winning two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks, Saad was traded last month to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“I also was on the National Team’s staff from 2007-09, and saw the Phantoms transition from the [NAHL] games at The Ice Zone to the [Covelli Centre],” Wroblewski said.
His varied experience made an impact with Phantoms co-owner Troy Loney.
“He’s played in our league, been an assistant at this level,” Loney said. “He played four years in college [Notre Dame], then had pro experience.”
After four seasons with the Fighting Irish, Wroblewski played four seasons with the ECHL’s Fresno Falcons.
“His experience is unique,” Loney said.
Wroblewski replaces Anthony Noreen, who guided the Phantoms to three playoff berths in his four seasons as head coach. Last month, Noreen left the Phantoms to become the head coach of the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.
Wroblewski is the first Phantoms head coach to come from outside the team.
“We had a number of quality candidates for this position, but John proved to us through the interview process that he was the best man to lead this club moving forward,” said Phantoms general manager Jason Koehler, who was promoted to full-time GM when Noreen left. “We’re excited that we get to bring Youngstown an outstanding young coach that has had success and experience at high levels.”
After four seasons working with professionals, Wroblewski said he’s looking forward to making an impact on players who need more than on-ice advice. He said there was no hesitation on his part about returning to the junior level.
“I’m looking forward to working with players again on a daily basis,” said Wroblewski, explaining that pro coaches spend much less time with players. “I want to make an impact on people’s lives. That is the intriguing part.
“I’m looking forward to [again] dealing with guys on all different levels,” the native of Neenah, Wis., said. “In the pros, you only deal with them as hockey players.”
His enthusiasm for a chance to mold a team impressed Loney.
“In the pros, you have players hopping in and out all the time,” said Loney, whereas junior hockey “gives a coach the ability to grow a team and mentor a team.”
Wroblewski and Loney said assistant coaches Brad Patterson and John Rohan have been invited to remain with the team.
Patterson, who played two seasons with the Youngstown SteelHounds, has been with the Phantoms since 2010 when owner Bruce Zoldan replaced original head coach Bob Mainhardt with Curtis Carr. Rohan joined the team last summer before the Phantoms finished with the best regular-season record in the USHL.
“We value what they’ve done and would like them to remain,” Loney said.