Phantoms will open season with six returning players

By Tom Williams


And then there were six.

The Youngstown Phantoms will take the ice tonight with six players returning from the 2015-16 team that finished in fifth place in the USHL’s Eastern Conference. It’s the fewest number of returning players in the franchise’s eight seasons.

Only one is a defenseman — Ty Farmer.

When the Phantoms reduced their numbers from 33 to 26 earlier this week, defenseman Carter Ekberg was among the players released. Last season, he played in 10 games for the Phantoms.

The returning five forwards are Tommy Apap, Alex Esposito, Eric Esposito, Noah LaLonde and Garrett Hall.

With 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists), Alex Esposito was the team’s seventh-leading scorer. Lalonde contributed 20 points and Apap 17.

“It’s not the number that we are used to, but we’re not scared, we’re not afraid,” General Manager Jason Koehler said of having the fewest returning players in franchise history. “But that brings in the opportunity to bring in a lot of fresh blood.”

Three of the newcomers have USHL experience. Defenseman Jake Gingell played for the Omaha Lancers last season. Forwards Evan Wisocky and Austin Pooley skated for the Sioux City Musketeers and Fargo Force, respectively.

Last weekend, the Phantoms closed their preseason schedule by going to 2-1 at the USHL Fall Classic in Cranberry, Pa. One of the wins was against Team USA, 4-3.

Tonight, the Phantoms will open against Team USA in Plymouth, Mich., against Team USA’s U-18 squad.

Making his debut as head coach will be Brad Patterson, a Phantoms assistant season since midway through their first season.

In January 2010, owner Bruce Zoldan fired Bob Mainhardt, the franchise’s first head coach, midway through the debut season. Curtis Carr was promoted to head coach and Patterson was hired as an assistant.

Previously, Patterson played two seasons with Youngstown’s former professional team, the SteelHounds, who played three seasons at the then-Chevrolet Centre.

John Wroblewski, the Phantoms’ head coach last season, also will be making his debut tonight as the leader of Team USA’s 18-U squad.

Assisting Patterson this season will be Tom Upton and Jeff Potter, who both were with NAHL teams last season.

The Phantoms goaltenders will be Ivan Kulbakov and Darion Hanson.

Last season, Hanson played for the Aston Rebels of the North American Hockey League, the junior hockey league a level below the USHL. Kulbakov spent last season playing in Belarus.

“He played on their world junior team,” Patterson said.

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