WILLIAMS: Covelli’s coolest games are on tap

Covelli Centre will be the site of the highest-stakes hockey games ever played in the Youngstown arena this weekend. Nobody deserves the opportunity to represent us by coaching in the USHL Clark Cup Final more than Phantoms head coach Brad Patterson.

The former Youngstown SteelHounds forward has spent the last nine seasons developing his craft with the junior hockey team. The native of Cranbrook, British Columbia, represents Youngstown hockey well.

Tonight and Saturday, the Phantoms will host the Fargo Force in the USHL’s Clark Cup Final. The series is tied 1-1.

Hockey in late May — for us puckheads, it doesn’t get any better.

In June 2016, Patterson was named the Phantoms head coach after serving as an assistant for six-and-a-half seasons.

A year before that promotion, Jason Koehler was promoted to general manager when Anthony Noreen left to coach the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears. Koehler was the team’s assistant general manager from the beginning in 2009.

Win or lose this weekend, Koehler and Patterson have created a team the entire Mahoning Valley should be proud to call their own.

When it comes to Chevrolet/Covelli Centre ice, no one has put in more time on it than Patterson, who now calls Boardman home.

Patterson played college hockey at the WCHA’s Michigan Tech, where he majored in business, from 1998-2002. But coaching was in his blood. His father, Colin, set the pace as a successful coach of Canadian amateur teams.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be an NHL player, but I was very fortunate to play for some great coaches,” Patterson said of his hockey dreams.

He’s blessed with an understanding of the game.

“I always used playing as a learning tool to someday become a coach,” he said.

Most of his pro career was spent in the Central Hockey League, which included the SteelHounds from 2005-08. Compared to baseball’s minor leagues, the now-defunct CHL was the equivalent of Double A.

Patterson came to Youngstown in 2006 and scored 13 goals and 28 assists in 59 games with the SteelHounds. He also met his future wife, Holly Shalabi of Boardman, the SteelHounds dance captain. Their relationship plays a key role in this story.

“I [spent] my summers here,” Patterson said of his next few offseasons.

In the fall of 2007, Patterson returned to England for a second stint in the EIHL, this time 41 games with the Hull Stingrays. But he finished the 2007-08 season with the SteelHounds, playing the final nine regular-season games plus the playoffs.

That June, the SteelHounds were booted out of the CHL for insufficient funds and the then-Chevrolet Centre lost its main sports tenant.

Patterson played one last season as a player-coach for a Southern Professional Hockey League team in Columbus, Ga.. called the Cottonmouths.

He returned to Youngstown the following summer. The Youngstown Phantoms were forming after Bruce Zoldan folded his Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the NAHL to buy a USHL franchise.

Holly was working on her nursing degree at Youngstown State. Today, she’s a neonatal nurse with Akron Children’s Hospital. The Pattersons have a son, Tucker, and a daughter, Mya.

Patterson said the USHL team was a bonus reason why he returned to the Mahoning Valley instead of Canada. He saw the Phantoms as a chance to make coaching a career.

It didn’t happen immediately. In 2009, Patterson worked as a manager at The Ice Zone, taught youth hockey teams and coached the YSU club team.

In January 2010, Zoldan fired Bob Mainhardt, the Phantoms’ first head coach and promoted Curtis Carr, who hired Patterson as his assistant. Patterson has been a Phantom ever since.

Noreen joined Carr’s staff for the 2011-12 season. The next summer, Noreen replaced Carr as head coach, staying for four seasons and three postseason trips.

Patterson’s chance to lead the team came a year after Noreen left. John Wroblewski was head coach for one season, then joined Team USA’s program. Co-owners Troy and Aafke Loney promoted Patterson.

In his first two seasons in charge, Patterson has guided the Phantoms to two playoff berths. This season, the Phantoms swept Dubuque, then needed four games to oust Wroblewski’s 17U squad.

Last weekend’s split in North Dakota has the Phantoms playing for a crown with home-ice edge.

Covelli Centre has been hosting hockey games since Nov. 4, 2005 but has never been the site for games of such magnitude.

It’s going to be thrilling weekend indoors.

And maybe a champion will be crowned.

Tom Williams is a sportswriter at The Vindicator. Write him at williams@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @Williams_Vindy.

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