A few days ago, forward Jonathan Liau was practicing in Nebraska with the Omaha Lancers, the No. 1 team in the United States Hockey League (USHL) Western Conference.
Interim coach Mike Aikens went to Liau and told him he had been traded to the Youngstown Phantoms (23-13-3), who are tied for third in the USHL Eastern Conference.
Liau was traded on Monday for a fifth-round pick in the 2013 USHL Entry Draft. He was shocked when he heard the news, but said it was a good transition and is excited for a fresh start.
“I’m hoping to bring in my speed and intensity, maybe some play-making ability,” Liau said.
Liau attended the Phantoms’ optional skating practice on Tuesday, and forward Austin Cangelosi said it means he is serious.
“Very fast guy, very physical in the corners [and] flies down the boards,” Cangelosi said. “Should contribute to our blue-collar hockey.”
Liau has eight goals and seven assists for a combined 15 points this season.
“Depends on where he’s playing; I think he’ll make the team faster wherever he plays,” said forward Sam Anas. “Bit of a grinder as well.”
The Phantoms also added forward Zach Evancho on Tuesday from the Buffalo Jr. Sabres Under-18 AAA team.
“He’s a smaller guy, but he’s another guy that is very skilled,” said forward Dylan Margonari. “He can definitely do it, and I think he’ll definitely be a huge plus for our team.”
In 36 games with the Sabres, Evancho has 14 goals and 18 assists for 32 points.
Liau and Evancho could be ready to play when the Phantoms travel to Muskegon on Friday.
The Phantoms will travel again after winning two road games last week. They defeated the Dubuque Fighting Saints, 5-3, on Thursday and Cedar Rapids, 4-3, on Friday after dropping a home match to Chicago, 3-1, on Feb. 1.
Cangelosi said the Phantoms were more focused on the road trip than at home.
“We were just excited to play,” Cangelosi said. “On the bench, guys were talking to each other.”
Cangelosi led the Phantoms and won the USHL’s co-CCM Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts. He scored three total goals, including the game-winner against Dubuque, and collected two assists.
“It’s definitely good to see one of our guys get some recognition,” Anas said. “I’m sure he’s been a candidate almost every week.”
Margonari said the award also gets the Phantoms recognition from around the league.
“It’s good to see anyone from our team get that award,” Margonari said. “It opens our eyes to see that Cangelosi is one of the top players in the league.”
Cangelosi leads the Phantoms with 19 goals and 22 assists.
After the battle with the Lumberjacks on Friday, the Phantoms return to the Covelli Centre on Sunday against the same team.
“They’re a physical team, so just stay out of the garbage,” Cangelosi said.