By Brian Yauger
With the Youngstown State University hockey program taking the season off to restructure, some hockey fans may be lost as to what to follow in the hockey world.
There’s a surprising number of local ties across the hockey world that those who are itching for hockey don’t have to look far to find, starting with the most obvious: the Youngstown Phantoms. The Phantoms are right down the road, have affordable prices and the team is good.
The Phantoms were the United States Hockey League’s Eastern Conference Champions this past year. They made it to the USHL Clark Cup Finals, where they fell to the Fargo Force in four games.
In addition to all of that, fans have the pleasure of seeing future NHL stars in action. The USHL as a league has seen a major uptick in NHL talent, with many current stars spending their earlier years in the USHL, including Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres, Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Max Pacioretty of the Vegas Golden Knights and Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets.
Ohio has a few colleges with prolific hockey programs. Ohio State University, Bowling Green State University and Miami University are the three schools that compete at the Division 1 level.
The Phantoms have produced numerous Division 1 hockey players and NHL Draft picks.
Curtis Hall (5th round, 2018, Boston Bruins, Yale University), Cam Morrison (2nd round, 2016, Colorado Avalanche, University of Notre Dame) and Maxim Letunov (2nd round, 2014, St. Louis Blues) are all high profile Phantoms who spent time in major collegiate programs.
Letunov is now with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
Saving the largest league for last, the NHL has quite a few connections.
Nearly every hockey fan in the Youngstown area is a fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Columbus Blue Jackets so I want to leave them out of here for being too obvious. Especially when these other teams come up.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a local talent on their roster. J.T. Miller was born and raised in East Palestine. Miller was selected in the first round of the 2011 Draft with pick No. 17 by the New York Rangers. Miller scored 58 points (23G, 35A) last season and helped the Lightning advance to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were defeated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Washington Capitals.
Speaking of the Capitals, they have a former Phantom on the roster. Forward Nathan Walker spent a brief period with the Phantoms before becoming the first Australian-born player to be selected in the NHL draft.
Arguably the most interesting team (and my personal favorite) is the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets have an Ohio-born player in Jack Roslovic who attended Miami for college, and former Phantom Kyle Connor.
Connor finished last season with 31 goals, more than any other rookie in the league, and is off to a hot start this season with four points in three games (3G, 1A).
So even without YSU hockey, there are still plenty of ways to follow the sport. When the Penguins return to the ice next season fans can expect improvements in every aspect of the program, but until then, there’s plenty of options to get your fix.