United States Hockey League (USHL)

Youngstown Phantoms Set To Raise First Clark Cup Banner Saturday

Youngstown Phantoms Set To Raise First Clark Cup Banner Saturday

The Youngstown Phantoms will celebrate their 2023 Clark Cup title Saturday night with a banner raising and ring ceremony before taking on Team USA.

Sep 28, 2023 by Ryan Sikes
Clark Cup Game 3 Highlights, Celebration

The Youngstown Phantoms have had plenty of reason to celebrate this summer. The organization claimed its first Clark Cup championship in the 2022-23 season and is ready to recognize its accomplishments.

On the night of their home opener on Saturday, Sept. 30, Youngstown will conduct a banner-raising ceremony in which the coaching staff and returning players will all receive championship rings.

In many ways, the Phantoms’ first league championship is also a celebration of the organization’s tireless efforts to become a destination for junior hockey players, a process that began in June 2021 with the hiring of co-general managers Jason Deskins and Ryan Kosecki.

Following the 2021-22 season, Youngstown introduced Ryan Ward as the sixth head coach in team history.

Together, the trio turned the Phantoms into Clark Cup champions.

“Anytime you go through an experience such as winning a championship, I think you look back on those moments fondly, and it's something that we will remember forever and something that we will cherish,” Ward told FloHockey. 

“Saturday night is going to be a special night, commemorating that team, how hard they worked, and their sacrifices to ultimately win a championship, and it is something that is extremely special.”

The Phantoms made it look easy in the 2023 Clark Cup Playoffs, going 8-1 with sweeps over Cedar Rapids in the second round and Fargo in the championship series. Their only blemish came against Chicago in the Eastern Conference Finals.

However, their journey through the regular season was anything but easy.

Going into last year, Youngstown knew it would take some time for their returning group to settle into their expected roles. After all, the Phantoms lost five of their top six point-producers from the previous season. 

Then the team started the 2022-23 campaign by losing six of its first eight games. Following three consecutive wins in November, Youngstown dropped four straight contests heading into Thanksgiving.

On paper, the Phantoms had reasons for optimism in returning players William Whitelaw (CBJ), Shane Lachance (EDM), Justin Varner, and netminder Jacob Fowler (MTL). Still, the results weren’t showing on the ice.

Despite the temptation to make a trade for veteran players, part of Youngstown’s refined approach was allowing the younger players to develop into their new roles.

And that takes time.

“At the end of the day, we made a decision as an organization to have young players in our lineup and be a place where we grow together. We always believed in our process and what we could do last year. It's the USHL, and when you have younger players that need to grow and develop, that's how it's going to go,” said Ward.

“For us, understanding that we've been in a situation where we started slow and just kept on working and kept on believing in our process and what our players do on a day-to-day basis, it's a huge foundation for our entire organization.”

Youngstown turned the corner at the end of the first half of the season, winning five out of six games before the holiday break. In the second half, the Phantoms made a hard push for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, falling just two points shy in the standings of top-seeded Chicago.

While there weren’t many changes to their roster, there was one midseason acquisition that helped put the team over the top. Martin Misiak (CHI) came to Youngstown from Slovakia just after the World Junior Championship and became an integral piece of the team, culminating with 10 points in nine postseason contests.

Misiak was one of six Youngstown Phantoms to hear his name called in the 2023 NHL Draft, another indication of the remarkable season that team put together.

Saturday night will officially close the chapter on the 2022-23 season as the Phantoms now look to defend their title.

Besides Andrew Strathmann (CBJ) and Brandon Svoboda (SJS), most of the 2022-23 core has moved on to the next level. The Phantoms will once again look for their younger players to grow and develop throughout the year.

Tender signings Zach Morin and Sascha Boumedienne highlight the crop of first-year skaters. Still, Youngstown made a series of savvy moves to add experienced players through the USHL Phase II Draft, trades, and the NCAA. 

READ: Standouts from the 2023 USHL Fall Classic

The Phantoms brought in forwards Charlie Cerrato, Mikey Burchill, Nathan Lewis, and welcomed goaltender Owen Bartoszkiewicz back from the University of Minnesota for additional development.

Youngstown went 0-2 at the USHL Fall Classic last week. That’s certainly not anything new for the Phantoms, who historically have not had much success at the showcase event. And with the roster turnover, the slow start was probably to be expected. That said, there is no panic within this group.

Saturday night’s pre-game events will offer a wonderful reminder for the young group of players of what they can achieve if they stick with Youngstown’s processes.

“Anytime you are in an organization, you want to have the standard be that of winning championships. It’s very important for our new players to respect the history of where they are at,” Ward said of the first-year players watching the banner go up. 

“For us, it’s a great jumping-off point to move forward and write our own chapter this year with this team. For us, we want to remember those days fondly, but it’s time to turn the page, and I think Saturday night is a great commemoration of that team and hopefully a motivating factor for our guys to forge forward in their own way.”