YOUNGSTOWN – Tonight, the Youngstown Phantoms are going to throw it back to the mid-2000s as they’re honoring the former Mahoning Valley hockey team, the Youngstown SteelHounds.
The SteelHounds were in the Central Hockey League for three seasons, occupying the now-Covelli Center when it was first built.
The jerseys are a near 1-to-1 remake of the blue jerseys worn in the first season, just with a gray Phantoms logo on the shoulders, and “Y-Town” in place of “Hounds” across the lower stripe.
It’s been discussed internally to honor the old team for a few years now, but the stars aligned this year to make it happen.
“It’s been kicked around a little bit over the years with the front office, something they can do to kind of promote hockey in general,” Phantoms coach Brad Patterson said. “I think the talks this summer were ‘Hey, let’s try to bring some people back’. I think about eight weeks ago or so, we knew what the date was going to be and started to reach out. ”
Former captain Chris Richards, forward Bryan Lachapelle, defenseman Jeff Alcombrack and goaltender Andy Franck will all be in attendance for the game.
Richards stayed local, coaching Canfield High School for a spell before moving on to coach his son in youth league. He was a big part of getting the other guys to come in.
Despite it being over a decade since the group has been together, it did not take long for it to feel like they never left.
“We made a couple of phone calls to guys that were somewhat close because there wasn’t a whole lot of time,” Richards said. “These guys live about five hours away so they decided to make the trek and I’m glad they did.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a lot of them, but it’s a funny thing, when you get back together it’s like you haven’t missed a beat with one another.”
Franck, now living in the Cleveland area, was easy to convince.
After his time with the SteelHounds concluded, he spent two more years in professional hockey. First with Oklahoma City, then with Rio Grande Valley, both of the Central Hockey League.
Seeing the name of a former teammate pop up on his phone was all the convincing he needed to make the quick trip down. All the better, Franck gets to show his three kids his old stomping grounds.
“It’s always good when you get a text message from guys you played with or whatever that you have not seen in a while,” Franck said. “It’s always an exciting feeling, but I did not realize what scale this was, so it’s kind of cool. I’ve got my kids coming to watch the game and I’m hoping to give them a great experience. “
Lachapelle and Alcombrack each came in from Ontario, obviously the furthest two of the bunch. That being said, they’re all used to a road trip or two from their playing days.
That’s even one of the things Lachapelle misses the most.
“I liked the travel,” he said. “We traveled a lot on long road trips. It’s fun being on the bus. Often People often ask me ‘Bryan, what do you miss about playing hockey?’ Well, the hockey was hockey. What I missed was the social (aspect) and playing cards on the bus. That was what I looked forward to. ”
Despite it being quite a while since they’ve seen the rink, not too much has changed.
“I have not been back here in a few years and I enjoyed my time here. It’s kind of refreshing to check out the rink again, get to watch a couple games and hang out with these guys, ” Alcombrack said. “Hasn’t changed all that much. “Some little things, we went down to the rink yesterday and brought back some stuff, but it did not change too much.”
Patterson will obviously be there as well, but behind the bench coaching the team. Patterson has a unique perspective, being part of both the SteelHounds and Phantoms in some capacity.
He thinks the night is a good way to unite the history of the sport in Youngstown. Even the details on the jersey are bringing together two eras of Youngstown hockey.
“It’s got both the key hockey logos from Youngstown,” Patterson said. “I love being able to look down at the jersey and see both of those logos on the same jersey. It’s going to be a special weekend and we’re looking forward to it. “
If the night is a success, this could wind up being a yearly endeavor. If that’s the case, more players might find their way back to the Valley to reminisce.
“I think in the future if it was something we’re looking to do, I think we could get a lot more guys back,” Patterson said. “As we can attest to our time here, everyone loved it. … I’m sure they’d be excited to get back so if we could put something on the schedule moving forward, I’m sure we’d have an even bigger turnout. “