YOUNGSTOWN - Coming off a stellar 2011 season, and making the playoffs for the first time in the franchise's short history, one would believe the Youngstown Phantoms' main goal this year would be to get back to the playoffs and make a run for the United States Hockey League's Clark Cup.
While that is on the radar, it is not the main focus for Phantoms coach Anthony Noreen. The focus is making these players ready for the next level of hockey.
"We don't even discuss playoffs in our room," Noreen said. "I'm extremely excited to coach this team. I think we have a group that's highly entertaining and will be fun to watch. Our staples remain the same. We are looking to become better hockey players. We're looking to become better people. We're looking to help out in the community and we're looking to have results on the ice."
This is Noreen's second year leading the Phantoms. In his inaugural season, the Phantoms went 32-21 and advanced to the USHL's playoffs for the first time in team history. They won their first series, defeating Cedar Rapids in two games, then fell to eventual Clark Cup winners, Green Bay, 3-1.
With having a year under his belt, Noreen said many things are easier for himself and his staff - but most importantly, for the players.
"I think this year we have 10 guys back who had a year under our staff. They know what to expect here," Noreen said. "They know what it's going to be like on the ice and in practice. They know what they are expected to do in the locker room. They know what they are expected to do in the community. I think they did a great job throughout training camp."
One of those veterans is J.T. Stenglein. The 19-year-old from Greece, N.Y. is now in his third season with the Phantoms. During the 2012 season, he led the USHL in goals scored with 31. Stenglein, who acknowledges his role as a leader on and off the ice, knows his duty as a veteran of the team.
"I just definitely try to play by example and just let them see what it's like in the USHL," Stenglein said. "We have a really young team this year, younger than we've ever had, probably one of the youngest teams in the league, so you have to make sure you do the right things because people are watching you all the time."
In all, the Phantoms return 10 players who took the ice as Phantoms during the 2011-12 season. Though there are an ample amount of veterans, the team is still a relatively young squad with 14 players entering their first season in the USHL. Though the team is fresh, Stenglein and the Phantoms have their goals in place.
"We want to do definitely better than last year," Stenglein said. "I think the goal for every body in the room is to win a Clark Cup, so that's what we want to accomplish this year."
The Phantoms are off to a good start of the 2012 season, as the team just completed the preseason Fall Classic in Sioux City, Iowa, winning two of the three games. In all, the Phantoms are 4-2 in the preseason.
The puck drops for the regular season Friday night as the Phantoms take on Omaha at the Covelli Centre. Game time is at 7:15 p.m.