YOUNGSTOWN - The first time Troy Loney visited the Youngstown area, he found himself a little overwhelmed.
A member of the Pittsburgh Penguins back the mid-1980s, Loney traveled to Boardman at the urging of the DeBartolo family for a sports banquet, but another guest overshadowed him.
"I go to the sports banquet and I'm sitting at a main table with Tommy Lasorda. I felt a little out of place in that environment," Loney said.
Less than 30 years later, the two-time Stanley Cup winner is coming back to the Mahoning Valley - this time in his own element.
On Thursday morning at the Covelli Centre's Youngstown State University Community Room, the organization announced Loney and his wife, Aafke, will join the Youngstown Phantoms ownership group, pending league approval. The Loneys will become equal partners with current owner Bruce Zoldan.
The Loneys had some experience with the Phantoms before taking part ownership in the United States Hockey League franchise, as their son, Ty, played two seasons with the Phantoms from 2009-2011 before moving onto play hockey at the University of Denver. Ty recorded 25 goals and 21 assists in 71 appearances.
"For the Youngstown Phantoms family, it's an extremely exciting day," Youngstown coach Anthony Noreen said. "For the area, for our fans, it shows a huge commitment level to the Youngstown area."
Troy Loney will take over the day-to-day business and hockey operations once the league approves the deal, and he has plenty of experience in management. After retiring from the NHL in 1995, the ex-Penguin, Anaheim Mighty Duck, New York Ranger and New York Islander joined the business world, where he's worked as a senior executive for 15 years.
Loney said there shouldn't be problems making decisions between him and Zoldan.
"Bruce and I have had some discussion about this, and we've talked about things that we feel each of us can bring separately to the table. He's been very good with setting direction," Loney said. "On the business side, Bruce is looking for me to come in and build off of my business side and experience. We both came to an agreement in the end."
Loney said one of his main focuses will be planning in-game promotions to keep people to come to games. Since joining the USHL for the 2009-2010 season, the Phantoms have ranked in the bottom three of attendance every year, and they've averaged 1,548 people per game through the 25 home games this season. The Covelli Centre holds 5,900 seats.
Loney experienced how franchises can build up a fanbase when he was a player with the Penguins in the 1980s as the Steelers and Pirates were the more popular teams and with the expansion Mighty Ducks for the 1993-1994 season.
"I think that by coming in and putting that kind of structure in place and understanding what that means to people when they come to the game and the experience they're going to have, that's going to be our focus," Loney said.
"Is it a risky thing based upon some of the challenges the team has had off the ice? Yeah. Are Bruce and I really excited to move forward as a partnership to make this work? Definitely."
Of course, securing a new deal to stay in the Covelli Centre is also high on his priority list. The Phantoms' deal with the Covelli Centre ends at the end of this season. Loney said he expects a new deal to be made and the franchise doesn't have a Plan B, and he also denied the idea of moving the team out of Youngstown.
"That has not even been a thought in my mind," Loney said. "We are committed to this town and to this arena right now. You look around, I've been to different arenas whether in college hockey or in USHL towns, and we have one of the best - if not the best - facilities in the league."