The Youngstown Phantoms captured the 2023 Clark Cup championship, their first-ever reign as the top team in the USHL – and the celebration rolled from Ohio to plenty of Illinois ice rinks.
Andrew Strathmann, a left-handed shooting defenseman in his first season with the Phantoms, hails from Beach Park and formerly skated locally for the Falcons, Chicago Mission and CYA. In fact, his CYA coach was Ryan Ward, who coached the Phantoms to glory in the 16-team USHL, defeating the Fargo Force 1-0 in Game 3 of the 2023 Clark Cup Final in late-May. Youngstown swept the best-of-five series three-games-to-none.
“It was cool to win (the championship) with such a good group of guys. We pushed all year, came to the rink every day ready to have fun and be good teammates. Winning the championship was an unreal feeling,” said Strathmann, who had 3 goals, 35 assists in 56 regular season games, and 3 goals, 4 assists in 9 playoff games.
“Fargo is a good team, but we played our hearts out and it paid off. It was a good series. I thought I played well and to be able to raise that Cup was one of the best feelings in the world to me and means everything to me.”
The Phantoms skate in the USHL’s Eastern Conference, along with the Chicago Steel and others. Youngstown plays its home games at the 5,200-seat Covelli Centre.
“I went to Youngstown this (past) season wanting to win, do whatever I could to win – and it was easy with the group of guys that we had. The season worked out well,” said Strathmann, who finished eighth among league defensemen with 38 regular season points, which was most on the team. His defensive partner, Chase Pietila, had 36 regular season points.
“This season, I focused on puck decisions and my defensive game. I really wanted to work on being a two-way defender and just being solid. That’s what I think I improved on.
“It was good to have those (personal stats), but that’s not what I focused on. I was focused on winning; that’s all I wanted and it paid off. It’s all anyone should want. If you’re focused on (personal) points, you’re in it for the wrong reason.”
Strathmann’s celebration in Youngstown follows state championships won with both the Mission and CYA. This title, though, “is at the top of the mountain,” he said. “This was unbelievable, one of the best feelings in the world.”
Strathmann will return to Youngstown in the fall then, in the fall of 2024, he will skate for the University of North Dakota.
His off-season will be spent in his native Beach Park and plenty of local rinks and area gyms. He plans to skate at least twice a week in June, three or four times a week in July and likely daily in August.
Strathmann, who attended Zion-Benton High School as a freshman, played two seasons for the Falcons, two for the Mission and one for CYA. He also skated locally in Pleasant Prairie, Wisc., and for the Maulers.
“I had good times (in Illinois) with really good teammates, many of whom I’m still friends with to this day. It was an awesome experience,” he said.
Strathmann praised his coaches from the Mission, namely, Yanic Perreault, “who taught me a lot of skills,” he said. Strathmann said his CYA stint was “an environment that really helped my career,” he said. “Everyone wanted to get better, improve – and people always did everything in their power to get you to the next level. Those were unbelievable memories, some of the best days of my life. Great times.”
Especially when his CYA bantam team won state, defeating the Mission in the finals.
“It’s about having fun. Show up to the rink every day and work as hard as you can. That will allow you to get to the next level and certainly show what kind of character you have,” Strathmann said. “Hockey is fun, should be fun. It’s the best sport in the world.”