Despite there still being five months remaining in the regular season, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms are already looking to the future, signing the first four players for the 2008-09 class.
Forwards J.D. Howard and Zak Zaremba, along with defenseman Kyle Van, signed with the Phantoms after Friday night’s 6-3 win over Traverse City at the Ice Zone. Forward William Rapuzzi signed via fax a few weeks before.
Howard is one of the first local products to be tendered by the Phantoms and has already played a couple games this season with the team. Howard is currently one of the top scorers on the Phantoms’ Midget Major AAA team, having tallied 16 goals and 18 assists in 35 games so far this season. The 17-year-old Canfield native is 5-foot-10, and weighs 172 pounds.
“This is a very respected program and they are based on winning,” Howard said about why he chose the Phantoms. “I hope to come in and bring a lot of offense, be a top gun on the power play, kill penalties, and just be an all-around good player.”
“J.D. is a kid we’ve got big hopes for,” said Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt. “He’s one of our first local guys we’ve been able to tender. We’re very excited about his scoring ability. He’s only scratching the surface with his potential.”
Van is also a product of the Phantom Fireworks’ top youth hockey team. As a Midget Major AAA player this season, Van has scored four goals and added 11 helpers from the blue line. The 18-year-old from Mentor, Ohio stands 6-foot-2, 175 pounds.
“Kyle is a very poised defenseman,” said Curtis Carr, the Phantoms’ assistant coach and director of player development. “He’s a big kid, pretty physical. He’s going to bring instant maturity and professionalism. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman that you can count on to play great defense for you while making simple plays and generating offense from the defensive zone.”
“I played for Curt Carr a few years ago and he introduced me to this league and this team,” said Van about how he got wind of the Phantoms organization. “I hope to contribute defensively, and just be an all-around player - someone the team can rely on in tough situations.”
Zaremba will be coming to the Phantoms from the Junior B ranks. As a forward on the Cleveland Jr. Jacks of the Central States League this season, Zaremba has amassed 13 goals and 19 assists in just 21 games. The 16-year-old from Parma, Ohio is 5-foot-11, 180 pounds.
“We’re looking for Zaremba to come in and be an offensive guy for us,” Carr said. “He’s got great speed and vision. He’s very gifted offensively. He’s a high-energy type player. He’s putting up numbers in a pretty good league as a very young kid.”
“It’s a top-notch hockey club,” said Zaremba on what attracted him to Mahoning Valley. “It’s one of the top teams in the NAHL and they move players onto college. It’s close to home, it’s a good team - there couldn’t be anything better.”
Rapuzzi is playing this season for the Belle Tire Midget AAA team in Detroit. Hailing from Alaska, the 17-year-old Rapuzzi stands 5-foot-10 and weighs in at 175 pounds.
“I expect Rapuzzi to bring a lot of ability,” said Carr. “He’s a hard-working individual that plays physically and very well in the D-zone. We’re counting on him to be one of the guys that will be able to replace some of the players we expect to lose.”
“I met some of the staff, it seems like a nice situation,” Rapuzzi said. “They have good attendance and fans, and that’s a big reason I want to be there. Hopefully, I’ll bring a lot of scoring and a lot of offense there and put up some points.”