With less than two months remaining in the 2007-08 regular season, and the Mahoning Valley Phantoms already having eight players committed to NCAA programs, the team is taking some time to recruit its future, signing two more players for the 2008-09 season.
Doug Clifford, a 17-year-old center from the Compuware Midget Major AAA team of the Midwest Elite Hockey League, signed his tender with the Phantoms organization back in January.
“I’m a goal-scorer, and I hope I can help them win a championship,” said Clifford. “I want to play D-I hockey, I feel like the Phantoms are the best team to play for, and I like the coaching staff.”
In 52 games this season, Clifford was averaging well over a point per game, collecting 22 goals and 46 assists, along with a plus-24 rating. The native of Woodhaven, Mich., stands 5-foot-10, 160 pounds.
“Clifford is a very good two-way center,” said Curtis Carr, the Phantoms’ assistant coach and director of player personnel. “He plays very well in the D-zone and competes very hard.”
“He is good positionally, sees the ice very well and is producing a lot of points. With the centers that we are losing next year that are going off to college, we expect Doug to step in and fill a role for us down the middle.”
Joining Clifford on the 2008-09 Phantoms squad will be defenseman Dustin Hopfner. Hopfner, 18, will come to the Mahoning Valley from the Belle Tire Midget Major AAA team, also of the MWEHL.
“I hope to bring some big hitting and some scoring as well,” said Hopfner. “A few kids that I knew from past teams have said that it is a good program, and the Phantoms always seem to have a good team. Hopefully, I can move on to D-I, and play as well as I can while I’m [with the Phantoms]].”
Hopfner will bring some size to future Phantoms teams. The Eastpointe, Mich., native stands 6-foot-1 tall, 175 pounds. In 53 games this season, Hopfner has amassed 25 points, 59 penalty minutes and leads Belle Tire with a plus-34 rating.
“Dustin is a big, mobile defenseman,” said Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt. “He’s got a great attitude and he’s been coached very well. We’re looking for him to be able to step in, be in our top six right from the get-go, and hopefully he’ll be able to contribute in all situations next year.”
Clifford and Hopfner join Kyle Van, J.D. Howard, Zak Zaremba and William Rapuzzi as the fifth and sixth players to sign tenders for next year’s Phantoms team.