Photo by Hickling Images
Youngstown Phantoms general manager Jason Koehler first scouted Austin Pooley with the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA, just a two-hour drive from the Covelli Centre. The two-way forward was skating with future USHL players Kiefer Sherwood (Youngstown Phantoms), Jack Roslovic (Team USA) and Charlie Gerard (Madison Capitols). Koehler wasn’t able to grab Pooley in the 2013 USHL Draft, but the two would reunite in due time.
Pooley began his USHL career with the Omaha Lancers in 2013-14, skating in 46 games. The Ohio State University commit would spend the next two season with the Fargo Force, including last season in which he was voted team captain.
Heading into his final year of USHL eligibility, Pooley and the Phantoms found an opportunity for the forward to return back to his home state. The chance to play for the USHL team he once watched from the stands as a kid was almost surreal.
“It’s amazing,” Pooley said. “I grew up watching Phantoms games on the way back from Michigan or showcases. It was the junior team I always wanted to play for. The USHL is such a good league. A lot of kids look to play in that league and I was the same way. Just to be back and be able to play here is pretty special.”
Koehler is in his eighth season with the organization, his second as GM. He has been involved in junior hockey for about 15 years, and he believes that Ohio continues to grow as a state that is producing very talented hockey players, something that over time has benefited the Phantoms organization.
“I think Ohio has moved up over the years. When I started in junior hockey about 15 years ago, most of the top players were coming out of Cleveland and the best Ohio kids moved to Cleveland,” Koehler said. “Since the development of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA program and what Ed Gingher has done, there has been a lot of southern or southwest Ohio kids in the Columbus area, Pooley being one of them. Ohio hockey, especially that Columbus area, has really grown since the invention of the Blue Jackets program. There’s a connection between Youngstown, Ohio State and Ohio hockey, which is really nice.”
As for Pooley, he actually has a bit of prior experience with the Phantoms organization. He skated with the team a few times while with the Ohio Blue Jackets AAA program. Pooley said he’s enjoying his time in Youngstown, and feels his game fits perfectly with the Phantoms.
“After I got traded, I found out really quick what Youngstown Phantoms hockey was. That’s the way I play – physical, in your face, shoot the puck, stuff like that. It’s been really great.”
Koehler knew he was getting something special when he acquired Pooley. He has set his hopes for his team’s season very high and thinks a team, especially a very young team like the Youngstown Phantoms who have big aspirations, needs someone like Pooley who has been there before and knows what it takes.
“Austin Pooley had played three years in the league – one in Omaha and two in Fargo,” Koehler explained. “It was something where with us having a very few number of returning forwards, we didn’t have someone like Austin Pooley. He’s a competitor. He’s a leader. He’s been a vocal leader. There’s certainly a huge value of knowing this league, knowing what it takes night in and night out. Austin Pooley has brought all those things.”
Pooley has backed up his general manager’s words in a number of ways in just the first three games of the season. After spending most of his junior career on the wing, Pooley moved to center and has flourished since. He has also brought a few young Ohio players under his wing, and helped them along through the expectations that comes with the USHL.
Youngstown tender Curtis Hall, a Chagrin Falls, OH native, came in with high expectations for a 16-year old forward. Pooley takes time to reinforce the good plays, compliment the extra effort and spend time after practice doing shooting drills with Hall and rookie Max Ellis. It’s important for Pooley to highlight those good moments, more so than point out mistakes.
Pooley has set expectations for both himself and his team this season, and he isn’t afraid to make them very, very clear.
“I want to win a Clark Cup,” said Pooley. “I want to do whatever it takes. Our first goal is to make the playoffs and then have a deep Clark Cup run. This is my last year. I think we have a good group. It’s still early. We need to come to the rink every day with the attitude that we’re going to get better today, we’re not looking too far ahead. Our end goal is to make the playoffs then win the Clark Cup. This is it. It’d be pretty special to be part of a Clark Cup champion.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 15th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2016-17. 30 or more players from the USHL have been selected in four consecutive NHL Drafts, and more than 400 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
Tag(s): Player News