Phantom Flash On Fast Track To The Big Time

An explosive first stride is a great way to make a good first impression.

Just ask Anthony Noreen. The head coach and general manager of the Youngstown Phantoms remembers the first time he saw Kyle Connor skate at the U.S. Select 15 Player Development Camp in Rochester, N.Y. It was then that he knew this fleet-footed phenom would be a great fit for the Phantoms.

“Kyle could really skate and was so dynamic in his ability to break plays open,” Noreen recalled. “He was a home run for us.”

Connor attributes part of his skating prowess to the athleticism he developed by playing multiple sports growing up in Shelby Township, Mich.


Kyle Conner

Number: 18

Position:
Center

Shoots:
Left

Height:
6-foot-1

Weight:
175 pounds

Birth Date:
Dec. 9, 1996

Hometown:

Shelby Township, Mich.

College Commitment:
University of Michigan

USA Hockey History:
Skated in the 2014 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game. Was a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. squad at the 2014 IIHF Under-18 World Championship. Helped the U.S. Junior Select Team claim first place at the 2013 World Junior A Challenge. Was a member of U.S. Under-18 Select Team that took second place in the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. Skated for the U.S. Under-17 Select Team at the 2012 Under-17 Five Nations Tournament.

In addition to playing youth hockey in the Belle Tire organization in Metro Detroit, Connor played basketball, baseball and football through junior high and the early stages of high school. It was then that he knew he would have to make a choice if he was going to play at the next level.

And a big step on the journey was choosing to play for Noreen and the Phantoms.

“When I visited Youngstown, I fell in love with the rink, the city and the coaching staff,” said Connor, who was one of 42 players selected to play in the CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game in Buffalo, N.Y.

“It’s been a really good experience so far.”

Over the first two years in the United States Hockey League, Connor potted 48 goals and dished out 67 assists. Early in his third campaign in Youngstown, he is once again among the league’s scoring leaders.

Noreen attributes some of that to how Connor has refined his offensive game, learning how to score in the dirty areas around the net. At the same time, the 6-foot-1 forward has earned the trust of his coaches through his improving two-way play.

“He’s a guy we put out there in pretty much every critical situation there is,” Noreen said. “I think that speaks volumes about how far he has come.”

Next year, Connor will wear the maize and blue of the University of Michigan, a local Div. I program he was destined to play for from an early age.

“It was really breathtaking, a real cool atmosphere all around,” Connor said of his visits to Ann Arbor.

Even with the 2015 NHL Entry Draft still six months away and Connor just turning 18 years old in December, Connor already looks like a professional hockey player who has focused on getting bigger and stronger so he can play with the big boys.

For Michigan and the future NHL team who selects Connor next summer at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., they’ll be adding a player whose “200-foot game,” according to Noreen, is better than it has ever been.

“They’re getting an elite competitor who wants to win and shows up to the rink every day with the right attitude,” Noreen said. “He wants to work and wants to compete. On top of that, he’s got an elite skill set,
and he’s a great asset in the locker room.”

 


 

YOUTH STAR

Chris Wilkins
Age: 14
Kinnelon, N.J.

Chris Wilkins knows what it means to persevere, even when the deck is stacked against him.

A severe snowboarding accident on St. Patrick’s Day, 2010 left the 14-year-old in jeopardy of never walking again. After being airlifted to Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center, the diagnosis was grim: a crushed pelvis, compound facture in his right foot, internal injuries, two cracked ribs and fractured vertebrae.

The local hockey community rallied around Chris, lifting his spirits and helping him cope with his situation.

“I can’t tell you how influential and how youth hockey kept him focusedon the healing,” said Greg Wilkins, Chris’ dad, adding that players and management from the New Jersey Devils visited with his son during his lengthy rehabilitation.

While he may still need additional surgeries in the future, Chris is back on the ice after a four-year hiatus, skating with the Bantam AA New Jersey Bandits. It’s his first year of travel hockey since the accident.

“Skating for the first time again felt amazing,” Chris said. “It felt like I hadn’t been out of it for four years. I got right back into it, grabbed old hockey equipment, and went back on the ice.”

 

 

 

Photos courtesy of USHL; Wilkins Family
Issue: 
2015-01

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