Andrew Strathmann one win from Clark Cup, sets course to UND
The Fighting Hawks recruit is the second-leading defenseman scorer in the USHL playoffs. His Youngstown Phantoms can win the title this weekend.
FARGO — Andrew Strathmann and his Youngstown Phantoms teammates set a goal this season.
"We're trying to flip the script a little bit," Strathmann said. "Youngstown is kind of a football town. Maybe not as many people used to want to watch a hockey game. But we're trying to build a fan base."
Youngstown is one victory away from winning its first Clark Cup as United States Hockey League champions.
The Phantoms beat the Fargo Force twice this weekend — 4-1 and 2-1 in overtime — in Fargo's Scheels Arena in the first two games of their best-of-five Clark Cup Final series.
Game 3 is scheduled for 6:05 p.m. Friday in Youngstown. If necessary, Game 4 would be at 6:05 p.m. Saturday in Youngstown. Game 5 would be at 7:05 p.m. Tuesday in Fargo.
Strathmann, a UND commit, has been a key player for the Phantoms.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound defenseman from Beach Park, Ill., has seven points in eight playoff games — second among all USHL blue liners.
As Youngstown's average time on ice leader, Strathmann has eclipsed the 27-minute mark twice in the postseason. During Games 1 and 2 in Fargo, he played 20:24 and 24:12.
"We have a really tight group," Strathmann said. "It makes it a little easier for us to go on the road the last couple series. It makes it easy because you have such a good bond with your teammates. It's very fun for us. But the job's not done."
Strathmann, who is expected to go between the second and fourth rounds of the 2023 NHL Draft, is one of the USHL's most dynamic defensemen.
He's a high-end skater with elusive abilities, which he uses to evade forecheckers in the defensive zone and to open shooting lanes to the net.
Strathmann tallied three goals and 38 points in 56 regular-season games.
He also won gold with Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge playing with two of his future UND teammates — defenseman Jake Livanavage and forward Mac Swanson.
"Just getting to know those guys a little bit, they're great dudes," Strathmann said. "Obviously, we won gold and it was just a great experience there."
Although Strathmann graduates high school this spring and is eligible to go to college, he will play one more year in the USHL.
Then, he'll be part of a 2024 UND freshman class that's shaping up to be among college hockey's best. Strathmann, Swanson, forward Sacha Boisvert, forward Cody Croal and defenseman Jayden Jubenvill are expected to be headliners of a group that blends strong NHL prospects with older, projected four-year college players.
"I'm super excited," Strathmann said. "I was just talking to the (UND) coaches. They thought it was best for me to come back, develop another year, mature another year, and I love it. To be here with my buddies again, to have another year of developing, would be great."
Strathmann said he talked through the development path with UND and his family advisor.
"We're all on the same page," Strathmann said. "I'm just so excited about North Dakota. How could you not be?
"Those guys are a really tight group every single year. The culture is unbelievable. Every time I've visited, they're very warm and welcoming and super good dudes. I'm super excited just to be a part of that."
Strathmann said he wants to work on his defensive game and puck decisions next season before making the jump to UND.
"He's going to be a captain," Youngstown coach Ryan Ward said. "A defenseman takes a little longer, right? Any defenseman worth his weight in gold, you can't rush. You have to have situations where you round them out to a full, complete player. So, when they go to wherever they're going — in this case North Dakota — he can hit the ground running. I think he's done a great job taking strides this year. I think we're looking for him to be the best defenseman in the USHL next year."
UND has had success with defensemen who have taken similar paths as Strathmann.
In 2016, the Fighting Hawks won the NCAA national championship with four future NHL defensemen.
All four of them played at least a year of junior hockey beyond their initial NHL Draft year — Troy Stecher (one extra year), Christian Wolanin (two years), Tucker Poolman (three years) and Paul LaDue (three years).
All of them turned pro after their junior seasons at UND and are still on NHL contracts today.
"The best part about Stratty is he's not in a rush," Ward said. "Everybody wants it now. Everyone is in a rush. The good thing about Stratty is he's just where his feet are.
"He's a loyal kid. No matter what North Dakota decided for him, he was all in. That lends itself to a very long and successful career."
But first, Strathmann has other things to worry about — like bringing Youngstown its first Clark Cup.
"It would mean the world to me and my teammates," he said.