Fox Chapel’s Veltri gets another shot in USHL
By: Jerin Steele
Saturday, January 12, 2019 | 9:03 PM
Fox Chapel native Chad Veltri put up good numbers in net at every level of hockey he had played in the last few years, and this season he got a long-awaited chance to play in the USHL, the top junior hockey league in the country.
But after a 10-game run with the Sioux Falls Stampede in which Veltri had a .875 save percentage, he was released and thought his time playing in the USHL might be over.
A few days later, however, he received a phone call from Youngstown Phantoms general manager Jason Koehler that turned out to be an early Christmas present.
Veltri was offered a tender by the Phantoms and signed Dec. 21. Familiarity with the program and a second chance to play USHL hockey before making the leap to college hockey at Niagara next season made it a pretty easy decision
“It was a no-brainer for me,” Veltri said. “I practiced with Youngstown a couple times during my Pens Elite U18 year. I was the emergency goalie one time for them too, actually. I’m pretty used to everything around here, and I’m excited for it.”
Veltri, 20, made his Youngstown debut last week, stopping 21 shots in a dramatic 4-3 overtime victory against the Sioux City Musketeers. The Phantoms tied the score with 15 seconds remaining in the third period and scored the winner less than a minute into overtime.
Veltri had a strong 2017-18 season with the Corpus Christi IceRays in the NAHL, a Tier II junior league, posting a 21-13-2 record and .930 save percentage. After that, Sioux Falls drafted him in the fourth round of the 2018 USHL Entry Draft.
Veltri had a respectable 4-2-1 record with the Stampede but said it was an adjustment and major step up in competition compared to anything he’s seen before.
“Guys are so much faster in the USHL, and you need some time to adjust to it,” Veltri said. “You just have to keep a positive mindset through it all, never give up and keep battling through practice and it will show through in games. That’s what I’ve been doing. I’m just working hard every day to get back on track.”
The USHL had a league-record 57 players chosen in the NHL Draft in 2018, including seven first-round picks. Jack Hughes, the consensus No. 1 prospect for the 2019 draft, is playing in the league this season.
Upon his release, Veltri returned to Corpus Christi and, before the call from Youngstown, thought he’d be finishing out the season in the NAHL.
Now he is looking forward to the opportunity to prove he belongs with the elite talent in the USHL and to getting quality time in goal before he heads to Niagara, where he committed last year.
“I want to better myself because this is the best league you can play in,” Veltri said. “These are the guys that I’ll be facing in college, so I just want to do the best I can here.”
Going back to 2016, Veltri has finished every season with a save percentage above .920. Aside from the strong regular season in Corpus Christi last year, he posted a .940 save percentage in the playoffs, where the IceRays lost to eventual NAHL champion Shreveport Mudbugs, 3-2, in a best-of-five series.
Veltri won a Tier I Elite AAA youth hockey title with Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U18 in San Jose in 2016, posting a 22-save shutout in a 3-0 win over Culver Academy in the championship game. While he was traveling with Pens Elite on weekends, he was also a standout with Fox Chapel in the PIHL, where he was named an All-Star.
Youngstown made the league championship Clark Cup final last year, losing the series 3-2 to the Fargo Force. The Phantoms (14-12-3) are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and in the final playoff spot. They are only four points out of second place and five clear of seventh.
Veltri is hopeful he can help the team vault up the standings and put them in position to defend their conference championship.
“I just want to keep on working, get some games in, improve my stats and win some games,” Veltri said. “Hopefully we can make a run for the Clark Cup playoffs. I’m excited to be here for that.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.
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