by Jashvina Shah
For the first few games of his rookie USHL season, Josh Melnick was playing well. He just wasn’t scoring.
“He was doing everything except put pucks in the net. We were really happy with the way he was playing,” Phantoms head coach Anthony Noreen says. “As a first year guy, that would usually be enough.
“And I felt like there was more there.”
On Oct. 8, Noreen met Melnick and challenged him.
“I said, ‘Josh you know you’re playing well but you have to score. You’re not good enough, you’re not playing well enough and you have to start putting pucks in the net,’” Noreen says.
In Youngstown’s next game, an Oct. 11 contest against Chicago, the 2015 Princeton commit netted his first USHL goal.
“He made an unbelievable individual play and [went] in and scored his first goal,” Noreen says.
Melnick’s first tally was Youngstown’s first of the contest and the game-winning goal, as the Phantoms blanked the Steel 3-0.
“That shows me right there he’s a guy who’s able and willing to respond when challenged,” Noreen says. “He competes and rises up to the challenge.”
The First Impression
After his senior season with Delbarton ended, Melnick was invited to practice with the Youngstown Phantoms.
When the 5-foot-10 center met the team in March 2013, he introduced himself and shook everyone’s hand.
It was the first time he met his current linemate Zach Evancho, who didn’t know much about Melnick at the time.
“He was really excited just even to be practicing with us, you could tell that right from the beginning,” Evancho says.
“Then when we got on the ice [he was] telling everyone how cool it was and how much he wants to be here.”
But Melnick’s first shifts on the ice didn’t impress Noreen and the Phantoms staff.
“The first half of the first day he looked out of place. He looked nervous, he was fumbling passes, he wasn’t making that many plays,” Noreen says.
By the next day, Melnick was skating differently. The change convinced Noreen and the coaching staff to draft the Annadale, N.J. native.
“We have a certain type of player we look for, a certain makeup,” Noreen says. “The biggest things are compete level, skating [and] feistiness and Josh has that without a doubt.”
Less than two months later, the Phantoms drafted Melnick with their 90th overall pick in round six of the 2013 USHL Draft’s second phase.
“When he first got here he was kind of timid, it was his first time moving away from home,” Evancho says. “No one on the team really knew who he was.”
For Melnick the adjustment was matching the increased level of speed and competition.
“Josh has gone through that adjustment. He’s up to speed in the league, he’s not out of place,” Noreen says. “He’s an impact player, every night. He’s a guy who has a positive impact on the game, on every single game we play, really.”
Through 21 games this season, Melnick has recorded nine points (2g, 7a) and two multi-point games.
“He’s really come out and become a big part of the team. He plays a huge role for us during the game, on the power play and 5-on-5,” Evancho says. “We’re always hanging out with him. He’s just a great guy to be around on and off the ice.”
Melnick recorded his first USHL point on Sept. 27, his third game of the season.
“I always seem to know where he is and he always seems to know where I am, we have really good chemistry,” Evancho says. “He works his butt off so you know he’s going to come out with the puck and he’s going to do whatever he can to get you the puck or get open.”
Melnick received help from two former Phantoms and Delbarton teammates Mike Ambrosia and Tommy Davis, who skate with Princeton.
“They told me a lot about it before I came and how fun it was,” Melnick says. “But it’s been great so far.”
A Model Phantom
Melnick isn’t known in the Phantoms locker room for being a vocal leader.
“But one-on-one, he’s the type of guy that other guys want to play with and want to be around because he does things the right way,” Noreen says.
For Noreen, doing things the right way is waking up at 6 a.m. for workouts, blocking shots, taking hits and eating right.
“He’s willing to do that because he knows that what his team needs and his teammates need,” Noreen says.
Evancho remembers a scrum in front of the net this season where Melnick stepped in to protect one of his teammates.
Off the ice, Melnick exemplifies what wearing Phantom purple means.
“If he’s out there at a school reading to kids or doing community service or even if he’s just out with the guys doing something fun, we know he’s going to represent us the way we want to be represented.
“And that’s with class and that’s with courtesy to the people that are out helping him.”
Evancho has seen Melnick act the same way.
“He always is polite to everyone. You never catch him out in public doing stuff we’re not supposed to,” Evancho says.
A Hockey History
When Melnick was about four years old, he met his future stepdad for the first time. His stepdad, who grew up playing hockey, introduced Melnick to the sport with skating lessons.
From his early hockey days, Melnick remembers skating at Lake Placid, the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics, as a five-year-old.
“I think I knew about [the history] but I didn’t really understand how significant it was until later, when I watched Miracle the movie,” Melnick says.
“But I think I understood how important it was, how cool it was to skate there.”
The Green Wave Powerhouse
When Melnick was a junior at Delbarton, his team was down 2-0 against Christian Brothers Academy in the State Championship game.
“Our coach just told us that we need to work as a team and we’d been through a lot of adversity through the year,” Melnick says.
The Green Wave scored twice in the third period to knot the score. With 1:36 left in regulation, Melnick scored the game-winning goal.
The win secured one of three Delbarton titles Melnick won.
“A player on my team had the puck down low and he moved it up to the defenseman. I went to the net and snuck behind a defenseman on the other team,” Melnick says. “Our defenseman shot it and it got blocked and trickled in front and I did a spin-o-rama kind of thing.
“The puck was in my feet and I kind of kicked it to myself and put it in back door.”
Melnick didn’t get a chance to celebrate, as he was brought down seconds after he scored the goal.
“We all came together as a team which is really important. Towards the beginning of the third period we hadn’t been playing so well,” Melnick says. “Once everyone started working together and playing for each other we scored our first goal [with] really hard work and that was a huge turning point in the game.”
The center, who joined Delbarton’s varsity team as a sophomore , totaled 120 points with the Green Wave. He also played with current Tigers Tommy Davis, Colton Phinney and Mike Ambrosia.
As a senior, Melnick recorded a career-high 66 points (20g, 46a) and netted a career-high six points in the team’s semifinal victory in the State Tournament.
The Delbarton-Princeton Connection
In 2012-13, Melnick visited Princeton’s Baker Rink a few times to see his former teammate Ambrosia play.
“They had a huge student section and everyone was going crazy. I thought that was really cool to have so much support from friends,” Melnick says.
“The building was really alive and just I thought it was really cool to be there.”
Melnick started seeing Princeton hockey as an option at the end of his junior season at Delbarton, when he tallied 46 points (22g, 24a).
He spoke to the coaches as well as Phinney, Davis and Ambrosia. Davis The three skaters all said they wanted Melnick to play at Princeton.
“Towards the end of that summer going into my senior year they offered me and it’s somewhere I felt that I could do really well there,” Melnick says.
“It’s a really good school and a good hockey team so I decided to accept it.”