Monday, January 31, 2005

Soo sweeps Cleveland on the road

The Soo Indians picked up two big wins last weekend as they swept the Cleveland Barons on the road.

Ray Kaunisto, a Northern Michigan recruit, had a goal and three assists in Friday's 6-2 win. Nik Sellers, Glenn Ylitalo, R.G. Flath, Matt Jones and Drew Satterley were the other goal scorers.

Jason Kearney made 23 saves in net for the win.

Saturday, Satterley scored a pair with singles going to Joe Beaudry, Jones and Tiger Marcotte. Kearney was again solid, making 17 saves.

The Indians (22-13-3) are now in first place in the NAHL's North Division, two points up on the U.S. National Team and Youngstown Phantoms.

Cleveland (Friday) and the Toledo IceDiggers (Saturday) host the Soo this weekend.

Whalers and Spirit conclude busy weekend

The Plymouth Whalers took three of six points last weekend in three crucial West Division games while their intra-state rival Saginaw Spirit did the same.

Plymouth beat the Spirit Friday night, lost to the Windsor Spitfires the next evening and then rallied four times to tie Saginaw on Sunday afternoon.

Friday night at home, Plymouth co-captain John Mitchell had two goals and three assists, John Vigilante had a goal and three helpers and Steve Ward added two goals in the 5-0 whitewash. Ryan Nie made 33 saves for his second shutout of the year.

"Nie played great tonight," Plymouth head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci said. "His play really made the difference and changed the complexion of the game."

Windsor then came into the Compuware Sports Arena and beat the Whalers for the fifth straight time this year. Plymouth led 1-0 after the first 20 minutes on a goal by co-captain Tim Sestito, but the Spits then rattled off three unanswered tallies for the 3-1 win. Nie made 34 stops.

"I don't know what it is," Nie said. "We come out strong and then we seem to shut it down. We just can't maintain focus."

Sunday in Saginaw, the Whalers rallied from one-goal deficits four times and eventually tied it, 4-4, on a late goal by Ward. Mitchell, Jonas Fiedler and Sestito scored for Plymouth, now 17-1-2-1 all-time against the Spirit.

Tom Pyatt, with two, and Daniel Borges and Jesse Gimblett scored for Saginaw, who got a 33-save performance from Aaron Rock.

"This is a game we would have been glad to get the point from earlier this season," said Spirit head coach and general manager Bob Mancini. "I think its a testament to how far the players have come that we're disappointed with the tie."

Nie made 36 saves for Plymouth (21-20-5-3). Saginaw is now 15-28-2-4, eight points out of a playoff spot.

"We're coming together as a team," Saginaw defenseman Patrick McNeill said. "We're working hard and I think the team's really confident right now."

Saginaw had beaten the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, 4-2, on Saturday night at the Dow Events Center at Wendler Arena. Marek Kvapil had a hat trick and Tommy Mannino scored the other.

"We've been proving that we're not going to give up in the last couple of games," Gimblett said. "We want everyone to know that we won't give up."

Jeff Weber stopped 33 shots in the win. He had stopped 29 Friday night.

The Whalers are at Kitchener on Friday and then host the Toronto St. Michael's Majors on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. Saginaw hosts Toronto Friday night (7:00 p.m.), Owen Sound Saturday (3:35 p.m.) and then visit Windsor on Sunday for a 1:00 matinee.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Whalers draft picks opt for NCAA

Brett Bennett, the Plymouth Whalers' seventh-round pick last May, has reportedly given his verbal commitment to Boston University and will start his collegiate career in the fall of 2006.

Likewise, forward Kevin Swallow, an 18-year-old Stanwood native, has given the nod to Dartmouth College for this coming fall.

A 6-foot-2, 175-pound goalie from Williamsville, NY, Bennett played last year for the HoneyBaked '88 minor midgets and is currently with the U.S. Under-17 Development Team in Ann Arbor. With HoneyBaked, Bennett led the team to a state championship last March as they defeated a game Compuware squad.

Bennett turns 17 on Mar. 8.

Swallow, also a seventh-round Plymouth draft pick (2002), plays for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. He played last year for the U.S. National Development Team and Compuware two years ago.

Last November, defenseman Mark Mitera (Livonia) signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Michigan this fall. He was selected in the second round by Plymouth in 2003.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Indians sweep IceDiggers

The Soo Indians dug out the brooms to sweep away the visiting Toledo IceDiggers last weekend.

Saturday night in their 4-1 win, R.G. Flath, Nik Sellers, Joe Beaudry and Drew Satterley all scored for the Soo. Jason Kearney made 17 saves for the Soo and Justin Marriott made 26 saves for Toledo.

The previous evening, the Indians chalked up a 6-2 win. Beaudry, Matt Jones, Jim Pentecost, Tommi Maata, Matt Buckley and Steven Kaunisto lit the lamp for the Soo.

Troy Redmann made 12 saves for the win.

The Indians will travel to Cleveland to take on the Barons this weekend on Jan. 29 and 30.

Spirit hold on against Belleville, Oshawa

After losing in Ottawa on Friday night, the Saginaw Spirit regrouped and beat the Belleville Bulls and Oshawa Generals to close out their weekend road trip.

In Belleville, Jesse Gimblett scored twice to back rookie Aaron Rock's 46-save effort in the 3-2 win. The win was Rock's first OHL victory. Tommy Mannino also scored for the Spirit.

Then at Oshawa in a battle of the OHL's two worst teams, Saginaw picked up a 3-1 win with Jeff Weber making 39 saves.

Mannino, Patrick McNeill and Tom Pyatt scored for the Spirit (14-27-1-4).

"We all seem to be on the same page," said Mannino. "We're working hard and if we keep doing that, we'll see what happens."

The Spirit resume action Friday against the Plymouth Whalers in Plymouth. The team returns home Saturday to face the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Whalers beat Sarnia, lose at Mississauga

The Plymouth Whalers maintained their hold on first place in the West Division with a 5-3 win over the Sarnia Sting on Saturday night, but fell at Mississauga to the IceDogs, 5-2 on Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, Dan Collins paced the attack with a hat trick while John Vigilante (empty net) and John Mitchell (power play) added singles. Ryan Nie started in goal, but was pulled for Justin Garay after a soft goal by Trevor Solomon. Garay stopped all ten shots he faced to earn his first home win of the season.

The next afternoon, Mitchell and Jonas Fiedler were the only goal scorers for Plymouth. Nie and Garay combined to stop 28 Mississauga shots.

Plymouth hosts the Saginaw Spirit on Friday night and the Windsor Spitfires on Saturday night before a 2:00 p.m. matinee in Saginaw on Sunday. Game time Friday and Saturday is 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Saginaw comes up short in loss to 67's

Starting a three-game eastern Ontario road swing, the Saginaw Spirit fell to the Ottawa 67's, 5-3, on Friday night.

Czech Republic countrymen Marek Kvapil and Michal Birner each had a goal and an assist for the Spirit while Rick Caughell notched the other goal.

Overage goalie Jeff Weber stopped 36 shots in the loss.

The Spirit travel to Belleville to play the Bulls tonight at 7:15 p.m.

Whalers blanked by Colts

The Plymouth Whalers were shutout at home for the first time in more than two years as the Barrie Colts took a 2-0 win Friday night.

Ryan Nie made 21 saves for the Whalers, but allowed a short-handed goal to Barrie captain B.J. Crombeen and a power-play tally to Travis Fuller.

Adam Munro and the Erie Otters last shutout the Whalers at the Compuware Sports Arena on Sept. 21, 2002.

Plymouth returns to action tonight at home against the Sarnia Sting. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Whalers going to the dogs

The Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers are literally going to the (hot) dogs this weekend.

After hosting the Barrie Colts this Friday night at 7:30 pm at the Compuware Sports Arena, the first-place Whalers will spice up the game with division rival Sarnia Saturday at 7:30 pm by hosting Oscar Meyer Night. The first 240 children 12-and-under coming to the game can purchase hot dogs 75 cents off the normal price.

In addition, Oscar Meyer is bringing the famous Wienermobile to the game. The Wienermobile will be parked outside the Compuware Sports Arena and will be available to fans for inspection and tours before the game.

Plymouth (first place in the OHL’s West Division with a record of 19-17-4-3) completes the weekend Sunday by taking on a dog of another kind – the Mississauga IceDogs at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. The game can be heard on WSDS 1480-AM starting at 1:45 pm.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Saginaw's McNeill named to OHL All-Star Game

Saginaw Spirit defenseman Patrick McNeill has earned a spot on the OHL Western Conference All-Star team. He'll join his teammates in Owen Sound for the Bell OHL All-Star Challenge on Feb. 2 at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre.

McNeill is a 17-year-old native of Strathroy, Ontario. He was the Spirit's first selection, first overall, in the 2003 OHL Priority Selection.

Spirit head coach and GM Bob Mancini says McNeill deserves the honor.

"Patrick has earned this recognition through hard work and leadership," Mancini said.

Whalers ranked for NHL Draft, Nie an All-Star

The National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Service’s mid-term rankings, released last week, have two Plymouth Whalers rated in the first round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft and another in the fourth round.

Center James Neal and right wing Dan Collins are rated 20th and 23rd, respectively, by Central Scouting and defenseman Ryan McGinnis (Fenton) is ranked 110th overall. All three players are 17 and in their second year with Plymouth.

The 2005 National Hockey League Entry Draft is tentatively scheduled for June 25-26 in Ottawa, Ont., at the Corel Centre.

“I’m happy for all three of them,” said Plymouth head coach and GM Mike Vellucci. “They’ve worked very hard to progress this far. They’re key members of our team now and will be over the next couple of years.”

Neal and Collins have also been selected to play in tonight’s Home Hardware Canadian Hockey League/NHL Top Prospects Game at GM Place in Vancouver, BC. The game features 40 of the CHL’s top prospects.

Plymouth goaltender Ryan Nie has been selected to play for the OHL’s Western Conference All-Stars in the 2005 All-Star Classic to be played Feb. 2 in Owen Sound.

Nie, 19, is among the league leaders in the OHL in several goaltending categories. In 37 games (third in the league) played this season for the Whalers, Nie has a 2.45 goals-against-average (fifth), a .919 save percentage (fifth) and 17-15-4 won-loss record. Nie posted his first shutout of the season Jan. 9 in a 3-0 victory in Sault Ste. Marie.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Two Michigan natives added to Tornado

The Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League acquired forwards Derek Danowski (Warren) from the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League and Derek Punches (Manchester) from the Soo Indians of the NAHL at the NAHL trade deadline last Saturday.

The Tornado is the defending NAHL and Tier II national champion.

Ex-NHLer Stapleton joins the North Stars

Record-Eagle sports editor

TRAVERSE CITY - Mike Stapleton's association with Scott Gardiner dates back almost 20 years when the two were opponents in the Ontario Hockey League.

Now, they're on the same team.

Stapleton, who recently retired from the professional hockey ranks, will assist Gardiner in running the Traverse City North Stars, a Junior A team in the North American Hockey League. The North Stars will begin play next fall.

"I enjoy the area - I wanted to stay here and stay involved in hockey," said Stapleton, a Grand Traverse area resident. "I love the game. This is a great opportunity for me. I'm thrilled."

So is Gardiner, who will be the team's coach and general manager.

"We're excited to have Mike on board," he said. "He's a quality person. And with his experience, he'll be a big asset for our organization."

Stapleton, 38, was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1984 entry draft. He played in the National Hockey League until 2001. He spent the last three seasons playing in Europe.

"I've been involved in hockey my entire life," said Stapleton, whose father Pat also had a long NHL career. "I got to be a kid until I was almost 40. How many people get to do that? But now I'm looking forward to the next stage in my life."

Stapleton has already attended a few hockey games with Gardiner as they scout players for next season. The pace will intensify in the coming months.

"We'll be hitting all the major showcase tournaments, trying to assemble a scouting list," Gardiner said.

The league draft is in May. Gardiner said the North Stars will also be involved in tryouts camps "all over the country," including Traverse City.

Stapleton said he is looking forward to developing the young talent that will be on the team's roster.

"This is an important stage in their lives," he said. "These are young kids - 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds. We're not only going to help them develop their hockey skills, but hopefully we're going to help them as people and help them guide their way through life.

"I remember when I went to juniors. I was a young kid, green behind the ears. I stayed with a family for three years. I always said if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have gotten (to the NHL). I wanted to go home. I wasn't sure if I could do this. They helped me along. It's a big part of (a player's) life to leave home to play hockey (in another city, state or country)."

That was one of the reasons Steve Fournier decided to become involved as an owner.

"We're hoping to promote the local talent we have in this area," he said. "Some kids have had to put their stuff in a suitcase and leave home to play. Now, that talent will have an opportunity to stay and play at home instead of going to Green Bay, out west, or wherever.

"This is something I've been thinking about for 12 years. Now, it's all come together. Mike is another piece to the puzzle. We want this to be right for Traverse City ... and we want to do it the right way."

Gardiner said fans will be pleased with the product the North Stars will put on the ice.

"We're looking to move these kids on to Division I schools, especially in the CCHA," he said. "The CCHA is in our backyard with Ferris, Lake Superior, Northern Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan. We're in great shape to be a feeder program for those schools. You'll see high-end hockey here."

Whalers split weekend at home

The Plymouth Whalers split their two home games over the weekend.

The Whalers dominated in a 7-4 win against the Guelph Storm on Saturday and then fell 3-2 on Sunday afternoon to the Owen Sound Attack.

On Saturday, Czech imports Vaclav Meidl and Jonas Fiedler each scored twice and goalie Ryan Nie stopped 25 shots. Dan Collins, Cory Tanaka and Ryan Stephenson scored the other goals for Plymouth. James Neal added three assists.

The following afternoon, Neal scored twice and John Vigilante assisted on both, but Plymouth went down to the Attack. Former HoneyBaked midget minor star Bobby Ryan, Owen Sound's first-round pick in 2003, scored twice, including the game-winner 3:44 into the third period.

Justin Garay made 29 saves for the Whalers (19-17-4-3). Rookie defenseman Jake Helmick, signed as Plymouth's third wild-card (1988-born) player on Jan. 10, made his on-ice debut against the Attack. He dressed against Guelph, but didn't play.

Plymouth hosts the Barrie Colts (Friday) and Sarnia Sting (Saturday) this weekend at the Compuware Sports Arena. Game time both nights is 7:30 p.m.

Plymouth co-captain Tim Sestito is day-to-day after suffering a pulled abdominal muscle in Saturday's game. Defenseman Mike Letizia is out with concussion-like symptoms from the same Guelph game and rookie forward Andrew Fournier is still out with a foot injury suffered in the game against the Brampton Battalion on Dec. 28.

Allen Park native on to Bentley College

Toledo IceDiggers' leading scorer, Paul Scalici, has left the IceDiggers. The 19-year-old joined Bentley College of the Atlantic Hockey conference at the beginning of the current semester.

Scalici, an Allen Park native, was in his second season in the North American Hockey League with the IceDiggers. Last season, he posted 16 goals and 16 assists in 32 games. This season, Scalici was leading Toledo in scoring at the holiday break with ten goals and 19 assists in 27 games.

Scalici, Toledo's captain, will have three and one-half years of eligibility with Bentley, located in Waltham, Mass.

"We are extremely proud of Paul," Toledo head coach and general manager Mike Mankowski said. "He is a tremendous offensive player deserving of this opportunity. He will be missed".

This brings the total number of IceDiggers players moved on to professional or varsity college hockey to over 20 in its four-year existence.

Spirit has great weekend

The Saginaw Spirit started last weekend with only ten wins on the season. But that total has been upped to an even dozen after wins over the Sarnia Sting and Guelph Storm.

Saginaw beat Sarnia, 5-2, Friday night at the Dow Event Center behind a three-point (two goals, assist) game from rookie Michal Birner in his home debut.

"It was great to play in Saginaw for the first time," Birner said. "Lots of goals. We played good as a team."

Birner was acquired from the Barrie Colts last month, but immigration issues kept him in Canada and he only played road games for the Spirit.

Tom Pyatt, captain Thomas Harrison and Marek Kvapil also scored for Saginaw to back Jeff Weber's 33-save performance.

"Our first forty minutes were the best hockey we can play," Spirit head coach and general manager Bob Mancini said. "We came into tonight worried about us. When we focus on our game, we force the other team to adapt to us. I'm proud of our team, but we still have to focus on playing sixty minutes of hockey."

The next night, Tommy Mannino, Kvapil and Pyatt staked Saginaw to a 3-0 lead over Guelph and held off a late surge for ther 3-2 win. Weber stopped 26 shots.

"This weekend was huge for our team," Weber said. "If we continue to do what we are doing, we will play some good hockey. Our defense played solid all weekend long, and we're heading in the right direction."

Saginaw (12-26-1-4) is in Ottawa this Friday against the 67's. Next home game is Jan. 29 against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.