Tuesday, January 18, 2005

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."

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