Monday, January 30, 2006

Spirit fall in OT to Greyhounds on Sunday

The Saginaw Spirit added to their West Division lead with Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss to Sault Ste. Marie at home. Saginaw now has 53 points to second-place Plymouth's 50, with one game in hand.

The Greyhounds opened the scoring late in the first period, when captain Tyler Kennedy scored. The 'Hounds made it 2-0 early in the second period on a goal from Scott Restoule.

Sault Ste. Marie carried the 2-0 lead through much of the second period before Saginaw cut the Soo lead to 2-1 at 15:19. Spirit forwards Tom Pyatt and Ryan McDonough connected with linemate Jesse Gimblett on the power play.

The Spirit tied the game at 11:25 of the third, when forward Michal Birner (pictured) picked the puck off the boards then beat the Soo's Kyle Gajewski on a breakaway.

Saginaw entered OT on the penalty kill and the Greyhounds strick 1:17 into the extra period, when Josh Godfrey scored on a one-timer from the blue line.

Spirit goalie Francois Thuot had 37 saves in the effort, completing a streak of three games where he gave up just four goals on 119 shots for a 1.32 goals against average and a .966 save percentage. Saginaw's record moves to 26-20-1-0 on the season.

The Spirit resume action Thursday in Windsor against the Spitfires. The Spirit return home Friday to face the Spits.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

North Stars seize thrilling shootout win

Immediately following Friday’s night’s 8-2 loss to Mahoning Valley, the Traverse City North Stars coaches and players held an impromptu closed-door meeting to discuss the performance, the psychology of the game, and the team’s recent slide in general.

Early in Saturday’s rematch at Centre ICE, it seemed as though the lessons learned on Friday had not taken root, as the Phantoms sprinted to a 2-0 lead a mere 3:54 into the first period. However, a three-goal outburst in a span of 2:40 early in the second stanza – and subsequent 4-3 shootout victory – proved otherwise.

“That’s exactly what we were talking about (in Friday’s meeting),” North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. “We talked about being mentally tough and not losing confidence when you get behind. We got behind tonight but we stayed mentally tough, we stayed focused. I’m very proud of how our guys responded tonight.”

Stars forward Travis Paeth and goalie Ryan Donovan (pictured) helped key the thrilling five-session triumph, which snapped a five-game losing streak for Traverse City (13-22-5). Paeth had a pair of goals just 52 seconds apart to open the second period and delivered the game-cinching tally in the shootout session, while Donovan had the finest outing of his junior career, making 41 saves that included several spectacular efforts.

“Ryan Donovan was mentally tough tonight, too,” Gardiner added. “He had kind of a strange goal get by him, and then we’re down 2-0, but he battled back and just played an excellent game for us. He’s such a technically sound goalie. He just puts himself in a position where the puck will hit him.”

Donovan has yet to see extensive regular action as the team’s goalkeep, having worked just 546 of a possible 2,372 minutes this season.

“I try to stay prepared, to be ready when the call comes,” Donovan explained. “You have to be able to go out there and ‘be the guy’ when you get the chance. We haven’t been getting a lot of bounces our way recently, but we got some tonight.”

The North Stars fell into the early hole on Saturday when Matt Atsoff’s shot was deflected high into the air, over Donovan’s shoulder and into the net just 2:43 into the contest. Drew Satterly cleaned up a loose puck in a body-strewn Stars crease a little more than a minute later, and the stage was set for the host’s u-turn.

Paeth got things cranked up a mere 1:03 into the second period, scoring a powerplay goal as arranged by Patrick Nagorsen and Steven Oleksy. Paeth repeated the feat at even strength at 1:55, and Jake Erway converted the North Stars trifecta at 3:43. Richie Zobak assisted on Paeth’s second tally, while Joe St. John and Josh Sorenson were credited with setting up Erway.

Marc Menzione evened things up for Mahoning Valley (23-13-4) at 9:19 with the only goal of the third period when he strolled from behind the North Stars goal into the crease, and backhanded the puck into the top corner of the net. The teams then traded possessions for the remainder of the third and through the overtime session, setting up the shootout heroics.

After Donovan rebuked Phantoms forward Jacob Roadhouse to open the shootout, Oleksy ignited the raucous Centre ICE contingent with a conversion for the hosts. Mike Maltese answered for Mahoning Valley, but the recently-inked Jon Madden put the Stars ahead 2-1 in the shootout with a lamplighter of his own. Donovan stopped Matt Quigley, followed by Ryan Zapolski’s denial of TC’s Brett Englebright, and it was Paeth who could deliver the victory with his next shot – and he did.

“I don’t know, I just had a good feeling all day, and all game long,” explained Paeth, who now has 12 goals on the season. “I just felt … confident today, and that’s how I felt as I was taking the (game-winning) shot.”

Paeth beat Zapolski clean on the game-winner, wristing the puck just under the crossbar and sending nearly 1,000 fans home happy.

The Phantoms outshot the host North Stars by a 44-23 margin. Bryce Merriam started the game in goal for Mahoning Valley, but was shaken up in a scrum near the goal mouth and left after Erway’s goal.

Despite the much-needed victory, things don’t get any easier for the North Stars. The team will fly to Texas this week four a four-game swing that includes dates against the 27-10-2 Texarkana Bandits and the two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado. The Stars face Texarkana on Wednesday and Friday and the Dallas area-based Tornado on Thursday and Saturday.

Saginaw in first after 5-1 win in Plymouth

Saginaw's Scott Fletcher and Plymouth's Jared Boll tussle

The Saginaw Spirit led from start the finish in scoring three power-play goals and a shorthanded tally in a 5-1 victory over the Plymouth Whalers in front of a sellout crowd of 3,628 Saturday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

The victory moves Saginaw (26-20-0-0) in sole possession of first place in the OHL’s West Division, two points ahead of Plymouth (23-21-1-3). The Whalers have lost five in a row of seven of their last eight games.

Plymouth has scored just five goals over the five-game losing streak.

"The bounces aren't going our way," Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. "Nothing's going our way."

Saginaw goaltender Francois Thuot was the game’s first star for the second straight game against Plymouth in stopping 39 of 40 shots. Thuot pitched a shutout Thursday night in a 3-0 victory over the Whalers in a game played at Dow Event Center in Saginaw.

Ryan McDonough led the Saginaw attack with two power-play goals and now leads the Spirit in scoring with 27 goals and 38 assists for 65 points in 46 games. Tom Pyatt scored a goal and added two assists. Jesse Gimblett added a goal and assist while Garrett Sinfield scored the shorthanded goal for Saginaw.

Gino Pisellini scored the lone Plymouth goal on a power play in the third period.

Special teams were prominent in the game as referee Darcy Burchell sent a constant parade of skaters to the penalty box on both sides. In all, Saginaw went 3-for-13 on the power play, Plymouth 1-for-9.

"This was a big win for us," Saginaw coach-GM Bob Mancini said. "It puts us in first, but it'll be a battle to stay there for sure."

Plymouth starts a three-game road trip in Kingston this Friday. They’ll continue on the road next Saturday night in Belleville and play Super Bowl Sunday in Ottawa.

Saginaw hosts Sault Ste. Marie tomorrow.

Photo by Matt Mackinder

IceDiggers swept by Team USA

The U.S. National Under-17 Team skated past the Alpena IceDiggers, 6-1, Saturday afternoon in NAHL action at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

Team USA jumped out to a two-goal lead on back-to-back goals from Ryan Schnell and Brennan Vargas late in the first period.

Alpena replied with a goal from Zach Barron with 1:52 remaining in the period to cut the USA lead to one. USA tallied once more in the first when C.J. Severyn, a 2005 Plymouth Whalers draft pick, scored a wrap-around goal to push the USA lead to two at 3-1.

The USA advantage stretched to three when James vanRiemsdyk tipped a point shot from A.J. Sturges past Alpena netminder Peter O'Hara 1:20 into the second frame.

In the third period, Colin Wilson and John Albert scored for Team USA to secure the 6-1 victory.

USA netminder Brad Phillips was strong in net stopping 32 of 33 IceDiggers attempts.

O'Hara finished with 24 saves.

The U.S. National Under-17 Team hosts the Mahoning Valley Phantoms tomorrow afternoon at 3 p.m. here at the Ice Cube while Alpena heads to Cleveland.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Black Bears all over Manitoulin, 7-3

After falling 2-1 Tuesday night at home to the Soo Thunderbirds (above), the Northern Michigan Black Bears rebounded for a 7-3 road win last night against the Manitoulin Islanders.

Six different players - Tyler Huskey, J.D. King, Ryan Murtagh, Jim Ceglarek, Chris Cooper and Anthony Perdicaro (with two) - scored for Northern Michigan to back Tony Stoehr's 42-save performance in net.

The Black Bears stay on the road and play Blind River tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Whalers drop fourth straight Friday night

The young Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds played an excellent road game en route to a 3-1 victory over the Plymouth Whalers before 2,643 Friday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

The Whalers lost their fourth straight game and sixth in their last seven. Plymouth (23-20-1-3) remains in a first-place tie with the idle Saginaw Spirit (25-20-0-0).

Sault Ste. Marie goaltender Kyle Gajewski was the game’s first star in stopping 28 of 29 Plymouth shots. The ‘Hounds got a first period goal from David Kuchejda and third-period goals from Ryan Kitchen and Andrew Desjardins (empty net).

Mike Letizia scored the lone Plymouth goal (above), his 10th of the season, at 18:22 of the third period, to cut the Sault Ste. Marie lead to 2-1. Plymouth pulled goaltender Justin Peters in the final minute of play, but Desjardins scored to ice the game.

Plymouth has scored just four goals over the four straight losses and 12 goals over their last seven games.

In a game for first place, Plymouth hosts Saginaw Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.

Whalers' right wing Dan Collins underwent successful surgery Friday to repair a disk problem in his back. Collins, the Whalers’ leading goal-scorer (26) to go with 23 assists for 49 points in 44 games this season, is expected to make a full recovery and could be back later this season.

Collins is in his third season for the Whalers and was selected in the 3rd round (90th overall) by the Florida Panthers in last summer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

North Stars dumped by Phantoms, 8-2

At home Friday night, the Traverse City North Stars were squashed by the Mahoning Valley Phantoms and suffered an 8-2 setback.

Brett Englebright and Matthew Larke scored for Traverse City. Jeremy Kaleniecki and Ryan Donovan combined for 28 saves in goal.

“I’m at a loss,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “I feel like we’re a team looking around, waiting for some to lead us, someone to take control. From our goalies, to our defense, up to our forwards, no one is getting the job done. I’m not pointing fingers at any one in particular. It’s been a total team breakdown.”

The rematch is tonight at 7:30 p.m.

IceDiggers fall to U.S. Under-17 Team

The U.S. National Under-17 Team dropped the Alpena Ice Diggers, 6-2 in NAHL action Friday afternoon at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

Alpena jumped out to a 1-0 lead 2:44 into the game when Todd Rudasill buried a loose puck in front of USA netminder Josh Unice. USA defenseman Ian Cole notched his third goal of the season on a blast from the left point to knot the game at one at the end of the first frame.

USA turned on the offense in the second period with a jump-start from a power-play goal by James vanRiemsdyk 1:49 into the second period. Defenseman A.J. Sturges scored 4:20 later to give USA the two goal advantage at 4-2. USA forward Mike Cieslak got a gift when Alpena goaltender Peter O'Hara skated towards the bench on what he thought was a delayed penalty, but he was wrong and Cieslak deposited the puck in the empty net to give USA the 5-1 lead.

Midway through the third period Colin Wilson stretched the USA lead to 6-1 with a power-play goal from Colby Cohen and Sturges. Chris Hendrickson scored a late power-play goal with 3:18 remaining for Alpena's second tally of the night to make the score 6-2.

Unice was strong in goal stopping 38 of 40 IceDiggers attempts to earn his seventh win of the season. O'Hara and Johnny Morrow combined for 37 saves in the Alpena net.

USA and Alpena face-off Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Ice Cube as part of the inagural Hockey Day in Michigan.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Saginaw, Thuot blank Whalers Thursday

The Saginaw Spirit overtook the Plymouth Whalers for first place in the OHL West last night with a 3-0 shutout at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw.

Both teams now have 50 points, but Saginaw has a game in hand and two more wins.

Spirit captain Patrick McNeill assisted on all three goals and Francois Thuot made 39 saves for the shutout.

Tom Pyatt, Ryan McDonough and Michal Birner (pictured) scored for Saginaw (25-20-0-0). Birner also assisted on Pyatt's goal and fought Whalers' defenseman Wes Cunningham to earn himself the "Gordie Howe Hat Trick."

Justin Peters stopped 33 shots for Plymouth (23-19-1-3). Dan Collins missed his second straight game for the Whalers as he awaits further evaluation on a back injury.

The Whalers host Sault Ste. Marie tonight and then Saginaw Saturday night.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Whalers and Spirit celebrate HDIM

An event that started in Canada has moved to Michigan in a big way this Saturday as hockey organizations from all levels throughout the state celebrate Hockey Day in Michigan.

The Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit will contribute to the fun, excitement and celebration of hockey as they face-off Saturday night at 7:30 pm at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Fans looking for the Whalers-Spirit rivalry to start heating up will get their wish, as the two teams will meet six times over the final two months of the season in meaningful games. Plymouth – in first place in the OHL’s West Division with a 23-18-1-3 record, good for 50 points – comes into the weekend two points ahead of Saginaw (24-20-0-0).

Plymouth and Saginaw start the weekend by playing Thursday in Saginaw at the Dow Event Center at Wendler Arena. After Plymouth hosts Sault Ste. Marie Friday, the Whalers and Spirit meet again Saturday at the Compuware Sports Arena.

In addition to playing Saturday, the Whalers and Spirit have teamed up for the following:

As part of the celebration, one lucky Whalers fan - as well as one fortunate Saginaw Spirit fan - will each win a Whalers/Spirit Prize Pack including home and home tickets for two, overnight hotel accommodations to an upcoming Whalers/Spirit game, food and restaurant gift certificates and signed team memorabilia from each squad.

Two youth hockey players (one from Saginaw County and another from Metro Detroit) will be introduced as the Hockey Day Kids of the Game and treated to an-on ice introduction at the start of the game. Kids can sign up at any Whalers home game at the Kids Club table or register on-line at

All fans in attendance will be treated to Michigan Hockey Trivia - announcements and an in-game contest focused on Michigan Hockey Heroes.

All Fans sporting a hockey jersey from any Michigan based squad (at any/all levels) will be given a discounted ticket voucher valid for select Whalers home hockey games.

The Whalers will continue a season-long celebration of playing their tenth season at the Compuware Sports Arena by honoring Whaler alumni Randy Fitzgerald (who played for the Whalers in 1996-97 when the building opened) and Jamie Lalonde.

Road-weary North Stars come home

For 40 days and 40 nights, the Traverse City North Stars have toiled on the road, playing games in Ann Arbor, Alpena, and Youngtown, Ohio. On Friday, the team comes home to Centre ICE for a two-game series with North Division rival Mahoning Valley. Finally.

“It’s a relief to get back here,” said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner (left). “For any team, that’s a long time to be on the road, and it’s taken its toll on us, no question. We need to get back in our own building and start getting our confidence back, and good things will happen.”

North Stars forward Jared Mullen, who is tied for the team scoring lead with 11 goals and 14 assists, says that such a long road swing can affect a team’s mood.

“Truthfully, it gets kind of depressing getting on and off the bus so often,” he said. “After a month and a half, it’ll be pretty exciting to be at home with our own fans.”

The club started the new year in style, taking five of a possible six points over a long weekend in Ann Arbor against the Team USA Under-17s and in Alpena against the IceDiggers from Jan. 12-15. Then came the disastrous road trip to Youngstown for the North American Hockey League’s North Division Showcase, where Traverse City drew a tough four-game set against the Team USA U-18s and first place Cleveland. The team limped out of The Ice Zone with an 0-4 mark, but started to turn things around on Sunday with a narrow 2-1 setback to Cleveland. The Phantoms are the only team in the division that the North Stars haven’t beat this season.

“They play a very physical game, and they have a line that’s as good as any in the NAHL in (Anthony) Ciraulo, (Marc) Manzione, and (Drew) Satterly,” Gardiner explained. “Plus, they have a big, stay-at-home group of defensemen that really play well together. We haven’t gotten them yet, but we haven’t played them at home yet, either.”

Fans who last saw Traverse City on Dec. 18 when the North Stars hosted Cleveland will have a few new players to cheer for on Friday and Saturday. Gone are defenseman Luc Du Bay, the team’s first-ever draft pick, and forward Danny Dries. Du Bay was dealt to Billings of the NAHL’s West Division at the Jan. 15 trade deadline, while Dries returned to the midget major level. His injured knee hadn’t fully healed, and all parties agreed that spending time with the Victory Honda midget club would be in the best interest of everyone involved.

New faces include the high-scoring tandem of forwards Ryan Bond and Joe Schweiger, who set the Junior B Central States Hockey League on fire earlier this season. As linemates, Bond posted 14 goals and 23 assists in 42 games with the Motor City Chiefs, while Schweiger registered 21 goals and 17 helpers in just 24 outings. Bond saw action in the team’s Dec. 18 loss to Cleveland at Centre ICE, but will hopefully be reunited with Schweiger in front of the home fans this weekend. Schweiger is still recuperating from a second-degree shoulder separation, but hopes to play against the Phantoms.

In addition, forwards Mike Sand and Sal Ragusa will both meet the Centre ICE arena faithful for the first time this weekend. Sand, a Port Huron-area native, came to the Stars from the same Belle Tire midget major program that produced current TC players Jared Mullen and Jonathan Juliano. Ragusa, who hails from Greensboro, N.C., spent 2004-05 with the midget major Florida Everblades.

“We’ve gotten younger,” Gardiner explained. “We’re trying to stay strong, but also to position ourselves for next year and beyond.”

Both Friday and Saturday games are set for 7:30 p.m. face-offs at Centre ICE arena.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Warren's Schepke commits to Michigan State

Omaha Lancers' forward Matt Schepke has commited to play for Michigan State next season.

The second-year Lancer from Warren came to the Lancers from Michigan Tech in the middle of last season.

This season, the 21-year-old Schepke is tied for the team lead in points with 32 and is tied for third in goal scoring, tied for second in game-winning goals (5) and is fourth in shorthanded goals (4) overall in the USHL.

Schepke's commitment represents a total of 14 Lancers who will be heading to a DI school to play hockey either next season or in 2007.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Spirit fall in T.O. on last-second goal

The Toronto's St. Michael's Majors stole a victory from the Saginaw Spirit in Toronto Sunday afternoon.

Cory Vitarelli's goal with 1.1 seconds left won it for Toronto, 5-4. Justin Donati tallied a hat trick for the Majors.

The Spirit had overcome an early Toronto lead to take a two-goal advantage before Vitarelli's game-winner.

Tom Pyatt scored twice for Saginaw and Vaclav Meidl (pictured) and Patrick Asselin added singles. Meidl's goal was his first with Saginaw since being traded from the Plymouth Whalers on Jan. 10.

Ryan Daniels suffered the loss, but finished with 35 saves.

The Spirit return home to face the first-place Whalers on Thursday.

North Stars lose, IceDiggers win at Showcase

The Traverse City North Stars will take a victory – even if it’s in defeat.

After getting pounded by a combined 25-4 margin over the first three days of the North American Hockey League’s four-day North Division Showcase at The Ice Zone near Youngstown, Ohio, the Stars battled first-place Cleveland to a virtual draw before succumbing, 2-1.

“It’s a little bit of positive today,” North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. “Just because we lost total team confidence these past two days, so we have to start building that back up and we started that today.”

The North Stars came out of the locker room with some jump, as Joe St. John scored his second goal of the season at the 11:44 mark of the opening stanza to give TC a 1-0 lead they would take into the first intermission. Jake Erway drew the lone assist on the St. John goal, his fourth of 2005-06.

Brett Jendra evened things up for the barons just 1:44 into the second period, and the team’s traded scoring chances until NAHL leading scorer Carter Camper notched the game-winner on the powerplay a mere :44 into the final 20 minutes of play. The Stars, now 12-21-5, outshot the Barons down the stretch 8-6, but Bobby Jarosz kept Cleveland (25-15-4) atop the division with several sterling stops.

Jeremy Kaleniecki (pictured) worked in net for the North Stars, stopping 31 Cleveland attempts, but it was Traverse City’s continued futility on the powerplay that hindered a comeback. In fact, the Stars are a mere 4.65 percent with the man advantage so far in 2006, connecting on just two out of 43 tries.

“I have no answer for that, and to tell you the truth it’s the least of our concern right now," said Gardiner. "We’ll keep working on things in our own end of the ice and work our way forward. Hopefully, we can get the powerplay going by the time march and the playoffs roll around.”

Traverse City will try to get back on track Friday and Saturday at Centre ICE arena with a pair of home games against Mahoning Valley. Both games get underway at 7:30 p.m.


The Alpena IceDiggers salvaged their Showcase experience with a 7-4 win Sunday over the Springfield Jr. Blues.

Seven different Alpena skaters - Todd Rudasill, Drew Pierson, Zach Barron, Earl Hudick, Anthony McIntyre, Eric Roman and captain Nolan Craner - scored in the win, just their seventh of the season.

Chris Lanciano chipped in with two assists for the IceDiggers and Johnny Morrow stopped 40 shots for the victory.

Alpena plays the U.S. National Development Team Friday and Saturday in Ann Arbor and then the first-place Cleveland Barons in Cleveland Sunday afternoon.

Black Bears pound Abitibi, 6-1

The Northern Michigan Black Bears continued their strong play Saturday night with a 6-1 win over the Abitibi Eskimos on home ice at the Big Bear Arena.

Derek Stabile scored twice and added an assist while Tyler Huskey, Chris Cooper, Steve Kruszewski and Isaac Viau tallied once. Kruszewski and Jim Ceglarek added two assists apiece.

Elliott Hogue made 22 saves in goal for the win.

The Black Bears host the Soo Thunderbirds Tuesday night.

Plymouth shut down by Windsor

Gino Pisellini can't solve Windsor goalie Anthony Guadagnolo

The Windsor Spitfires are a much improved team over the last month of the Ontario Hockey League season. The Plymouth Whalers saw just how much Saturday night.

Windsor goaltender Anthony Guadagnolo’s 39-save, first-star performance led Windsor to a 2-1 victory over the Whalers before 3,405 at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters was nearly as good, stopping 38 of 40 Windsor shots as the game’s second star.

After a scoreless first period, Windsor got second period goals from Bryan Bickell and the game-winner from Brad Snetsinger on a power play. Plymouth’s lone goal came from Joe McCann at 5:50 of the third period.

Other than those goals, Guadagnolo and Peters matched each other save-for-save as the Spitfires improved to 20-22-2-2, good for 44 points. In spite of the loss, Plymouth (now 23-18-1-3) remains in first place in the OHL West two points ahead of Saginaw, who lost, 6-1, Saturday night in Kitchener. Saginaw (24-19-0-0) plays in Toronto Sunday afternoon.

Plymouth’s next game is a potential game for first place in the OHL’s West Division next Thursday night when they play in Saginaw against the Spirit. Plymouth’s next home games are next Friday at 7:30 pm against Sault Ste. Marie and next Saturday at 7:30 pm against Saginaw.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

Spirit routed by Kitchener, 6-1, on the road

The Saginaw Spirit fell to conference rivals Kitchener, 6-1, in Kitchener Saturday night.

The lone Spirit goal came from Patrick Asselin (left), his 20th of the season. Spirit goalie Francois Thuot made 59 saves, a new team record in regulation.

Thuot eclipsed his mark of 58 saves set on Nov. 9, 2005 in London against the Knights.

The Spirit remain in second place in the OHL West behind division-leading Plymouth, after the Whalers' 2-1 loss to Windsor. The Spirit are in fifth place in the Western Conference.

Saginaw plays today in Toronto against the St. Michael's Majors at 2:00 p.m. The Spirit return home to face Plymouth on Thursday at 7:11 p.m.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Traverse City beaten again Saturday

The North American Hockey League’s North Division Showcase is quickly becoming an event to forget for the Traverse City North Stars.

After 7-3 and 10-0 losses at the hands of the Team USA Under-18s, the Stars absorbed an 8-1 lambasting to Cleveland on Saturday on the third day of the Showcase at The Ice Zone near Youngstown, Ohio.

Forward Carter Camper (pictured), the NAHL’s leading scorer with 65 points in 42 outings and also a former HoneyBaked midget player, added a pair of goals and assisted on two other to lead the Barons back into first place in the North Division at 24-15-4. Brett Jendra scored twice for Cleveland, while Tomas Petruska chipped in with a goal and two helpers.

“We’re really struggling with our confidence right now,” North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. “(Friday) night’s game (a 10-0 loss to USA-18) really, really hurt us. Coach (Mike) Stapleton and I are really at a loss right now. We were outshot by one and lose 8-1. It makes no sense. It’s all mental right now.”

Patrick Nagorsen scored the lone goal for the North Stars (12-20-5), but not until early in the third period with the Barons already enjoying a 4-0 bulge. Jonathan Juliano and Brett Englebright assisted. Whatever momentum Traverse City had built on Nagorsen’s team-leading 12th tally of the season lasted exactly 16 seconds before Nick Kosinski restored Cleveland’s four-goal cushion.

Jeremy Kaleniecki took the loss for Traverse City, permitting eight goals on 33 shots. Kenny Reiter won his 11th start for the barons, making 31 saves.

The teams face off again on Sunday in a 10 a.m. affair. Gardiner says that despite a 25-4 goal differential thus far, the final game of the four-day event will be telling.

“We have to stay with it and keep working hard and good things will come,” he insisted. “We still have one more game and we have to try to shake this off. We have to get ourselves out of this.”

The Stars return to Centre ICE arena next Friday for a two-game homestand against Mahoning Valley.

Spirit edge Erie, gain ground on Whalers

The Saginaw Spirit gained two points on the West Division-leading Plymouth Whalers in Friday's 4-3 defeat of the Erie Otters in Erie.

The Spirit win also jumped Saginaw over Owen Sound into fifth place in the OHL Western Conference. The Spirit never trailed in the game, but had to overcome three Erie game-tying goals to secure the victory.

Ryan McDonough scored 42 seconds into the game before the Otters equalized with a Michael Blunder power-play goal three minutes later.

Saginaw and Erie then played almost 40 minutes of scoreless hockey, as the teams battled through a physical and chippy contest. The Spirit broke the 1-1 tie at 3:21 of the third when McDonough scored on the power-play from Michal Birner. But the Otters wasted no time tying the game 30 seconds later when an Erie shot went in off a Spirit player's skate. Winger Sean O'Connor (pictured), a Trenton native, was credited with the goal.

Birner scored at 15:42 during a 4-on-4, set up by a Francois Thuot pass. Erie tied quickly again, on a Ryan O'Marra power-play goal.

The game appeared to be heading to overtime, when the Spirit took advantage of a broken play in Erie's zone. Spirit forward Jesse Gimblett banged in a shot at close range that beat the Otters' Josh Disher for what would become the game-winning goal. Patrick Asselin and Ryan Berard assisted.

The Otters pulled Disher for the final 1:10 of the game, but were unable to convert to force overtime.

Thuot had 30 saves in the game and registered his first OHL assist.

Saginaw's record moves to 24-18-0-0 on the season, for 48 points and second place in the OHL West, two points behind division-leading Plymouth. The Spirit resume action Saturday night in Kitchener against the Rangers for the second of a three game road trip. The Spirit return to the Dow Event Center next Thursday to face the Whalers at 7:11 p.m.

O'Connor photo courtesy of Jim Cooper/Erie Otters.

North Stars, 'Diggers both fall at Showcase

The only thing more potent than the stingy defense of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad on Friday was its offense.

While yielding a mere 22 shots on net – including a negligible three over the first 20 minutes of action – Team USA poured it on with the puck as well, handing the Traverse City North Stars a franchise-worst 10-0 defeat on the second day of the North American Hockey League’s North Division Showcase in greater Youngstown, Ohio.

The Team USA U-18s scored early, often and in a variety of ways on Friday, beginning with Patrick Kane’s unassisted shorthanded tally just 1:34 into the contest, and ending with Rhett Rakhshani’s powerplay effort with 5:16 to play. The North Stars experienced difficulty with the man advantage – they went 0-for-6 on powerplay chances -- as well as the penalty kill, where the U-18s converted five of eight powerplay opportunities. In all, the Stars were outshot by a whopping 50-22 margin.

Rakhshani led the way for Team USA (24-8-4) with a trio of lamplighters, two of which came on the powerplay, while Bill Sweatt dished out four assists. Kane finished with two goals and a pair of helpers, and James O’Brien had one of each.

“We took a whoopin’,” admitted North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “They turned it up a notch, and we’re ready to match that. We had some jump (on Thursday), but we got down early tonight and couldn’t get back in it.

“There’s not a whole lot to say except … that’s one pretty deep, pretty darn strong team right there. They beat us in every period on both ends of the ice.”

Jeremy Kaleniecki took the loss in net for Traverse City (12-19-5), making 40 saves. Joseph Palmer and Brett Bennett shared goalkeeping duties for Team USA, with Palmer turning aside eight shots and Bennett registering the final 14 saves.

The North Stars try to get back on track Saturday against Cleveland in an 11 a.m. contest. The Stars and Barons will face off again on Sunday morning (10 a.m.) in the final installment of the four-day, six-team event. Gardiner says the way his team responds to such a lopsided loss will be telling.

“We have to get back and re-focus,” Gardiner explained. “Hey, there’s still four points sitting out there this weekend. We have to put something like this behind us and move on.”


The Alpena IceDiggers fell, 7-5, to the host Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

Drew Pierson had two goals and an assist for Alpena. Korey O'Brien, Erik Peterson and Chris Hendrickson also tallied for Alpena.

Anthony McIntyre added two assists while goaltender Johnny Morrow stopped 38 in defeat.

The IceDiggers play the Springfield Jr. Blues tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Whalers doubled-up in Guelph, 4-2

Guelph Storm right wing Ryan Callahan has a history of playing well against the Plymouth Whalers. Coming into Friday night’s game against the Whalers, Callahan had scored nine goals and 14 points in 18 games in his career against Plymouth.

Callahan continued his good work against Plymouth again Friday night before 3,806 at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre.

Callahan scored twice – including the game-winning goal and the insurance tally – in Guelph’s 4-2 victory over the Whalers. Callahan’s pair gives him a team-leading 29 goals on the season. Matt D’Agostini and Shawn Haviland scored the other Storm goals.

Tom Sestito and Chris Terry (pictured) replied for the Whalers.

In losing, Plymouth (23-17-1-3) remains in first place in the OHL West and is two points ahead of second place Saginaw (24-18-0-0), who defeated Erie, 4-3, on Friday night.

Justin Peters made 28 saves in the loss for the Whalers.

Plymouth is back in action Saturday night at home against the Windsor Spitfires.

Terry photo by Matt Mackinder.

Black Bears beat Sudbury, Manitoulin

The Northern Michigan Black Bears seem to be hitting their stride.

After Wednesday's come-from-behind shootout win in Sudbury, the Black Bears put an eight-spot on the board last night at home in an 8-0 rout of the Manitoulin Islanders at Big Bear Arena.

Chris Cooper scored once and added three assists in the win while Michael Caprio and Isaac Viau each had two goals and an assist. Tyler Huskey, Derek Stabile and Chase Stevens also scored for Northern Michigan.

Tony Stoehr made just 16 saves for the shutout.

The Black Bears host the Abitibi Eskimos tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

USA Under-18's beat North Stars, Alpena falls

The U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad is among the top junior teams on the continent, and they proved it again on Thursday, handing the Traverse City North Stars a 7-3 setback in the opening contest of the North American Hockey League’s North Division Showcase near Youngstown, Ohio.

The U-18s were fresh off a one-goal loss at the University of Michigan varsity team in an exhibition contest, and a 10-1 drubbing of North Division rival Alpena last week.

On Thursday, Chris Atkinson churned out a goal and a pair of assists for Team USA, including a score during a four-goal explosion in the third period. Team USA improved to 23-8-4 in NAHL play, while the Stars fell to 12-18-5.

The teams combined for 19 penalties for 46 minutes. TC was 0-for-8 on powerplay chances, while USA converted four of their eight opportunities into scores.

“We need to avoid giving them all these power play chances,” said Stars coach Scott Gardiner. “And we gave up some soft goals – I’m not afraid to say it. Five-on-five, we played ‘em pretty even-up, but they capitalized on power play chances and we didn’t.”

Bill Sweatt and Patrick Kane gave the U-18s a 2-0 edge in the first period with powerplay goals at 4:47 and 13:41, respectively. Jared Mullen answered at 14:27 on assists from Jonathan Juliano and Steve Hackman. Patrick Nagorsen registered the equalizer just 1:03 into the second period, but Team USA would issue rejoinders on six of the next seven lamplighters, including singular entries from Blake Geoffrion, Rhett Rakhshani, James O’Brien and Erik Johnson, plus Atkinson’s game-sealer with 5:31 to play. Eric Elmblad and Brett Englebright assisted on Nagorsen’s goal.

Adam Sponseller wedged an unassisted third stanza goal between those from O’Brien and Atkinson, but 5-3 was as close at Traverse City would get the rest of the way.

Ryan Donovan (pictured) started in net for the Stars, stopping 29 of the 37 shots he saw, while Joseph Palmer grabbed the win for Team USA on 29-for-32 netkeeping.

The teams meet up again on Friday at 4 p.m. in the second of four weekend outings for each of the North Division’s five teams, plus Springfield (Ill.) of the South Division. Traverse City will square off against Cleveland in morning contests on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s game is scheduled for an 11 a.m. face-off, while Sunday’s affair gets underway at 10 a.m.

“We have to stay out of the box, that’s the first thing,” Gardiner said. “But we have to capitalize when we have our (powerplay) chances.”

Also at the Showcase Thursday, the hometown Mahoning Valley Phantoms blanked Alpena, 3-0. IceDiggers' goalie Johnny Morrow stopped 44 shots. Alpena plays the Phantoms again tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

North Stars gear up for Showcase

The Traverse City North Stars are looking to build on the momentum accrued after taking five out of a possible six points during last weekend’s three-game road swing, but they’ll have to do it against the best of the best in the North American Hockey League’s North Division.

The first-place Cleveland Barons and the second-place Team USA Under-18 squad will each face the Stars twice at the six-team North Division Showcase event near Youngstown, Ohio which begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday.

“We have our work cut out for us, and we won’t use points as a goal for the weekend,” explained Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “We have to continue to work on our own game and continue to work on playing in our own zone.

“When we went on that (nine-game losing) skid we were giving up way too many quality scoring chances. Now that we’ve started to turn it around, we’re still giving up shots, but nowhere near the quantity of shots from in close that we were. We need to continue that trend.”

Since the NAHL instituted a balanced intradivisional schedule – meaning that each team in the division plays every other team an equal number of times – the Stars’ tough Showcase schedule was merely the luck of the draw. The only quirk arising from the event is that the Barons won’t have to make the trip to Traverse City for a two-game series later in the season.

“They get away with not coming up here, but that’s just the way the schedule worked out,” Gardiner added.

The North Stars have won two of their last three contests and lost the third in overtime against the Team USA Under-17 team last Friday. Stars defenseman Arthur Bidwell thinks he and his teammates can build on the momentum of that run.

“We have to play two very tough teams, probably among the best in the league,” Bidwell said. “But I think we have a good shot with the way we’re playing right now. Almost all the guys they’re going to be putting out there have Division I (college) scholarships, but we can’t let that intimidate us. We just have to be of the mindset to play our game and leave everything out there on the ice.”

Traverse City (12-17-5) has won three of eight meetings with Cleveland (23-13-4), including a sweep at Centre ICE on Nov. 4-5. The Team USA U-18s won the only meeting with the North Stars, a 5-1 victory on Nov. 23.

“Cleveland is a very solid team and they’ve even made some recent additions to improve their team even more,” Gardiner said. “And while we’ve had some success against the Under-17s, the U-18s play a little bit different game. There’s a big difference in the speed and the skill and how they move the puck. They really know how to attack.”

The event also affords players a chance to be scouted by representatives of college and professional teams. Gardiner says the added exposure shouldn’t be a factor in how his team plays.

“There will be lots of scouts, but in that atmosphere, I don’t think it adds too much pressure.”

The Stars will face the Team USA U-18s (22-8-4) on Thursday and Friday before a Saturday-Sunday two-game set against the Barons. The team will return to Centre ICE arena next weekend for a Jan. 27-28 set against Mahoning Valley.

Plymouth draft pick Hayes verbals to BC

Ryan Hayes, a sixth-round pick of the Plymouth Whalers last May, has reportedly verbally committed to Boston College for the 2007-2008 school year.

Hayes, a 5-foot-9, 169-pound forward from Syracuse, currently leads the U.S. Under-17 Team in scoring with 13 goals and 21 points in 24 NAHL games this year.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Saginaw needs OT to beat 'Hounds

The Saginaw Spirit overcame a hard-charging Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds team to take a 5-4 win in overtime Sunday.

Spirit forward Jesse Gimblett (left) got the game-winning goal in OT, completing a four-point day in his 300th OHL game. The win gives the Spirit 46 points, the most in team history, and puts the Spirit in second place in the OHL West, four points behind the Plymouth Whalers. The Spirit are in sixth place in the OHL Western Conference, one point behind Guelph.

The Soo scored first at 1:34 of the first, when forward Dustin Jeffery knocked in a rebound. The Spirit tied on the power play, when Gimblett scored on the rebound from Matt Corrente and twin Tyson Gimblett. The Soo re-took the lead 2-1 in the last minute of the period, on a 5-on-3 power play, when defenseman Josh Godfrey found the net.

The Spirit tied the game 2-2 on a 5-on-3 early in the second period, when Michal Birner connected on a one-timer from captain Patrick McNeill and Jesse Gimblett. McNeill sprung forward Zack Torquato on a sixty-foot pass three minutes later and Torquato scored on the breakaway to make it 3-2 Saginaw.

The Hounds weren't done yet, though. Sault Ste. Marie tied the game 3-3 at 7:06 of the second, when forward Tyler Kennedy scored on wrist shot from the blueline. Saginaw responded quickly, at 8:26 when defenseman Scott Fletcher put in a slapshot from the blueline, assisted by Jesse Gimblett and Ryan McDonough to make it 4-3. The goal was Fletcher's first of his OHL career. McDonough's assist gave him 38, breaking the team single-season assist record of 37 set by forward Marek Kvapil in 2004-05.

The Soo tied the game 4-4 at 16:01 of the second, when forward Ryan Kitchen found a loose puck in close and scored.

The Spirit and Soo tightened up their play in the third period and battled to a scoreless-draw. The Soo outshot Saginaw 9-6 in the third. The Greyhounds went on the penalty kill late in the third period, and it carried over into OT.

A delay of game penalty to goalie Kyle Gajewski gave the Spirit a 5-3 advantage. Forward Ryan Berard fired a shot in on net, and Jesse Gimblett found the rebound and scored to cement the Spirit 5-4 win. McNeill also assisted.

Spirit goalie Ryan Daniels had 37 saves in the game.

The win takes Saginaw's record to 23-18-0-0. The Spirit resume action Friday in Erie against the Otters, the first game of a three game road trip. Saginaw returns to the Dow Event Center Thursday, Jan. 26 to face the Whalers.

Plymouth tops Ottawa Sunday, 3-1

Playing a fourth game in less than five days, Plymouth’s 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon over the Ottawa 67’s at the Compuware Sports Arena wasn’t pretty. But it was effective and enough to give the Whalers a 2-2 split over the four games.

Plymouth captain John Vigilante (above) led the offensive attack with a goal and an assist, while Mike Letizia and Dan Collins added single goals. Whalers' goaltender Justin Peters stopped 32 of 33 Ottawa shots as the game’s first star to run his record to 8-5-0-0 since coming over from Toronto in a trade Dec. 9.

Jamie McGinn scored the lone Ottawa goal in the third period to ruin Peters’ shutout bid.

First-place Plymouth (now 23-16-1-3 for 50 points) needed the victory to remain four points up on Saginaw (now 23-18-0-0), who beat Sault Ste. Marie, 5-4 in overtime.

After defeating Saginaw, 4-0 on Wednesday, Plymouth lost, 4-1 and 7-4, to the Kitchener Rangers on Friday and Saturday. The Whalers had every reason to be sluggish at the start of today’s game, but outshot Ottawa, 24-8, in a decisive first period that saw Plymouth take a 2-0 lead.

The line of Vigilante, Chris Terry and Joe McCann set up the first goal at 11:08 of the first period when Terry took a hard shot from the right dot that seemed to handcuff Ottawa goaltender Brady Morrison. Morrison didn’t see the loose puck standing alone at the right goal post and Vigilante pounced on the puck and put it into the net for his 21st goal of the season.

Letizia capped severe Whaler pressure on a power play at 15:24 of the period when Vigilante hit him with a sharp pass from the right dot to the left hash mark. Letizia made no mistake to score his ninth goal of the season.

After a scoreless second period, Collins scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season at 6:17 of the third period when he batted home rebound.

McGinn scored the final goal of the game when he re-directed Derek Joslin’s point shot by Peters.

Plymouth outshot Ottawa, 35-33.

Plymouth is off until Friday night when they play in Guelph against the Storm before returning home Saturday to host the Windsor Spitfires at 7:30 p.m.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

North Stars finally win in Alpena

In a season of firsts, the Traverse City North Stars put another inaugural milestone behind them on Sunday, winning for the first time at cross-state rival Alpena. After three unsuccessful tries at Northern Lights Arena, the Stars pulled out a thrilling 3-2 triumph in a shootout.

Ryan Bond’s shootout tally and the stalwart netkeeping of Jeremy Kaleniecki (pictured) proved to be the difference after 65 minutes of play could not decide the issue. Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner conceded a lack of artistry in the victory, but can find too much fault in a weekend that saw his team collect five of a possible six points in three road contests.

“Hey, a win is a win and we hadn’t won over here, so we’ll take it,” Gardiner assessed. “It’s just another one of those baby steps I keep talking about. Right now, we’re playing 5-on-5 in our own zone so much better.”

On Sunday, Steven Oleksy got things started for the visiting North Stars, scoring a powerplay goal 11:44 into the affair. Bond assisted. The IceDiggers evened things up a mere 1:34 later on Todd Rudasill’s even-strength tally, and took a 2-1 edge 2:22 into the third stanza when Zach Barron scored. Matt Larke knotted the outing at 2-all 1:30 later on assists from Joe St. John and Adam Sponseller, and the teams trading unsuccessful scoring chances for the rest of the final regulation period.

Alpena (6-25-4) put 60 shots on Kaleniecki, including an astonishing 27 in the second period alone.

“We faced back-to-back 5-on-3 situations and they had a lot of shots during that period,” Gardiner explained. “I was very pleased with our penalty kill tonight.”

After a five-minute overtime session that saw only five combined shots on goal, Oleksy and Bond – the first two North Stars shooters – bested Diggers goalkeep Peter O’Hara, and Kaleniecki slammed the door on the hosts in each of their attempts.

The win moves Traverse City to 12-17-5 and gives the team some much-needed momentum heading into this week’s North American Hockey League North Division Showcase in greater Youngstown, Ohio.

“To get five out of six on this road trip really helps, and we’re going to need it,” Gardiner admitted. “We’ll see the USA-18s twice and Cleveland twice at the Showcase.”

The NAHL Northern Showcase kicks off on Thursday and runs through Sunday at the home rink of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Black Bears downed in shootout, 3-2

Sudbury's ninth shooter scored in the shootout to give the visiting Jr. Wolves a 3-2 win over the Northern Michigan Black Bears Saturday night.

James Ciotti had a goal and an assist for Northern Michigan and Chase Stevens also scored.

Tony Stoehr made 19 saves through regulation and the five-minute overtime.

The Bears travel to Sudbury on Wednesday to complete the delayed home-and-home set.

Saginaw beats Ottawa, four out of first

The Saginaw Spirit won a wild one before a sellout crowd Saturday night, defeating the Ottawa 67's, 7-5.

The lead changed hands three times as the Spirit came back from a 5-4 deficit to take the victory. The win, combined with Plymouth's loss, puts the Spirit just four points out of the West Division lead. The Spirit's 44 points ties last season's point total, with 28 games remaining.

Saginaw opened the scoring halfway through the first period when forward Tim Priamo banged in a loose puck in front of Ottawa's net. Forwards Michal Birner and Ryan McDonough assisted. The Spirit jumped up 2-0 less than three minutes later, when forward Tom Craig (pictured) scored his first OHL goal on a shot from the bottom of the circle. McDonough and Priamo assisted. The third Spirit goal came four minutes after that when McDonough drew Ottawa's Danny Battochio across the crease, then went up high for the goal. Forwards Ryan Berard and Vaclav Meidl assisted, their first points in Spirit uniforms.

Saginaw extended its lead to 4-0 in the first minute of the second period when forward Patrick Asselin scored shorthanded, from linemate Michal Birner. The goal was Saginaw's last for nearly a period and a half as Ottawa took the momentum away from the Spirit.

The 67's cracked the shutout at 11:27 of the second when overage captain Julian Talbot scored on the power play. The 67's cut the Spirit lead to 4-2 when Talbot scored again on a wrist shot that trickled through Spirit goalie Ryan Daniels' legs.

The Spirit carried a 4-2 lead into the third period, but Ottawa cut the lead to 4-3 at 2:53 of the period when overage forward Chris Hulit scored on the power play on a one-timer. The game-tying goal came just 22 seconds later when winger Jamie McGinn scored on a deflected shot. Ottawa surged ahead of the Spirit 5-4, when winger Matt Lahey found a loose puck in front of the Spirit net and put it home. But the momentum was about to swing back to Saginaw after the Lahey goal.

Saginaw tied the game 5-5 :44 seconds after Ottawa's go-ahead goal, when Spirit captain Patrick McNeill fired a wrist shot from near the blue line. The puck took an awkward bounce off a 67's player and went in. Primao and Zack Torquato assisted. The Spirit pressed Ottawa and went ahead 6-5 at 10:04 of the period, when defenseman Matt Corrente scored from McDonough and Birner.

The Spirit and 67's played nine minutes of back-and-forth action before Saginaw killed a late penalty, then scored on Ottawa's empty net to secure the 7-5 win. The empty-netter was Birner's, from McDonough and Torquato. Birner's four empty-net goals is a team record.

McDonough's goal and four assists ties a team record of five points, set by McNeill earlier this season and former Spirit forward Geoff Platt in the 2003-04 season. Daniels had 37 saves in the effort.

The win takes Saginaw's record to 22-18-0-0 on the season, good for 44 points.

Saginaw resumes action Sunday at 2:00 p.m. versus the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. It's Family Faith Day with performances and inspiration after the game from speaker Brian Molitor and Craig Lang and Driven.

Whalers fall again to Rangers, 7-4, Saturday

Former Saginaw Spirit first-round pick Jean-Michel Rizk scored a short-handed goal at 8:50 of the third period to snap a 4-4 tie and the Kitchener Rangers went on to defeat the Plymouth Whalers, 7-4, Saturday night before 3,015.

With the victory, Kitchener (now 27-12-1-1) completed a home-and-home sweep of Plymouth. The Rangers beat Plymouth, 4-1, Friday night in Kitchener.

While Rizk scored the game-winner with his sixth goal of the year, Kitchener left wing Craig Voakes was the game’s first star with four goals. Detroit Red Wings' draft pick Evan McGrath and third star Justin Azevedo scored one goal apiece.

Plymouth’s goals – all in the second period – came from Dan Collins (team-leading 25 of the season), captain John Vigilante, Gino Pisellini and Andrew Fournier (above).

Kitchener raced to a 3-0 lead after the first period on goals by McGrath (1:51), Voakes (8:15) and Azevedo (9:15).

The Whalers started their comeback at 1:21 of a wild second period when Collins’ hard shot from the right point found the mark under the bar by Kitchener goaltender Dan Turple. Vigilante then cut the Kitchener lead to 3-2 at 5:38 of the period when he took a back hand shot from the right wing that Turple got a piece of, but the puck trickled over the line. Voakes scored his second of the night at 6:51 of the period when he stuffed from the left goal line by Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters. Pisellini cut the Kitchener lead to 4-3 at 15:16 when he batted home a loose puck through traffic in front of the Kitchener goal by Turple and Fournier tied the game with 55 seconds left in the period when he stuffed home his own rebound by Turple.

Rizk’s game-winner came when, with Azevedo serving a penalty for tripping, he followed up on his own shot on Peters from the right wing and stuffed home the rebound. Voakes completed the scoring in the third period with goals at 16:30 and 18:31.

Plymouth remains in first place in the OHL’s West Division with a record of 22-16-1-3 and is four points ahead of Saginaw (22-18-0-0), who defeated Ottawa tonight, 7-5.

Plymouth hosts Ottawa Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

Photo courtesy Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

North Stars snuffed in OT by Team USA

The Team USA Under-17 squad got a rare power play in overtime, and Colby Cohen made the most of it. Cohen’s goal with 1:12 left in the extra session on Friday gave the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U-17s a 3-2 victory at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube over the Traverse City North Stars.

The Stars outshot Team USA by a 35-31 margin, and broke an 0-for-22 powerplay drought in the second period on newly-acquired Mike Sand’s man-advantage goal, but a checking from behind minor on Arthur Bidwell at 2:58 of the overtime period proved too much to overcome.

“It (the call) seemed a little borderline,” Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner suggested. “I thought our guy had the body position. Their guy turned his back as they were battling for the puck, and they made the call. It’s not the reason we lost – we had our chances to win it – but you really don’t see that call in overtime very often.”

Cade Farichild got the U-17s going with the only goal of the first period at 15:34, but newly-signed Sand and Brett Englebright poked home back-to-back scores in the second period – at 6:59 and 8:10, respectively – to give the visiting Stars a brief 2-1 edge. Luc Du Bay and Steve Hackman drew assists on Sand’s goal, while Eric Elmblad and Steven Oleksy set up the Englebright tally. Joseph Lavin evened things up for Team USA with 8:31 left in regulation, setting up Cohen’s heroics.

“It was an excellent game,” Gardiner said. “I thought we played very well, even dominating for stretches. It was a good two-game series, we got three out of four (points), and there were a lot of positive things we can take away from this.”

“We battled hard tonight against a tough Traverse City team,” said USA head coach Ron Rolston. “We got some scoring tonight from our defenseman tonight which was key to our attack. It was a good win for us tonight.”

Jeremy Kaleniecki started in goal for Traverse City and made 28 stops, while Brad Phillips was equal to the task for Team USA (21-8-4), collecting 33 saves.

The North Stars, now 11-17-5, head to Alpena on Sunday to face off against the rival IceDiggers. Face-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Northern Lights Arena. Gardiner is hoping his team can end its season-long winless streak on the Diggers’ home ice.

“Sunday is big for us,” he said. “We have to be able to walk in there and win on their ice, and we haven’t done that yet. But if we play like we did against USA, we’ll have a chance to do that.”

Whalers lose in Kitchener, 4-1

David Lomas scored two goals with an assist and rookie goaltender Mark Packwood stopped 29 shots as the Kitchener Rangers defeated the Plymouth Whalers, 4-1, Friday night before 6,010 at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.

Detroit Red Wings' prospect Evan McGrath and Justin Azevedo also scored for Kitchener.

Gino Pisellini scored his 11th goal of the season for Plymouth.

In spite of the loss, Plymouth remains in first place in the OHL’s West Division with a record of 22-15-1-3, six points ahead of second-place Saginaw (21-18-0-0). Kitchener improves to 26-12-1-1 and remains in second place in the OHL’s Midwest Division.

Kitchener never trailed in the game, taking a 1-0 lead at 8:12 of the first period on a power play when Lomas – parked out in front of the Plymouth goal and screening Whalers' goaltender Justin Peters – deflected Matt Lashoff’s shot from the high slot by Peters.

Rangers took a 2-0 on another power play at 1:23 of the second period when Azevedo’s shot from the left face-off dot in the Plymouth zone was knocked down at the left wing side of the Whaler goal. Lomas – parked on left side of the goal – shoveled the puck across to McGrath, who made no mistake.

Pisellini cut the Kitchener lead to 2-1 with a fine individual play at 4:39 of the third period. Killing off the final seconds of John Armstrong’s penalty, Pisellini swept the puck to neutral territory, gained speed through center ice and moved into the Kitchener zone on a partial breakaway. Pisellini faked a backhand shot in front of Packwood, then went to his right and stuffed the puck into the net.

But Lomas restored Kitchener’s to 3-1 at 13:11 of the third period on another power play when he was set up directly in front of Peters and scored. Azevedo completed the game’s scoring with an empty-net marker with two seconds left.

Kitchener outshot Plymouth, 36-30.

Plymouth and Kitchener meet again Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. the Compuware Sports Arena.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

North Stars upend USA Under-17 team

The road has not been kind to the Traverse City North Stars in the first half of the North American Hockey League schedule, but on Thursday the Stars became road warriors, knocking off the US National Development Program’s Under-17 squad at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube by a 4-2 count.

Travis Paeth (left) had a pair of goals for Traverse City, including an empty-netter with :12 on the clock. The road victory is just the second of the season for the North Stars, who also have a pair of wins on neutral ice.

“It was one of those total team efforts,” said Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “We really focused on our own zone. The amount of quality scoring chances we had been giving up in the last month or so was just horrendous. So all week, we just worked hard on keeping the puck out of our end first, then getting to our offense.”

Jared Mullen, who leads the team with 24 points, registered the lone tally of the opening period eight minutes into the affair. Steven Oleksy and Jonathan Juliano assisted. Colin Wilson of the Team USA U-17s – many of whom are coming off a Silver medal performance at the World U-17 Championships in Regina, Sask. – answered Mullen’s salvo at 4:43 of the second, but Paeth collected his first of the night just over six minutes later to put the visitors in front again. Joe Schweiger and Richie Zobak drew assists on the play.

Brett Englebright logged his first goal in a North Stars sweater to give TC a 3-1 advantage with 7:12 to go in the third stanza, but A.J. Sturges brought the U-17s back to within a goal less than a minute later. Adam Sponseller was credited with an assist on the Englebright lamplighter.

Paeth’s unassisted empty-netter in the waning seconds was his 10th of the season.

“As a first year team, it’s always harder to win on the road, so we’ll take this one as a baby step,” added Gardiner, whose team has three wins this year versus the U-17s. “We’re a skating team, and for whatever reason we juts skate well with these guys. We’ll just try to keep that going (Friday).”

Despite being outshot by a 27-25 margin, the Stars (11-17-4) held Team USA to seven shots in the first period and just five over the final 20-plus minutes of play. Jeremy Kaleniecki earned his ninth win of the season on a 25-for-27 performance in net. He bested Josh Unice, who fell to 6-4-2. The Team USA U-17/18s missed out on a chance to re-take the lead in the North Division title chase. At 20-8-4, they trail idle Cleveland by two points.

The North Stars will look to make it three victories in their last four outings on Friday as the Stars and U-17s will face off again. Game time is slated for 7 p.m.

Whalers blank Saginaw on Wednesday night

John Vigilante (above) scored twice, including once shorthanded, and Evan Brophey had a goal and an assist as the Plymouth Whalers made it a six-point lead in the OHL West with a 4-0 win over the second-place Saginaw Spirit last night in Plymouth.

Justin Peters made 27 saves for the shutout while at the other end, Francois Thuot stopped 31 in defeat.

Chris Terry scored Plymouth's fourth goal and new Whalers' forward Joe McCann drew the lone assist.

Plymouth (22-14-1-3) next plays on the road Friday night against the Kitchener Rangers and then host the Rangers Saturday night. The Spirit (21-18-0-0) host the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds Sunday afternoon.

Vigilante photo courtesy Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

TC's Costello done for season

For the second time in about a week, the Traverse City North Stars have lost a veteran forward for the season to injury.

Zeke Costello suffered a fracture to a key wrist bone during Saturday’s contest at Mahoning Valley when he was checked from behind in the second period by Phantoms forward Mike Maltese. Costello was placed in a full-arm immobilizing cast and was officially ruled out for the rest of the season by the North Stars medical staff on Wednesday.

“It’s really unfortunate for him because this is it for him in his junior hockey career,” said Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “But it’s like we told him: We’re on to Plan B now. We’re going to call as many schools as we can and he’s going to have to walk on wherever he goes.”

Costello, one of the few North Stars players with North American Hockey League experience under his belt, came to Traverse City from Texarkana this season. He registered five goals and 12 assists over the course of his 30 games with the Stars. In 2004-05, the 5-9, 175-pound front-liner netted five goals, nine assists, and 85 penalty minutes in 45 contests.

Costello says the timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse, but that he’ll continue to work toward his ultimate goal of playing collegiate hockey.

“It’s pretty hard to believe; I’ve been playing hockey for 16 years and with one of the biggest tournaments of my life coming up (the Jan. 19-22 NAHL Showcase in Boardman, Ohio), to end my junior hockey career like this is … pretty hard to take.

“But I’m not going to sit around and pout about it – I gotta deal with it. I’m going to do whatever it takes to stay in contact with schools and get better for next year.”

Costello had been contacted by a number of NCAA schools this season, and his play at the October showcase in Blaine, Mn. made him extremely visible to scouts. He says he harbors no ill will toward Maltese, a former teammate of Costello’s over the years.

“I talked to him (Maltese) after the game, and I know he didn’t mean to do it. It was just a battle for the puck. He’s a guy I have a lot of respect for, not the type of guy who would injure another player intentionally.”

The nature of the injury is perhaps the most troubling aspect of Costello’s situation. While the scaphoid bone – a kidney-shaped bone at the base of the thump which allows complex but delicate movements of the hand -- is a smallish component of the wrist, it is one of the most difficult skeletal areas to properly heal. When fractured, it eliminates the oxygen-rich blood flow to the area. North Stars medical director Eric Niezgoda says the injury can take as long as three months or more before a player can utilize any range of motion in the affected limb.

“It generally requires a long-arm cast for a period of 6-8 weeks, then they generally go to a short-arm cast for a minimum of four more weeks,” he explained. “It’s basically the lock-key to the wrist and is highly dependant on the blood flow.”

Costello says he’ll be sad when he takes his leave of Traverse City.

“I’ve loved my time here,” he said. “I’m not leaving right away, I’m gonna stay a couple of weeks and say my good-byes before I wear out my welcome, but the people here have just been unreal. From the fans, to my housing parents (George and Judy Prewitt), to people who just recognize you and say ‘hi.’ It’s been a great place to live and play and I will really miss it.”

ICE CHIPS: The North Stars are in the midst of a roster re-tooling in advance of the Jan. 15 trade deadline and Feb. 10 roster freeze. Forwards Marc Thompson and Danny Dries moved on to play midget major for the Soo Indians and Victory Honda, respectively, while Ryan Bond, Joe Schweiger, and Brett Englebright have settled into roster spots and could well sport the interlocking ‘TC’ for the residual of 2005-06.

Bond and Schweiger were linemates for the Motor City Chiefs of the Junior B Central States Hockey League, where they were among the league leaders in scoring. Bond amassed 14 goals and 28 assists in 23 games with the Chiefs, while Schweiger had 21 goals and 17 helpers in 24 outings.

The North Stars signed a second tender for 2006-07 in Soo Indians midget major forward Kory Kanuisto. Kanuisto played at Sault Ste. Marie Area High School and is a current teammate of local products Brian Banducci, Scott Ponstein, and Eric McClintock.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Saginaw's Ferguson claimed by Knights

The London Knights have claimed center Chris Ferguson off waivers from the Saginaw Spirit.

Ferguson, 17, was the Spirit's second-round choice in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection. He was pointless in 10 games this year after scoring two goals and seven assists in 61 games a year ago.

Plymouth continues to deal, Madden to' Shwa

The Plymouth Whalers continued to trade today at the OHL trade deadline as defenseman Scott Madden was sent to the Oshawa Generals in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection.

Madden, acquired from the Mississauga IceDogs over the summer for forward Jeff McFarland, had one assist in 20 games this year.

Armstrong, Daniels, Corrente top NHL prospects

Plymouth Whalers forward John Armstrong (left), Saginaw Spirit goalie Ryan Daniels and Saginaw defenseman Matt Corrente (both below) are two of the 40 players that will play in the annual Canadian Hockey League Home Hardware Top Prospects Game.

All players in the game are eligible to be drafted in next summer's NHL Entry Draft and all come from the three CHL leagues (Ontario, Western and Quebec).

Armstrong photo courtesy Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Whalers and Spirit make trade on deadline day

The Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit, battling for first place in the OHL West, today made a trade with one another.

Plymouth sent third-year forward Vaclav Meidl (above) to the Spirit for second-year right wing Joe McCann (below) and a third-round pick in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection.

“Vaclav is a player I’ve followed since I was a scout with the Edmonton Oliers,” said Spirit head coach and general manager Bob Mancini.”We expect him to join us as soon as possible. This was a very difficult decision for us to make. I have tremendous respect for Joe McCann as a player and a person and I wish him the best of luck."

Meidl photo by Matt Mackinder

Ex-Whaler, Sterling Hts. native dealt to Colts

The Barrie Colts made a five-player deal with the Mississauga Ice Dogs yesterday involving a pair of players with Michigan ties.

The Colts sent 17-year-old defenseman Nathan Martine and 17-year-old center Brett Oliphant plus future considerations to the Ice Dogs in exchange for overage defenseman Dave Pszenyczny, 19-year old left-winger Jordan Grant and 18-year-old left-winger Jeremy Whelan.

Pszenyczny (left), a Sterling Heights native, is currently tenth in scoring among OHL defensemen with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) through 31 games. His 12 goals are currently tied for fourth among OHL defensemen and he has surpassed the double-digit goal mark in each of his last four seasons.

Grant, who played for the Plymouth Whalers during the 2003-2004 season before being traded to Sarnia for defenseman Steve Ward, has accumulated nine points (four goals, five assists) to go along with 116 penalty minutes through 40 games this season. He has recorded 22 total points (10 goals, 12 assists) plus 380 penalty minutes through 127 career OHL games.

“With the addition of Pszenyczny, we feel he is one of the elite defenseman in the league and a proven veteran who will add experience to our defensive corps,” stated Barrie director of hockey operations Gregg Carrigan. “Grant brings us a physical presence. He is the type of character player that can bring a lot to our lineup as the playoffs near.”

The Colts play in Plymouth on Sat. Feb. 11.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Spirit deal Whitely to Bulls, get Berard

New Saginaw Spirit forward Ryan Berard

The Belleville Bulls and Saginaw Spirit completed a two-player trade on Monday, the day before the OHL trade deadline.

Heading to Belleville is second-year defenceman Steven Whitely and Saginaw’s third-round pick in May's OHL Priority Selection. In return, the Bulls send third-year forward Ryan Berard and Brampton’s fifth-round pick in May to the Spirit.

“Ryan is a big, strong, right shot forward who has good skating skills,” said Spirit head coach and general manager Bob Mancini. “I look forward to him contributing to our offense immediately.”

Whitely (below), who split his rookie season with the Spirit and the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors, has five assists and 69 penalty minutes in 32 games with Saginaw this season. He was originally selected by the Majors in the 14th round of the 2003 OHL Priority Selection.

Berard, the Bulls second-round pick in 2003, has eight goals and 22 points in 39 games this season. In 173 career games with the Bulls, Berard has scored 22 goals and added 35 assists for 57 points while accumulating 72 penalty minutes.

Black Bears go 1-1 over weekend / CSHL scores

It was a .500 weekend for the Northern Michigan Black Bears as the Bears lost Friday night, but rebounded for a victory Saturday evening.

Friday in North Bay, the hometown Skyhawks edged Northern Michigan, 3-2. Ryan Huggett had a goal and an assist for the Bears and Steve Kruszewski also scored. Tony Stoehr made 21 saves in defeat.

In Abitibi Saturday night, the Bears scored two in the second period and three in the third en route to a 5-3 win. Elliott Hastie stopped 36 shots for Northern Michigan and Peter Landem scored twice. Michael Caprio, Ryan Murtagh and Michael Herbert added solos. Anthony Perdicaro chipped in with three assists.

Northern Michigan hosts Blind River Wednesday night and Sudbury on Saturday night.


Wed., Jan. 4
Motor City Chiefs 7 at Flint Jr. Generals 4

Fri., Jan. 6
Metro Jets 1 at Chicago Force 5

Sat., Jan. 7
Michigan Ice Dogs 0 at St. Louis Jr. Blues 6
Metro Jets 5 at Chicago Force 6 (OT)
Flint Jr. Generals 2 at Peoria Mustangs 4
Cincinnati Jr. Cyclones 5 at Grand Rapids Jr. Owls 3

Sun., Jan. 8
Michigan Ice Dogs 1 at St. Louis Jr. Blues 8
Cincinnati Jr. Cyclones 13 at Grand Rapids Jr. Owls 0
Flint Jr. Generals 2 at Peoria Mustangs 4

IceDiggers swept in Cleveland

The Alpena IceDiggers continue to occupy the NAHL's basement after a two-game sweep to the Cleveland Barons in Cleveland over the weekend.

Alpena (6-24-3) has lost nine straight games.

Saturday, Phil Greer and Johnny Morrow combined for 36 saves, but the IceDiggers fell, 7-3. Drew Pierson (left) scored twice and Ben Kitzmiller added one. Steve Culbertson recorded two assists.

Yesterday afternoon, the Barons took a 5-2 win. Pierson scored two more for Alpena and Greer finished with 39 stops. Jeff Miller assisted on both Pierson tallies.

Joe Greener had a hat trick for Cleveland.

Alpena hosts the U.S. National Team Saturday night and then the Traverse City North Stars on Sunday.

Spirit lose lead, game to Guelph

The Saginaw Spirit let a two goal lead slip away against Western Conference rivals Guelph Sunday, in a 4-3 road loss. The Storm scored three goals in four minutes in the third period, but Saginaw tied the game in the third before Guelph put the lead out of reach.

Saginaw remains two points off the OHL West Division lead, as Plymouth was idle. The Spirit remain in sixth place in the OHL Western Conference.

"Overall, we played some very solid hockey this weekend," said Spirit head coach and general manager Bob Mancini. "But we had some critical mistakes that cost us points. We're learning that you have to player nearly perfect hockey down the stretch to succeed on a consistent basis."

Saginaw opened scoring before the two-minute mark of the first period, when forward Patrick Asselin hit the net on the power play from Patrick McNeill and Ryan McDonough. Saginaw upped their lead to 2-0 just past the five-minute mark of the second period, when forward Michal Birner (above left) scored from McDonough and Jesse Gimblett.

Guelph broke the shutout at 8:35 of the second, when overage forward Ryan Callahan scored at even-strength. Guelph scored twice more in the next for minutes, from Jason Pitton and Andy Hyvarinen to overtake the Spirit, 3-2.

Saginaw tied the game 3-3 at the four minute mark of the third, when Spirit captain McNeill scored on the power play from McDonough. Saginaw held the tie for the next 13 minutes, but Guelph's Matt D'Agostini broke the tie as a power play expired to give the Storm a 4-3 lead. Saginaw pulled goalie Francois Thuot for the final 45 seconds of the game, but was unable to convert to force overtime.

Thuot had 24 saves in the contest.

The loss takes Saginaw's record to 21-17-0-0 on the season. The Spirit resume action Wednesday in Plymouth against the Whalers. It's the first of seven remaining games between the Spirit and the Whalers this season. Saginaw returns to home ice Saturday to face the Ottawa 67's.

Mahoning Valley doubles up TC, 6-3

The Mahoning Valley Phantoms scored goals in a variety of ways on Sunday at The Ice Zone, but most importantly they scored twice as many as the visiting North Stars in a 6-3 NAHL North Division tilt. The Phantoms scored three even-strength goals, a power play tally, and two shorthanded conversions on a whopping 59 shots. Traverse City answered with a goal to cap each of the three periods, but couldn’t match the offensive barrage of the hosts.

Mike Maltese scored thrice for the Phantoms (19-9-3) – one at even strength, one with the man advantage and the last when Mahoning Valley was down a man. Anthony Ciraulo gave the Phantoms a 1-0 lead just 3:56 into the first period, but Ryan Bond netted his second in as many nights for the Stars to make it 1-1 at the first intermission. Brett Englebright and Eric Elmblad drew assists for TC (10-17-4).

Maltese scored two straight to open the second period before Milan Drevenak scored the first of his two goals at 10:08 of the second to make it 4-1. Matt Larke pulled the Stars to within 4-2 with 1:28 to play until the second intermission on assists from Jonathan Juliano and Patrick Nagorsen, but Drevenak and Maltese put the game out of reach with goals at 4:46 and 12:29, respectively.

Jake Erway (pictured above right) recorded Traverse City’s final goal with 2:28 left in regulation – also from Juliano and Nagorsen – but the three-goal showing wasn’t enough. Jeremy Kaleniecki faced the 59 Phantoms shots and stopped 53 of them. Bryce Merriam snuffed 33 of the 36 Stars attempts faced.

Traverse City, which has won just one of 15 road contests all season, will play three games this week, including Thursday and Friday contests at the Team USA U-17's in Ann Arbor, and a Sunday evening affair in Alpena.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Whalers win, Spirit fall Saturday

The Plymouth Whalers increased their first-place lead in the OHL West with a 4-2 win in Sault Ste. Marie Saturday night.

Second-place Saginaw fell, 3-2, in Owen Sound.

Gino Pisellini (left) scored twice for the Whalers while Tom Sestito and John Armstrong added singles. Justin Peters made 35 saves for the victory.

In Owen Sound, Zack Torquato and Joe McCann scored for the Spirit, but two disallowed goals hampered Saginaw's momentum.

Francois Thuot stopped 22 shots in the loss.

Plymouth (21-14-1-3, 46 points) is home Wednesday to the Spirit for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop. The Spirit (21-16-0-0, 42 points) resume action Sunday on the road against the Guelph Storm for a 3:00 p.m. matinee.

Pisellini photo courtesy of Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.