Friday, March 31, 2006

Whalers lose late in Windsor; series tied

Cal O’Reilly’s goal with 49 seconds remaining in regulation snapped a 3-3 tie and the Windsor Spitfires defeated the Plymouth Whalers, 4-3, Thursday night before 3,041 at Windsor Arena.

Plymouth and Windsor are now tied in the best-of-seven OHL Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series at two games each.

James Neal scored twice for Plymouth and now has three goals in the playoffs. Jared Boll added his first goal of the playoffs for Plymouth, while Evan Brophey added two assists.

Besides O’Reilly, Cory McGillis, Bryan Bickell and Patrick Davis (Sterling Heights) added goals for Windsor.

There was never more than a one-goal differential in the game. Boll appeared to score a spectacular goal on an end-to-end rush (pictured above) for Plymouth late in the third period that would have given the Whalers a 4-3 lead, but referees Ian Smith and Darren Price waved the goal off with no explanation given to the crowd or to Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci.

The net appeared to come off its moorings.

McGillis scored on a scramble in front of the Plymouth goal to give Windsor a 1-0 lead at 9:00 of the first period. Plymouth tied the game at 1-1 at 14:04 of the first period when Neal ripped a shot from the right face-off dot by Windsor goaltender Anthony Guadagnolo. Neal gave Plymouth a 2-1 lead of a power play at 10:01 of the second period when he tipped Steve Ward’s shot from the point by Guadagnolo. But Windsor tied the game a 2-2 at 12:29 of the second period on a power play goal by Bickell, who ripped a shot from the slot by Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters.

Boll gave Plymouth a 3-2 lead at 3:07 of the third period when he took Chris Terry’s pass from behind the net and jammed the puck by Guadagnolo. But Windsor re-tied the game at 3-3 when Davis intercepted a Plymouth clearing pass at the blue line and beat Peters with the shot at 8:51.

After Boll’s goal was waved off, O’Reilly scored the game-winner off a face-off in the Plymouth zone. O’Reilly followed the puck in the middle of a scramble and stuffed the puck by Peters.

Plymouth called a time-out and pulled Peters with 41.2 seconds left in regulation and had a two-man advantage when Garlock was penalized for cross-checking at 19:37. But the Whalers couldn’t find the equalizer.

Windsor outshot Plymouth, 37-26.

Plymouth hosts Windsor on Saturday night in Game 5 of this series at 7:30 pm at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

North Stars take Game 1 with Team USA

Not bad, for openers.

Richie Zobak and Jonathan Juliano scored stand-alone goals in the first and second periods, respectively, on Thursday at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, as the Traverse City North Stars knocked off the top-seeded U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad 2-1 in the opening game of the Robertson Cup playoffs. The teams face off again on Friday in the second game of the best-of-five North Division semifinal series.

“You want to come in and win both games here, but you’d take a split,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “So to come in here and take the first one in their building is a big step for us.”

Zobak got things going with the only marker of the opening period, sending a shot from the point past Team USA goalie Brad Philips. Jared Mullen and captain Steven Oleksy were credited with assists on the power play effort. Juliano netted the only goal of the second on a pretty top-shelf backhander. Matt Larke and Steve Hackman set up the near end-to-end rush.

Team USA finally got on the board with 10:17 to play, as Brennan Vargas cut the host’s deficit in half, making for some anxious final minutes for the visiting North Stars.

“We got off on the right foot,” Oleksy explained. “It’s been an up and down year, but you go into the playoffs hoping that you can peak at the right time, and I think we are. It was a pretty tough defensive battle, and both goaltenders played well – ours just played a little bit better.”

Stars goalkeep Jeremy Kaleniecki (pictured) was nearly impenetrable on Thursday, steering aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced. Philips faced 23 shots, claiming 21 of them.

“It was a grueling game,” Gardiner added. “We’re not focusing on anything except the period we’re playing, the shift we’re skating – we don’t want our guys looking any farther ahead than their next shift, and we were able to maintain that focus tonight. We hope we can carry it right on through to tomorrow.”

The contest was played about as quickly, cleanly, and efficiently as possible. The clubs combined for just 18 penalty minutes, completing the contest in a mere 2:09. Gardiner says it’s a showdown between two evenly-matched teams.

“We’re a skating team and so are they,” he said. “We’re had so many close games, I think it’s just a matter of us playing similar styles.”

Game 2 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. The game can be heard via the Internet at The series shifts back to Centre ICE arena for Games 3-4, set for Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8 if a fourth game is necessary.

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images.

Spirit swept away by Guelph

The Saginaw Spirit fell to the Guelph Storm Thursday night at home, 4-3, ending a successful season and the first playoff appearance in team history.

In what was to be his last game in a Spirit uniform, overager Jesse Gimblett (pictured) wasted no time putting Saginaw on the scoreboard with two consecutive goals. Gimblett’s first goal came 30 seconds into the game from assists by Tom Pyatt and captain Patrick McNeill. On a power play less than 90 seconds later, Gimblett shot the puck past Guelph goalie Ryan MacDonald, giving the Spirit a 2-0 lead. Michal Birner and McNeill assisted on the goal.

The game remained in Saginaw’s favor until the second period when Guelph forward Jamie Arniel scored at the 54-second mark. Jason Pitton tied up the game roughly two minutes later.

The game would remained tied until the third period when Storm forward Kelsey Wilson scored a power-play goal, giving Guelph a 3-2 lead. The Storm would increase their lead thanks to an unassisted goal from forward Matt D’Agostini.

Despite the 4-2 score in favor of Guelph, the Spirit kept pushing, finally scoring a goal at the 19:07 mark in the third. Pyatt put the puck past McDonald off Birner and Ryan McDonough assists. But time wasn’t on the Saginaw’s side however, as the clock expired before the Spirit were able to tie up the game.

Spirit netminder Ryan Daniels had 29 saves in the game.

The Spirit end the year with its most successful season since its move from North Bay, Ontario. The team earned second place in the OHL West Division with a record of 36-30-2-0 and 74 points.

Saginaw has an exciting off-season planned with community and team events. Keep up to date on all Spirit news by visiting the Spirit website.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spits win Tuesday, Whalers lead 2-1

Bradley Snetsinger (above) jammed home a rebound at 13:37 of the first period to give the Windsor Sptifires a 2-0 lead and the Spits went on to defeat the Plymouth Whalers, 2-1, in Game 3 of the best-of-seven OHL conference quarterfinal series last night in Plymouth.

Plymouth still leads the best-of-seven series two games to one.

Ryan Garlock scored the first Windsor goal 42 seconds into the first period and assisted on Snetsinger’s game-winner.

The lone Plymouth goal was scored by defenseman Wes Cunningham at 2:44 of the third period on a wrap-around from behind the Windsor net to the right wing door-step by Windsor goaltender Anthony Guadagnolo.

The Whalers pressured in the third period and pulled Peters with 49 seconds left, but could not find the equalizer.

Windsor outshot Plymouth, 31-27.

Plymouth goalie Justin Peters finished with 29 saves while Guadagnolo stopped 26.

The series resumes Thursday night with Game 4 at Windsor Arena at 7:30 p.m. Game 5 will be played Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Spirit in 3-0 hole to Guelph

The Saginaw Spirit fell to the Guelph Storm, 4-1, last night in Guelph. The loss gives Guelph a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series.

Spirit captain Patrick McNeill (pictured) busted the Guelph shutout with a power-play goal at 16:47 of the third period. Tom Pyatt and Michal Birner assisted on McNeill's goal.

Saginaw netminder Francois Thuot complied 28 saves in the effort while Guelph goalie Ryan MacDonald stopped 30 shots.

Game 4 will take place at the Dow Event Center tomorrow night at 7:11 p.m.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Traverse City-Team USA playoff preview

There’ll be a lot on the line when the Traverse City North Stars meet the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad in the opening round of the North American Hockey League’s Robertson Cup Playoffs.

Initially, it’s the Stars first-ever foray into the postseason in their inaugural season starting Thursday in Ann Arbor, but if things play out a certain way in the other North Division semifinal, the Stars and Team USA could be playing for a trip to the national finals.

Since the Mahoning Valley Phantoms are the host of the 2006 Robertson Cup championship, they get an automatic berth in the five-team finals, and so would the North Division runner-up. If Mahoning Valley is able to get past Cleveland in the first round, the winner of the Stars-USA series would still face the Phantoms in the best-of-seven North Division finals, but would also land an automatic berth in the Cup finals.

“We have some business to take care of before we can even really start to think that way, but it has been discussed,” explained North Stars coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “Will we be rooting for Mahoning Valley against Cleveland? Of course we are. It’d be silly not to. That should be one heck of a series, but we have a pretty big series of our own to worry about.”

The Stars visit the Ann Arbor Ice Cube for Games 1 and 2 on Thursday and Friday before the series shifts to Traverse City. Games 3 and 4 are scheduled for April 7-8 at Centre ICE arena, and should a decisive fifth game become necessary, it would be played at the Ice Cube on April 9.

Team USA’s Under-17 squad scored a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in the teams’ last meeting on February 26 at Centre ICE, but the teams split their six regular-season meetings. Only one of those meetings was decided by less than a goal: Traverse City’s 4-2 win in Ann Arbor on Jan. 12 in which Travis Paeth dropped in an empty-netter in the waning seconds.

“You look at our series with Traverse City, and they were all very close, very tight games without exception,” said Team USA U-17 head coach Ron Rolston. “I expect this will be a terrific series, right down to the wire. Scotty and Mike (Stapleton) do a great job of coaching up there, and they’ll have their guys ready to go. This one could go the distance.”

Team USA, which enters its Under-17 squad into the NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs, will be without three of its top guns, as Ryan Hayes, Cade Fairchild, and Colin Wilson were moved to the Under-18 team for the upcoming U-18 World Championships in Sweden. Hayes was the team’s leading scorer with 30 goals and 18 assists in 49 games, while Wilson was third with 37 points. Fairchild appeared in 54 games for the U-17s and posted 10 goals and 16 assists.

“We try to make the (U-18) team the best we can for the Worlds, and try to give all our guys the opportunity to play,” Rolston explained. “Those are three very good players, but the guys we have are ready to go. It gives the other guys a chance to step in and contribute even more.”

John Albert leads the current incarnation of the U-17 squad in point production with 16 goals and 30 helpers in 55 outings, while James vanRiemsdyk is tops among U-17 goal-scorers with 25. Patrick Nagorsen leads Traverse City with 42 points on 17 goals and 25 assists, while Paeth has registered a Stars-best 21 tallies.

“We’re going to go after them by doing the same things we’ve talked about all year,” Gardiner said. “And that’s tightening up in our own zone, opening it up in the offensive zone like we have been the past month or so, and 60 minutes of effort.”

The North Stars are coming off a weekend series with rival Alpena in which they collected five of a possible six points, and each game was a nail-biter. The IceDiggers stole the first game of the set with a 4-3 shootout triumph before TC came back for a 3-2 shootout win on Saturday and a 5-4 overtime victory on Sunday after trailing 4-0.

Gardiner says those kinds of games can make the difference between being ready for the rigors of the postseason, and losing out on a shot at going to the nationals.

“No question, that series with Alpena was big for us in terms of preparation,” he said. “Now, we have to take care of our end of the bargain, and who knows what pot of gold awaits at the end of the rainbow.”

Monday, March 27, 2006

North Stars-Team USA playoff series set

The official North American Hockey League Robertson Cup Playoffs schedule has not been released by league officials, but the North Division semifinal playoff series between the Traverse City North Stars and U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad has been set.

"We have had some tough battles with Traverse City this season," said Ron Rolston, head coach of the U.S. National Under-17 Team. "Competing in a playoff environment will continue to challenge our guys and prove to be great experience in the development of our players."

The best-of-five series will commence on Thursday, March 30 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Game 2 is a night later in Ann Arbor, before the series comes to Centre ICE arena in Traverse City for dates on Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8. Should a fifth game be necessary, it would be held at the Ice Cube on Sunday, April 9.

NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs

North Division Semifinals (Best-of-5)


Thursday, March 30
Traverse City at USA-17, 7 p.m.

Friday, March 31
Traverse City at USA-17, 7 p.m.

Friday, April 7
USA-17 at Traverse City, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 8*
USA-17 at Traverse City, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 9*
Traverse City at USA-17, TBA

* = if necessary

Whalers take 2-0 lead on Spitfires

The Plymouth Whalers took a 2-0 series lead on the Windsor Spitfires with a 4-2 win Sunday night in Windsor.

Plymouth won 7-4 on Saturday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Sunday night, Ryan McGinnis’ power-play goal with 41 seconds remaining in the second period snapped a 2-2 tie. Tom Sestito, Andrew Fournier and Evan Brophey scored the other Plymouth goals while Whalers' goaltender Justin Peters made 28 saves in goal.

Saturday night, Brophey (two goals, assist), Joe McCann (goal, two assists) and John Armstrong (goal, two assists) led the Whalers’ attack with three-point nights. Captain John Vigilante, James Neal and Chris Terry added single goals for the Whalers while Peters stopped 35 shots for the victory.

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Plymouth.

Armstrong photo by Walt Dmoch.

Black Bears down 1-0 in NOJHL semifinals

After sweeping the Blind River Beavers in the first round of the NOJHL playoffs, the Northern Michigan Black Bears find themselves in a 1-0 hole to the Sudbury Jr. Wolves after Sudbury's 5-2 win at home Saturday night.

Tyler Huskey and Ryan Huggett scored for Northern Michigan while Tony Stoehr and Elliot Hogue combined for 32 saves in goal.

Game 2 is tonight at Big Bear Arena. Game 3 is back in Sudbury on Thursday.

North Stars beat Alpena in OT, USA next

If tightly-contested games are a good way to ready for the playoffs, the Traverse City North Stars got a crash course in preparation this weekend against the Alpena IceDiggers.

After the teams traded shootout victories on Friday and Saturday at Centre ICE arena (see below), the North Stars were able to claim victory before things got to the shootout session on Sunday at Northern Lights Arena, as Jared Mullen tipped home a Steven Oleksy shot from the top of the face-off circle at 3:19 of the overtime period to give Traverse City a 5-4 victory in the 2005-06 regular season finale.

The North Stars found themselves in a 2-0 hole just 1:46 into the game, and were at a 4-0 disadvantage after Steve Culbertson scored his second of the contest at 12:55 of the second period before clawing back into the game.

“For whatever reason we have struggled in Alpena’s building this year,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “But we got down and had the heart to come back and make a game of it. We really started to play with some passion, and that’s how we had to do it all weekend. We were down 3-0 on Friday before we came back, and 4-0 today.”

Sal Ragusa started the comeback at 15:58 of the second, followed by unrequited third period lamplighters from Jonathan Juliano, Eric Elmblad and Jake Erway. Matt Larke and Mullen drew assists on Juliano’s goal at 4:45, Oleksy and Richie Zobak set up the game-tying goal from Erway at 10:50, while Elmblad’s effort was shorthanded and unassisted at the 9:01 mark.

“We had to fight for every inch of ice in all three games this weekend, and that can only help us as we go into our playoff series with the USA (Under-17) team,” Gardiner added. “I was very proud of the way we were able to respond when we got down. We started taking it to them, and playing the body, and things just went from there.”

Stars netkeeper Jeremy Kaleniecki won for the second straight day, stopping 50 of the 54 shots he faced, while Peter O’Hara was tagged with the loss for the IceDiggers.

The North Stars, who finished the regular season at 17-34-7, scored five of a possible six points in the final weekend of their inaugural season, and will head into Thursday’s playoff opener at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube on a high note. The best-of-five North Division semifinals come to Centre ICE arena for Games 3 and 4 of the series on April 7-8.



Same story, different result.

A night after the Alpena IceDiggers came into Centre ICE arena and skated away with a nail-biting 5-4 shootout victory over the Traverse City North Stars, the host Stars turned the tables on Saturday, claiming a 3-2 shootout triumph of their own in the home-ice regular season finale.

Matt Larke scored both regulation goals for the Stars, who travel to Alpena on Sunday for the regular season swan song. Larke, who now has 14 tallies in 2005-06, also recorded a shootout goal for Traverse City, along with Jon Madden and Travis Paeth. Paeth’s shootout marker proved to be the game-bagger.

“This basically proves that we’re a playoff team and we deserve it,” said Larke, a Royal Oak native. “We worked hard tonight, and we deserved it.”

Larke says that a fast start – and some timely advice – proved to be the difference between Saturday’s win, and the 5-4 loss on Friday that began with three early Alpena goals.

“Coach (Mike) Stapleton told me before the game: ‘Shoot the puck,’ and that’s what I did. It really inspired me. We all came out right off the bat, hitting and shooting the puck, and playing with a lot of intensity, and the results speak for themselves.”

Larke’s first goal (15:07) was the only score of the first period, as set up by Jonathan Juliano and Jared Mullen. Nolan Craner answered for the IceDiggers (13-38-6) just 3:25 into the second stanza, before Larke’s second goal of the affair – at the 15:11 mark – pushed the host Stars back in front again. Todd Rudasill – who was helped off the ice early in the first period after being dumped into the end boards – came back to score the game-tying tally a scant 25 seconds into the third period, setting up the scoreless overtime and shootout session.

Stars goalie Jeremy Kaleniecki permitted the second Alpena shooter – Steve Culbertson -- to score after stonewalling Justin Stadler in the visitors’ first turn, and rebuked all comers thereafter. Larke, Madden and Paeth did the rest.

“It just started off right, and ended up right,” Larke assessed. “It felt great to win a game like that heading into the playoffs.”

The Stars, now 16-34-7, will face the Team USA Under-17 squad in the North Division semifinals of the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs, beginning on March 30 in Ann Arbor. Home dates in the best-of-five slate are scheduled for April 7-8 at Centre ICE arena. Sunday’s regular season lid-lifter faces off at 3 p.m. at Northern Lights Arena.



In a game without much postseason significance attached to it, the Traverse City North Stars played like a high-end playoff team for 30 minutes, and like a team that was looking forward to spring tee times for the first 10 minutes of Friday’s contest.

In the end, the Alpena IceDiggers emerged with a 5-4 shootout victory in front of 900 Centre ICE faithful, but took a circuitous route to the win. The Diggers, who will sit out the playoffs, came out the chute on Friday with three goals in the first 9:15 of the opening stanza, including Drew Pierson’s ice-breaker just 54 seconds in. Todd Rudasill and Alpena native Erik Peterson completed the early triumvirate before the postseason-bound Stars were able to right the ship.

Traverse City Central product Jake Erway gave the hosts some life heading into the first intermission on an even-strength goal with 2:22 on the clock. Richie Zobak and Brett Englebright assisted.

“I don’t think we were ready for them to come out and play the way they did,” Stars winger Jonathan Juliano assessed. “Without anything but pride to play for, I thought they’d be out there for the rough stuff – to just fight -- but they came out and scored goals, and it took us a while … to respond.”

The second period was all North Stars, as Juliano (2:37), Zobak (13:35) and Sal Ragusa (17:00) put TC in front, 4-3, in a session that was as one-sided on the ice as on the scoreboard. Juliano and Ragusa’s markers came with the man advantage. Matt Larke and Steven Oleksy assisted on Juliano’s goal, Erway and Englebright drew helpers on the Zobak tally, and Arthur Bidwill and Patrick Nagorsen set up Ragusa.

Peterson’s second goal of the game was the only score of the third period, as the Diggers knotted the contest at four-all just 1:28 in, setting up the scoreless overtime session and eventual shootout. In the shootout, Justin Stadler started things off for Alpena with the first marker, and Todd Rudasill also found twine for the visitors. None of the Stars were able to solve IceDiggers netkeep Johnny Morrow in the shootout.

“You just can’t come out and play the first 10 minutes like the game doesn’t mean anything,” lamented Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “We really raised our level of play in the second and third, but it’s like we’ve been saying to the players all year: You play 60 minutes – not 20 and not 40. That’s the only way we’re going to win hockey games.”

Stars goalie Ryan Donovan, who surrendered the first three goals and gave way to Jeremy Kaleniecki for the final 6:40 of the first period, was stellar after his return to the pipes in the second period, stopping 35 of the next 36 shots he faced. In all, Alpena foisted 51 shots on net to 39 for Traverse City.

“That’s way too many shots to give up,” Gardiner added. “We have to keep that number down, and that’s going to be our primary focus (Saturday) night. We’ll give Jeremy the work tomorrow night, because we need to confident goaltenders going into the postseason.”

The Stars and Diggers face off again on Saturday at Centre ICE arena in a 7:30 p.m. contest, before heading to Alpena for Sunday’s regular season finale. Traverse City will face the Team USA Under-17 squad in the NAHL North Division semifinals, which start March 30 in Ann Arbor, and come to Traverse City for home dates on April 7-8.

Spirit lose Game 1 to Guelph

The Saginaw Spirit, in their first-ever OHL playoff series, dropped Game 1 in Guelph last Friday night, 3-2.

Zack Torquato and Michal Birner scored for Saginaw and goaltender Francois Thuot finished with 28 saves.

Game 2 with the Storm goes tonight at the Dow Event Center at 7:11 p.m.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Age-old rivals close out season

Stars gear up for playoffs vs. Alpena

This weekend’s three-game series with the Alpena IceDiggers will put a cap on the Traverse City North Stars’ inaugural regular season, but it is also the latest chapter in a rivalry that dates back to the turn of the century in a now-defunct league.

The North Stars are a first-year franchise, and the IceDiggers are spending their first season in Northern Michigan, but the enmity between the two North American Hockey League franchises goes well beyond the heated on-ice battles the clubs have waged in 2005-06.

The often-contentious competition between the teams goes back to the days of the now-disbanded Continental Elite Hockey League, when current North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner served in the same capacity for the Traverse City Enforcers, and present Alpena head coach/GM Kenny Miller was an assistant for the Toledo franchise. Miller’s club was originally known as the Toledo Storm during the CEHL’s inaugural 2001-02 season, and became the Toledo Wolfpack before the 2002-03 campaign.

The franchise jumped ship before the Continental League folded prior to 2004-05, and the newly-monikered IceDiggers moved operations from northern Ohio to Alpena before the 2005-06 season, the same year the Traverse City North Stars joined the NAHL.

“Yeah, it goes back a ways,” said Gardiner, who won the CEHL Coach of the Year award following both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. “My first year (as coach), we faced them in the playoffs and it went down to the final game before they took us out. The next year, we handled ’em pretty well, but the rivalry was already underway.”

Miller, who was an assistant to Mike Mankowski – now a Canisius assistant -- during the Diggers’ formative years, remembers those early CEHL clashes well.

“We had some nice battles back then,” Miller recalled. “In fact, that first year in the (Continental) League, we lost just two games at home all year, and I remember the first one was to Traverse City on a Sunday afternoon. That’s really where it all started. It was pretty competitive. I don’t want to knock that league, because that’s where we got our starts, but it was pretty competitive between our teams even back then.”

The Stars and Diggers have been in 4th and 5th place in the NAHL’s North Division for much of the 2005-06 season, but have waged some tremendous ice wars during the year. The Diggers had won nine games through the month of February, but four of those victories have come against Traverse City, including a 4-3 victory that spoiled the North Stars’ inaugural home opener on Sept. 23. Since then, the teams have played nine more times, with TC claiming five. Alpena earned victories in overtime (2-1 on Oct. 14) and in a shootout (3-2 on Oct. 15), while the Stars recently set a franchise record for goals in a 9-5 drubbing on Feb 18 at Centre ICE arena in Traverse City.

“We all get along fine with each other, but when the puck drops and we’re out on the ice, it can get heated. Combine that with the geographic proximity of the two towns and it’s been quite a rivalry so far.”

North Stars forward Jake Erway, who grew up in the Grand Traverse Hockey Association and played for Traverse City Central High School before joining the junior ranks, says the municipalities have held a longstanding on-ice grudge against one another.

“It isn’t just in juniors or high school, it starts in mites. I don’t know why, but that’s just how it’s always been. When my brother (Pat Erway) was playing high school, it was always the biggest games of the year when Alpena (H.S.) came to town or we went over there. They’ve always had a good program, too, so it was just a natural rivalry I guess.”

Miller found out pretty early on this season what it meant to his fan base to knock off Alpena’s rivals to the west.

“The day we went to Traverse City for our first game with them this year, I was a speaker at the ‘Wake Up, Northern Michigan’ breakfast and I heard quite a bit from the crowd how important it was to beat Traverse City, and that it goes all the way back to high school hockey, and really all sports. That’s when I knew that it (the rivalry) may have started off geographically, but had grown into something even more.”

One current North Stars player actually saw duty for the Toledo Storm/Wolfpack in the CEHL days. Goalkeeper Jeremy Kaleniecki, who has presided over four of TC’s five wins vs. Alpena, played for Mankowski and Miller before playing collegiately at Robert Morris College.

“There aren’t a lot of them left from when I was with them,” Kaleniecki said. “Just Coach Miller and (owner Michael) Bihn. It’s always nice to get a win against an organization that basically didn’t want you back. After the CEHL ended, I emailed and tried to get them to have me back, and they didn’t jump at it. They didn’t contact me at all, other than to have me fill out a player profile form or something. When I asked coach Gardiner about coming (to the NAHL), he got in touch with me right away, and here I am.”

While Kaleniecki won’t find any former teammates on the current IceDiggers roster, there are plenty of connections between players on both teams. Erway and Diggers defenseman Erik Peterson were opponents for many TC Central-Alpena prep matchups, while Alpena’s Eric Roman and Arturs Kret were high school teammates of North Stars center Patrick Nagorsen last year at Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep. Additionally, Kaleniecki and Stars defenseman Steven Oleksy have been playing with or against Diggers goalie Johnny Morrow, Ross Enmark and Justin Stadler since their days as youths in the metropolitan Detroit area.

“That definitely adds to it,” Kaleniecki said. “We’ve known a lot of them for a long time from downstate, and we play them so many times during the season.”

Gardiner agreed.

“There’s a familiarity there that really helps the rivalry grow,” he said. “We play two different styles and there are two different kinds of coaching.”

Traverse City defenseman Jarrett Rush says the clash of styles can make for an entertaining evening at the rink.

“They’re always in your face, and can play real chippy,” said Rush, who hails from Pennington, N.J. and is a newcomer to the TC-Alpena rivalry. “They don’t break the rules or anything, but they try to frustrate you to the point where you want to clock ’em, and it can take you off your game. They work as hard as any team out there.”

Kaleniecki made a similar assessment.

“They’re definitely not a finesse team, but they can flat-out outwork teams. They showed that against Springfield (Feb. 10-11). Coach Miller does a great job getting them to stick to their game plan and work hard the way they do.”

While the Diggers will miss the playoff this year, Miller also sees good things down the road for his club.

“Unfortunately, we’ve sort of put ourselves in a hole by not being as consistent as we’d like,” Miller explained. “We had to start winning just about all of our hockey games, or we weren’t going to make the playoffs. We still have a bright future, and a lot to play for.”

Gardiner says this weekend’s trio of contests are important momentum-building outings for his Stars.

“We want to go into the playoffs on a high note,” he explained. “We want to be able to have some solid play that will carry over. We’ll work on some things, but you always want to go into the postseason playing your best hockey, and that has to start this weekend.”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

IceDiggers' season ends this weekend

As the Alpena IceDiggers' inaugural season comes to an end, the IceDiggers organization will be holding a special recognition ceremony on Sunday at the Fletcher Street Brewery. All season ticket holders, housing parents, volunteers and players have received invitations to attend the ceremony that is to take place following the final game of the 2005-06 season between the IceDiggers and the Traverse City North Stars.

The public is encouraged to attend and there will be a $10 charge at the door. The price of admission includes the awards ceremony as well as beverages provided by Fletcher Street Brewery and pizza from JJ's Steak and Pizza House. WBKB's sports director Mark Kunz will be the master of ceremonies for the event.

Another exciting moment to the final game of the season is the acknowledgement of the housing families who opened their homes and their hearts to the IceDiggers players all season long. This will take place at Sunday's game during the first intermission.

"It's the time of year where we want to show appreciation to everyone that helped us out this season," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "From the volunteers to all the families who supported these guys all season long, we are happy to be able to let them know how much they are appreciated. I would like to personally thank everyone that made IceDiggers hockey an enjoyable experience for both the players and the coaching staff this season."

The Diggers are in action Friday and Saturday at Centre Ice in Traverse City, with both games starting at 7:30 p.m., and will close the season Sunday at 3:00 p.m. at Northern Lights Arena.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Saginaw vs. Guelph - quarterfinal series set

The Saginaw Spirit finished second in the OHL's West Division and fifth in the Western Conference. They'll face the No. 4 seed Guelph Storm in a best-of-seven quarterfinal series starting this weekend.

Fri. March 24 at Guelph, 7:30
Mon. March 27 at Saginaw, 7:11
Tues. March 28 at Guelph, 7:00
Thurs. March 30 at Saginaw, 7:11
Sat. April 1 at Guelph, 7:30*
Sun. April 2 at Saginaw, 6:00*
Tues. April 4 at Guelph, 7:00*

* Denotes if necessary games

Sunday, March 19, 2006

North Stars clinch playoff berth

There will be playoff hockey at Centre ICE arena this April.

The Traverse City North Stars officially clinched the fourth and final postseason berth in the North American Hockey League’s North Division on Saturday. Alpena’s 5-2 loss at Mahoning Valley mathematically eliminated the IceDiggers from contention, but North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner doesn’t think of it as backing into the postseason fray.

“Nope, we earned our way in,” Gardiner insisted. “I look at that weekend against Texas, where we got three points when no one thought we’d get any. How big are those three points right now? Pretty big. That’s what put us in the position we’re in right now.”

The Stars are locked into the fourth slot in the North Division, meaning they’ll face whichever club emerges as the regular season division champs in a best-of-five series. Traverse City is scheduled for home dates on Friday, April 7 (Game 3) and Saturday, April 8 (Game 4, if nec.). Playoff tickets will be available on Friday at the North Stars ticket office in Centre ICE arena.

The U.S. National Team Development Program – which enters its Under-17 team in the NAHL playoffs – presently holds the top spot in the North with 75 points. Cleveland is just a point back after a two-game sweep of the U-17s this weekend, with Mahoning Valley also within striking distance at 72 points. Team USA closes out the regular season with a pair of games at Mahoning Valley.

“Obviously, making the playoffs is the first goal you set each year,” Gardiner added. “So, it’s good to get that in the bag. And it really doesn’t matter who we play. We’ve had our problems against Mahoning Valley this year, but we’ve had some success against the under-17 team, and some early success against Cleveland.”

Traverse City still has three regular season games left against Alpena, with Friday and Saturday’s games set for Centre ICE arena, and Sunday’s regular season finale across the state at Northern Lights Arena.

“You can’t sleepwalk through the last weekend and flip a switch and turn it on for the playoffs,” Gardiner cautioned. “We’ll be working on some … strategies, and we expect effort in all three periods of all three games. Alpena will be playing for pride, and they’re playing well right now.”

The North Stars will be as healthy as they’ve been in a while for the season-ending series with the Diggers. Defenseman and captain Steven Oleksy (shoulder) is expected to play Friday, and forward Ryan Bond (knee) saw his first action in over a month last Friday. Defenseman Ryan Reid, however, has been ruled out for the rest of the year with a back injury.

Gardiner says that once a team makes the playoff field, anything can happen.

“You see it every year – teams rise up and there are upsets. I’ve been telling the guys all year: It’s not about being the best team in December and January – it’s about being the best team in April.”

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

Plymouth takes West Division crown

Story courtesy of the Canadian Press and photos by Walt Dmoch.

Evan Brophey scored 3:29 into overtime as the Plymouth Whalers edged the Saginaw Spirit, 3-2, Saturday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

The victory clinched the West Division title for Plymouth (35-28-1-4).

As the second seed in the Western Conference, the Whalers will face the seventh-seeded Windsor Spitfires in the first round of the OHL Playoffs, beginning next weekend.

"I saw John Vigilante coming into the zone and cutting across the middle," said Brophey of the winning goal (above). "Their goaltender (Francois Thuot) made a great glove save, but I went looking for the rebound. I kept digging and it came loose."

The Spirit protested that Thuot had controlled it long enough to get a whistle but referees Pat Smola and Darcy Burchell let the goal stand.

"Sometimes the breaks just don't go your way," shrugged Saginaw captain Patrick McNeill, who set up Michal Birner's dramatic tying power-play goal with just one second left in regulation.

Saginaw (36-30-2-0) had trailed 2-0 in the third period before scoring a pair of power-play goals, with Tim Priamo netting the first one.

"It was pretty crazy at that point," stated McNeill about the late regulation goal. "I really didn't know what to think at that point."

Plymouth got second-period goals from John Armstrong and Andrew Fournier.

"It's a great win for us," said Brophey. "The home ice advantage will be big, because Windsor plays very well in their barn. We're glad to be heading into the playoffs on a good note."

Saginaw, who finished with the fifth seed in Western Conference, will face the fourth-seeded Guelph Storm in the first round.

"It should be a good series," said McNeill. "They're a fast skating team and we are, too."

Plymouth defenseman Mike Letizia was taken off the ice on a stretcher (below) after getting boarded in the second period. He was alert and walking around after the game, but said he didn't remember the hit.

The Plymouth-Windsor playoff series (* if necessary):

Game 1 - Sat. 3/25 - Windsor at Plymouth, 7:30 pm.
Game 2 - Sun. 3/26 - Plymouth at Windsor, 7:00 pm.
Game 3 - Tues. 3/28 - Windsor at Plymouth, 7:30 pm.
Game 4 - Thurs. 3/30 - Plymouth at Windsor, 7:30 pm.
Game 5 - Sat. 4/1 - Windsor at Plymouth, 7:30 pm. *
Game 6 - Sun, 4/2 – Plymouth at Windsor, 7:00 pm. *
Game 7 - Tues, 4/4 – Windsor at Plymouth, 7:30 pm. *

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Whalers and Spirit both win Friday night

Tonight's showdown in Plymouth for first place

James Neal and Andrew Fournier scored goals six seconds apart in the third period to snap a 2-2 tie and the Plymouth Whalers went on to defeat the Sarnia Sting, 4-2, Friday night in Sarnia.

Plymouth’s victory – coupled with Saginaw’s 4-3 victory Friday night in Sault Ste. Marie – sets up a winner-take-all, one-game showdown for first place in the OHL’s West Division tonight when Plymouth (34-28-1-4, 73 points) hosts Saginaw (36-30-1-0, also with 73 points).

Saturday night’s game is the last game of the OHL’s regular season for Plymouth and Saginaw and the winner of the game wins the OHL West Division and will finish second in the OHL Western Conference playoff seedings. The loser of Saturday’s game will finish second in the OHL West Division and either fifth or sixth in the Western Conference playoff seedings.

Neal scored his first-ever hat trick to lead the Plymouth attack and has 21 goals on the season, while Fournier scored the other Whalers' goal and now has 22. Richard Clune and Brandon Mashinter scored first-period goals for Sarnia, who led, 2-1, after one period of play.

Justin Peters made just 14 saves for the win in net.

Up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ryan McDonough scored a pair and Jack Combs and Tom Pyatt, with the game-winner at 15:23 of the third period, added goals as the Spirit took a 4-3 win. Spirit netminder Francois Thuot stopped 36 shots in the victory.

Tonight's showdown in Plymouth starts at 7:30 p.m.

North Stars take 8-1 drubbing to USA Under-18s

It was no sweat for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad on Friday night at Centre ICE arena, but a whole lot of Sweatt for the host Traverse City North Stars.

Bill Sweatt closed the first period and opened the second with shorthanded and powerplay goals, respectively, as the U-18s skated to an 8-1 victory over the Stars. Ten USA players registered at least a point, led by Sweatt’s pair of tallies. Rhett Rakhshani had four points, including a trio of assists, while leading scorer Patrick Kane dumped in a goal and two assists.

“They’re that good,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “I mean, they have six of the top 60 NHL prospects on that team. They’re always good, but this is a special USA team even by their standards.”

The NHL’s Central Scouting service estimates that those six prospects will each be selected in the first two rounds of the NHL entry draft later this year.

“It’s always a learning experience when we play these guys, and believe it or not, it will make us a better team as we come down the stretch here this year," added Gardiner. "You have to stay out of the box against them and have every bounce go your way, and those things didn’t happen for us tonight.”

Traverse City lost no ground in its drive for the fourth and final playoff berth in the NAHL’s North Division, as Alpena was routed at Mahoning Valley, 5-1. The teams meet three times next weekend, with Friday and Saturday games at Centre ICE arena, and Sunday’s regular season finale at Alpena’s Northern Lights Arena. If the IceDiggers lose to Mahoning Valley tonight, the Stars will have officially clinched.

“No matter what, we have to go into next weekend firing on all cylinders,” Gardiner explained. “We have to go into the playoffs on a roll, and the only way to do that – whether we’ve clinched by then or not – is to go at them like it’s all on the line.”

Brett Englebright made sure the North Stars weren’t blanked on Friday, registering his fifth marker of the 2005-06 campaign at the 9:04 mark of the third stanza. Jon Madden and Richie Zobak drew assists on the play.

TC netkeep Jeremy Kaleniecki was busy, making 40 saves on 48 shots, while his USA counterpart Joseph Palmer permitted just one goal on the 13 shots he saw.

The Stars are off for the rest of the weekend, and will gear up for next weekend’s trio of matchups with the Diggers.

“We have two weeks to fine-tune our game,” Gardiner said. “No matter what else happens, that starts next Friday against Alpena.”

Thursday, March 16, 2006

North Stars ready for Team USA Under-18s

Even as his team is focused on facing the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad on Friday at Centre ICE, Traverse City North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner admits that he’ll be scoreboard-watching this weekend.

With four games left on the regular season schedule, the Stars need four points to secure the fourth and final playoff berth in the North American Hockey League’s North Division. In the alternative, if the fifth-place Alpena IceDiggers emerge from a two-game weekend series at Mahoning Valley without a point, then Traverse City clinches the postseason spot.

Should the Team USA-18s knock off Traverse City on Friday, and Alpena splits with the Phantoms this weekend, then the season-ending three-game series with Alpena on March 24-26 becomes all-important. Gardiner says he’d rather go into the playoffs as the aggressor, and will have his team ready to take the fight to the U-18s.

“Every game is important, every game right now can mean the difference between making the playoffs and staying home,” Gardiner explained. “And it’s still the same thing I’ve been saying all along: We control our own destiny. We don’t want to have to have it come down to next weekend against Alpena, but if it does, we can do it that way, too.”

Alpena will be facing a Mahoning Valley team that will be without superstar center Anthony Ciraulo (Clinton Township) and head coach Bob Mainhardt, who were suspended for separate in-game incidents last week. The North Stars, however, will be facing a Team USA U-18 squad that boasts a roster chock-full of talent, including behemoth defenseman Erik Johnson – a 6-4, 225-pound defenseman who is expected to be among the first players selected in this year’s National Hockey League draft. Johnson, who is committed to the University of Minnesota for next year, has 11 goals and 22 assists in 38 games from the blue line this season.

“He’s a mutant,” said North Stars forward Jake Erway. “I mean, they’re all big and they’re all going to Division 1 colleges, and quite a few will be drafted (in the NHL), and they’re all the most skilled players in the country at that age, but Johnson is just … unreal.”

The U-18s are beatable, as proven last weekend when Springfield handed them their first NAHL loss of the season, 2-1.

“It’s a pretty lofty goal, but they can be beaten,” Erway added. “We’ll take a run at ‘em.”

Friday’s St. Patrick’s Day special at Centre ICE will also feature a visit from the Traverse City Central High School hockey team. The Trojans, the newly-crowned Div. 2 state champions, will be introduced during the first intermission.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Spirit and Plymouth now tied for first

The Saginaw Spirit downed their division rival Plymouth Whalers, 2-1, in Saginaw on Wednesday night.

With the win, the two teams are tied for top spot in the OHL's West Division.

All three goals came on the power play.

Saginaw struck first at 16:01 of the first period when Ryan McDonough flipped in a backhand shot that bounced in off of Whalers' netminder Justin Peters. Saginaw jumped up 2-1 at 7:54 of the second period on Jesse Gimblett’s backhand shot. Michal Birner and captain Patrick McNeill assisted on both Spirit goals.

The Whalers cut the lead to 2-1 at 10:25 of the second as Evan Brophey scored on a 5-on-3 power play with a slapshot from the point.

Spirit goalie Francois Thuot (pictured) had 41 saves on the night while Peters stopped 28.

Saginaw’s record improves to 35-30-1-0, with 71 points. The Spirit are tied in points with Plymouth (33-28-1-4) and currently hold the second seed in the Western Conference playoff race. The Spirit have two games remaining - in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night and in Plymouth on Saturday night.

The Whalers play Friday night in Sarnia before Saturday's showdown.

Stars, fans to honor Trojans Saturday night

Fans will get a chance to honor the state champion Traverse City Central Trojans hockey team on Saturday at the Traverse City North Stars home game against the Team USA Under-18 squad.

The Trojans, who knocked off Saline by a 2-1 count on March 11 at Plymouth’s Compuware Sports Arena, claimed the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 2 state championship crown – the first in the history of Traverse City high school hockey.

“This is a great thing for the Trojans, for the North Stars – for the entire community,” said North Stars owner/president Steve Fournier. “We’re honored to have them join us on Friday, and can’t wait for the hockey fans of Traverse City to get to offer their congratulations and to let these guys know how proud we all are of them. They get to keep the (state championship) trophy, but their success is shared by everyone who lives, works, and plays here.”

The North Stars and Team USA are scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. face-off at Centre ICE arena.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Black Bears end regular season with loss

The Northern Michigan Black Bears ended their NOJHL regular season Saturday night with a 4-1 loss on the road in Blind River. Northern Michigan had beaten the Soo Thunderbirds by the same score last Wednesday.

Saturday, Anthony Perdicaro staked the Bears to an early 1-0 lead, but the Beavers rattled off four unanswered goals for the victory.

Elliot Hogue made 45 saves for Northern Michigan, who finished 27-15-6, good for fourth place.

The Black Bears now host Blind River in a best-of-seven playoff matchup that gets underway Tuesday at Big Bear Arena.

IceDiggers downed in Ann Arbor Sunday

After dropping the first two games of their three game weekend series with the Alpena IceDiggers, the U.S. National Under-17 Team rebounded Sunday afternoon to defeat Alpena, 6-1, at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. The win keeps the National Team in first place in the North American Hockey League’s North Division and moves Team USA just four points away from clinching the division title.

Team USA forward James vanRiemsdyk opened the scoring with a beautiful backhand goal setup by Philip McRae. The goal, along with defense, gave Team USA a 1-0 lead after the first period of play.

At 4:25 of the second period, McRae added a power-play goal as he beat Alpena goaltender Peter O’Hara with a slap shot from the top of the right circle. Joseph Lavin and vanRiemsdyk added assists on the goal. Team USA took control of the game when Justin Vaive and vanRiemsdyk added tallies just 57 seconds apart to put the National Team ahead 4-0 at the 12:57 mark of the period. Ryan Hayes added his first goal of the game, and 30th of the season, on a picture-perfect pass from Ian Cole at 15:54 of the period to put Team USA ahead 5-0 heading into the third.

In the third period, Steve Culbertson put Alpena on the board 4:16 into the frame. Team USA responded with a tally from Greg Squires. The goal, which was set up by Nigel Williams and vanRiemsdyk, capped the day’s scoring and put Team USA ahead.,6-1.

Strong defensive play from Team USA limited Alpena to just 14 shots on the day, compared to 38 for the U.S. Brad Phillips was strong in goal for Team USA stopping 13 of the 14 shots he faced. O'Hara made 32 saves for Alpena.

The U.S. National Under-17 Team travels to face the Cleveland Barons for a pair of games Mar. 18-19. The IceDiggers are in Mahoning Valley this Friday and Saturday.

Whalers beat Greyhounds in Sunday shootout

The Plymouth Whalers have won three games this season in a shootout and in each win, rookie Chris Terry has provided the winning goal. He scored the only goal in a shootout (pictured above) Sunday afternoon as the Whalers (33-27-1-4) moved back into sole possession of first place in the OHL West Division with a 4-3 win over the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters stopped 26 of 29 Sault Ste. Marie shots through 65 minutes, then stopped Cody Thornton, Ryan Kitchen and Scott Restoule in the shootout. Before the shootout, Jared Boll scored twice for the Whalers and James Neal scored the other goal.

Sault Ste. Marie goaltender Kyle Gajewski stopped 39 of 42 Plymouth shots through 65 minutes and stopped Andrew Fournier during the shootout.

First-place Plymouth and second-place Saginaw will play twice now in the final week of the OHL’s regular season, meeting Wednesday night in Saginaw and then Saturday night at the Compuware Sports Arena. In between, Plymouth plays in Sarnia Friday night and Saginaw plays in Sault Ste. Marie Friday.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Saginaw beats Sarnia, falls to Windsor

The Saginaw Spirit completed a three-game weekend Sunday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to the Windsor Spitfires.

Michal Birner tied the game with a shorthanded goal at 8:45 in the second period, making the game 1-1. Saginaw netminder Francois Thuot had 30 saves in the loss. Saginaw's record moves to 34-30-1-0 for 69 points. Saginaw is in second place in the OHL West Division, two points behind the first-place Plymouth Whalers. The Spitfires are in third place with 66 points, followed closely by the fourth-place Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds with 64 points.

Saturday, Ryan Daniels made 25 saves as the Spirit beat the Sarnia Sting, 6-2. Jack Combs, Birner, Ryan McDonough, Zack Torquato, Tim Priamo and Garrett Sinfield all scored in the win.

The Spirit faceoff against the Whalers for the last home game of the regular season Wednesday. It's fan appreciation night, with the annual game-worn jersey auction and a special guest appearance from hockey legend and former Detroit Red Wings' star Igor Larionov.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Whalers still in first, defeat Otters Friday

Chris Terry’s goal at 8:45 of the third period snapped at 3-3 tie and the first-place Plymouth Whalers came from behind to defeat the Erie Otters, 5-3, Friday night before 3,927 at the Tullio Arena in Erie.

Terry’s goal gave Plymouth their first lead of the evening. The Whalers came from behind three different times, tying the game at 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 before taking the lead for good.

Besides Terry (pictured above), Joe Gaynor, Evan Brophey, Jared Boll and Andrew Fournier scored for Plymouth. John Armstrong and James Neal added two assists apiece for the Whalers.

Justin Peters made 27 saves for the win in goal.

Plymouth’s victory over Erie eliminates the Otters from the OHL’s Western Conference playoff race.

Plymouth hosts Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. The Whalers have three games remaining in the regular season after Sunday’s game. The Whalers play in Saginaw next Wednesday and in Sarnia next Friday before hosting Saginaw on March 18.

Terry photo by Walt Dmoch.

Saginaw downs Sarnia, 5-2

The playoff bound Saginaw Spirit downed the Sarnia Sting Friday night in Sarnia, taking their record to 33-29-1-0 for 67 points.

Michal Birner earned the first star of the game with three assists and Ryan McDonough earned the second star of the game with two goals.

Spirit captain Patrick McNeill started the game in Saginaw’s favor with a power-play goal at 4:16 in the first period. Tom Pyatt and Birner assisted on McNeill’s 21st goal of the season.

Eight seconds into the second period, McDonough shot the puck past Sting netminder and former Plymouth Whaler Ryan Nie. Birner and Ryan Berard assisted. McDonough came back and scored again at 2:30 in the second with an assist from Birner and defenseman Garrett Sinfield.

Patrick Asselin made the game 4-0 with a shorthanded goal at 6:22 in the second off a feed from Vaclav Meidl, another former Whaler.

Sarnia reduced the Spirit’s lead to 4-1 when Sting defenseman Tyson Aitcheson scored at 16:53 in the second period.

The third period started with a Sarnia goal when Ryan McInerney got the puck past Spirit goalie Francois Thuot. The game remained 4-2 late into the third period until Tyson Gimblett put the puck into an empty Sarnia net at 19:42. Zack Torquato and Thuot earned assists on Gimblett’s goal.

Thuot had 35 saves in the Saginaw win.

The OHL West remains a hotly contested Division with Saginaw in second place with 67 points, the Whalers are in first place with 69 points and the Windsor Spitfires are in third place with 64 points. Saginaw is currently in sixth place in the OHL Western Conference.

IceDiggers edge USA Under-17's, 3-2

With the Alpena IceDiggers wearing special-event St. Patrick's Day jerseys last night, they had the luck of the Irish on their side in front of 680 fans at Northern Lights Arena and beat the U.S. Under-17 Team, 3-2.

Matt Suggs scored the game winning goal late in the second period while Justin Stadler and Ben Kitzmiller (pictured) contributed a goal apiece in the victory.

Peter O'Hara picked up his second consecutive win between the pipes for Alpena making 31 saves.

The IceDiggers went 1-for-2 on the power play while the visitors went 1-for-3.

The race for the final playoff spot in the North Division tightens up even more as the IceDiggers trail their cross-state rival Traverse City North Stars by nine points. Alpena also has three games in hand.

Alpena returns to action on Saturday at home to take on the same Team USA Under-17 squad. Both teams will then head to Ann Arbor on Sunday for a 3:00 p.m. face off at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Whalers upended in Windsor Thursday

Bryan Bickell scored two goals and two assists, while Cal O’Reilly contributed a goal and three assists and Paul McFarland two goals and an assist as the Windsor Spitfires overcame an early 2-0 first period deficit to defeat the Plymouth Whalers, 8-5, Thursday night at Windsor Arena.

Peter Aston, Brian Soso and Ryan Garlock, all scored single goals for Windsor.

Andrew Fournier lead the Whalers attack with his first-ever hat trick and now has 20 goals on the season. Wes Cunningham (pictured) scored his third goal of the year and John Armstrong his 13th of the season for Plymouth.

The race for first place in the OHL West Division tightens up even more. In spite of the loss, Plymouth remains in first place with a record of 31-27-1-4, Saginaw is second at 32-29-1-0, Windsor is now 29-28-3-3 and Sault Ste. Marie, who won Thursday night in Sarnia, is now 28-29-3-4.

Justin Peters and Justin Garay combined for 31 saves for the Whalers.

Plymouth remains on the road Friday night in Erie before returning home Sunday at 2:00 p.m. to face Sault Ste. Marie.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

North Stars tender two for '06-07

Even with the regular season kettle on the boil, and the playoff chase set to percolate, the Traverse City North Stars are busy making preparations for the 2006-07 campaign and beyond.

The latest supplements to the North Stars future were secured this week, when the club inked a pair of players to tenders. Forward Zach Hitch, a junior at Brighton High School, and Cleveland Barons midget-AAA goaltender Stefan Shively, agreed to ply their respective trades in Traverse City next season.

“These are some great additions,” said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “With Zach, you have a skill player – a guy who can play in all three zones. And Stefan is somebody we’re very high on, too. He’s a terrific stand-up goalie.”

Shively wowed coaches last summer with his showing during a Stars tryout camp at Centre ICE arena. Gardiner and TC associate coach Mike Stapleton wanted him to get more playing time at midget majors, but kept an eye on his progress during the season.

“Stefan almost made the team last year,” Gardiner admitted. “I mean, he was right there with Ryan (Donovan) and Jeremy (Kaleniecki). I had him rated among the top three (junior-eligible) goalies that I saw this year.”

Shively was undeterred by his North Stars deferral, and has performed well for Cleveland of the Midwest Elite Hockey League, posting a 4-5-2 record with a 2.64 goals-against average in 11 starts for the Barons. Among his victory total were a pair of shutouts – 2-0 over the Soo Indians and 6-0 against Little Caesars.

“When I tried out up there last year, I just fell in love with the place,” said Shively. “The surroundings are beautiful, and we were treated so well. Even though I didn’t make the club, the coaches still kept in contact with me.”

Hitch is still putting the finishing touches on a dream season at Brighton, leading the Bulldogs to a fifth straight Kensington Valley Conference crown, and into Friday’s Division 1 state semifinal against Marquette. So far in 2005-06, Hitch has racked up 27 goals and assisted on 27 others in 28 outings for Brighton (25-1-2). The 54-point output is the eighth-best year in Bulldogs history.

“He’s a good-sized kid with real speed,” Gardiner assessed. “And he’s a hard-working kid, too. I can already see line combinations, and players who compliment each other, and I like it.”

Hitch, whose brother Ryan played junior hockey in Traverse City under the banner of the since-defunct Continental Elite Hockey League, says he’s excited about the opportunity to play by the bay.

“It’s a great atmosphere up there, a great place to play,” said the high school junior. “I hope I can bring something to the table. I’m a power forward, and I try to score goals. Some are pretty, some are garbage.”

While signing a tender agreement with a junior team doesn’t guarantee a roster spot, North American Hockey League clubs are afforded but 10 tenders each season to secure players’ rights, meaning that coaches and scouts think pretty highly of a prospect if they apply such a designation. All players – even current North Stars – participate in summer camps.

“It’s a measuring stick for younger guys,” Gardiner explained. “And now we have some veterans to measure the younger guys against. That’s something that’s a pretty important part of the process, and we didn’t have that last summer.”

The North Stars have scheduled tryout camps for May 18-21 at Centre ICE, a June 1-4 camp at Compuware Arena in Plymouth, and the invite-only training camp back in Traverse City from Aug. 4-6. Last year’s training camp finale Blue-White game drew almost 700 hockey-starved fans to Centre ICE arena.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

IceDiggers' 'Tip the Team' a success

19th Hole owner Bill Peterson, IceDiggers director of marketing Michelle McEwen and IceDiggers captain Nolan Craner present a scholarship check to AHA board members Pete Cross and Matt Waligora last Sunday

Last Thursday, the Alpena IceDiggers participated in the first Annual "Tip-The-Team" Night at the 19th Hole in Alpena to benefit the Alpena Hockey Association (AHA) and their youth hockey program.

All "tips" that were received by the IceDiggers, as well as the 19th Hole wait staff, were donated to the AHA for use in scholarships for the youth hockey program.

"What a fun night it was," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller stated. "The guys enjoyed themselves and it truly feels good that we are going to be able to give some of the Alpena youth a chance to participate in the hockey program in the fall."

With the Diggers donating their tips, 19th Hole owner Bill Peterson also donated 10 percent of the evenings proceeds to the scholarship fund as well. A check for $664.88 was presented to AHA president Matt Waligora and vice president Pete Cross by Peterson, IceDiggers' captain Nolan Craner and IceDiggers' director of marketing Michelle McEwen at last Sunday's game versus Traverse City. The afternoon proved to be successful for all of Alpena hockey as the IceDiggers were victorious in a 4-2 win over the North Stars.

The IceDiggers return to Northern Lights Arena this Friday and Saturday night when they host the U.S. Under-17 team at 7:00 p.m. both nights.

Pisellini's punch lands Todd on sidelines

Jim Parker, Windsor Star
Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Scott Todd was trying to spark his teammates.

The six-foot-five, 223-pound defenceman for the Windsor Spitfires had done it dozens of times before by dropping the gloves to battle the opposition's heavyweight.

"What better way to get your team going," Todd said.

Four seconds into Saturday's game in Plymouth, Todd and Whalers heavyweight Gino Pisellini dropped the gloves. Todd, 19, got in a heavy right and two other shots before a Pisellini right exploded in his face.

"You know there's always a chance you can get hurt, but you never plan for it," Todd said.

He ended up in the hospital and today will undergo surgery to repair his cheek bone, which was broken in two places.

"The orbital bone is pushed in and under the eye," Todd said Monday. "They have to pull it out where it was before. "Then, I'll get two plates and they'll build my cheek back up to where it was."

The Kingston (Ont.) native will be out of action between four and five weeks, which might cost him the rest of the season.

"I'm hoping to be back in four," Todd said. "I asked the doctor (Monday) if there was any (long-term) damage. He said as long I give it proper time to heal I'd be fine."

When he gets back, Todd said he won't hesitate to drop the gloves again.

"I'm not worried about it," he said.

For Todd, it's the way the game has to be played. It's what got him drafted into the Ontario Hockey League and subsequently caught the attention of the NHL's Nashville Predators, who drafted him last year.

"I know that's the way I'm probably going to get (to the NHL), so I still have to do it," said Todd, who has 410 penalty minutes in 145 career OHL games.

He became an instant fan favourite last season when the Spitfires acquired him from Oshawa. In his first game, his fight with Brody Todd buckled the Ottawa forward and put him out of action for three weeks with a concussion.


By the same token, this isn't the first time Pisellini has sent Todd in for surgery. A fight last year broke Todd's nose and forced him to undergo surgery.

"It's all right," Todd said. "Some say it's brutal and some say it's fun."

And down the road, it's something Todd will engage in again.

"You just put it in the back of your mind," Todd said.

Photo courtesy of the Windsor Star.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Plymouth blanked in Sault Ste. Marie

Dustin Jeffrey's power-play goal at 4:27 of the second period stood as the game-winner and goaltender Kyle Gajewski stopped 32 Plymouth shots to backstop the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to a 1-0 victory over the Plymouth Whalers Sunday night at the Sault Memorial Gardens.

Justin Peters stopped 34 shots for the Whalers.

Plymouth remains in first place in the OHL West with a record of 31-26-1-4, two points ahead of Saginaw (32-29-1-0), five points ahead of Windsor (28-28-3-3) and six points up on Sault Ste. Marie (27-29-3-4).

The Whalers play in Windsor on Thursday and in Erie on Friday before returning home next Sunday to host Sault Ste. Marie at 2:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Alpena tops Traverse City Sunday, 4-2

The Traverse City North Stars missed a golden opportunity to put some distance between themselves and Alpena in the race for the fourth and final playoff berth in the NAHL’s North Division, dropping a 4-2 contest on Sunday at Northern Lights Arena.

Alpena improved to 10-35-5 for 25 points – 11 behind Traverse City. The IceDiggers have eight games remaining, including three more versus the North Stars, while TC (15-33-6) has just four games left on its regular season slate after a point-less weekend.

“They just crashed the net, beat us to pucks, and generally outworked us again today,” lamented Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “I was very disappointed in our effort. We had a chance to put some distance between us and plain and simple did not come to play. I don’t know how we go from skating with the best team in the league (Texas) to what we did this weekend.”

The IceDiggers peppered Stars goalie Ryan Donovan with 56 shots, including 26 in the second period alone. Peter O’Hara worked the Diggers’ pipes, picking up his first NAHL victory with 30 saves in 32 chances.

After a scoreless first period, the floodgates opened early in the second. Drew Pierson pushed the hosts in front just :40 into the session, and assisted on captain Nolan Craner’s marker a scant 2:07 later.

The Stars responded at the 8:29 mark when Travis Paeth recorded his 21st tally of the campaign on assists from Steve Hackman and Patrick Nagorsen. Defenseman Jarrett Rush (Richie Zobak, Nagorsen) scored his second goal in as many nights with 1:18 to play before the second intermission to pull Traverse City even at 2-all, but Matt Suggs (pictured) issued an Alpena rejoinder with 26 second left in the period.

Suggs’ second goal of the contest – at the 2:59 mark of the third stanza – cemented the Diggers’ victory.

The North Stars -- who played their sixth game in 10 days – get a break from the rigors of the late regular season for almost two full weeks.

“Three-game weekends, all the injuries – those are excuses,” Gardiner said. “It will be nice to get a chance to heal up, but I care a lot less about the winning and the losing if the effort is there, and we didn’t give it.”

TC has been without defensemen Ryan Reid (back) and Christoffer Rasmussen (concussion), and forwards Mike Sand (leg – out for year), Joe St. John (concussion) and Ryan Bond (knee), and can nurse their various wounds until St. Patrick’s Day. That’s when the all-everything Team USA Under-18 squad invades Centre ICE for a 7:30 p.m. affair.

North Stars swept by Mahoning Valley

North Stars forward Matt Larke and Mahoning Valley defenseman Craig Dulman wrangle for position during Saturday's NAHL North Division contest at Centre ICE arena.
(Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images)

A pair of first period Traverse City goals sandwiched between three-goal spurts by the visiting Phantoms wasn’t enough on Saturday night at Centre ICE arena, as Mahoning Valley got out to a 3-0 lead and never looked back, handing the North Stars a 7-4 defeat in the second of a two-game set.

Craig Dulman, Mike Maltese, and Anthony Ciraulo registered first period markers in a span of less than four minutes before Jarrett Rush and Joe Schweiger pulled the hosts to within a goal with 3:37 to play before the first intermission. TC would never get that close again, as Maltese, Matt Atsoff, and Ciraulo recorded unrequited goals to push the Phantoms’ bulge to 6-3. Atsoff opened the third period with his second tally of the evening before Jared Mullen finally answered for the home club with 15:11 to play. Brett Englebright capped the scoring with 1:44 on the clock for the Stars.

“They just plain outworked us,” explained Traverse City head coach-GM Scott Gardiner. "We woke up for a while in the first, but we definetly didn’t play our best hockey in the second. We had a little jump there in the third, but it’s the same battle we’ve faced all year – being consistent for 60 minutes.”

Ryan Donovan got the start in net for the North Stars (15-32-6), stopping 20 of 26 through 40 minutes of action, while Jeremy Kaleniecki finished the job, turning away eight of the nine shots he saw. Bryce Merriam notched the victory in net for Mahoning Valley with 29 saves. The Stars surrendered two power-play goals and a shorthanded effort, the team’s league-leading 18th shorthanded tally surrendered this season.

Saturday’s game threatened to careen out of control early in the third period, as the teams took turns challenging the other to fisticuffs, but cooler heads finally prevailed. The clubs did combine for 28 penalties and 94 minutes in the box, including seven citations to the Stars in the second period and as many to the specters in the final stanza.

The Stars get forward Jon Madden back for Sunday’s matinee in Alpena, having served his two-game suspension for a fight during a Feb. 26 game against Team USA U-17, while fellow forward Ryan Bond (knee) will begin skating again on Monday. Gardiner says that having just 17 of a possible 25 players available is beginning to take its toll.

“By the end of the month, we hope to finally have almost everyone back. And that’s the bigger picture, really. I’ll feel a lot better when we can get 20 guys healthy to dress.”

Sunday’s contest in Alpena marks the conclusion of the second consecutive three-game weekend for the North Stars. The club gets next weekend off before a St. Patrick’s Day special against the Team USA U-18 squad at Centre ICE arena.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Whalers back in first place, beat Spits

Chris Terry, James Neal, Andrew Fournier (pictured) and John Armstrong scored the goals and the Plymouth penalty killers were excellent in a 4-2 victory over the Windsor Spitfires Saturday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

The Plymouth victory, coupled with Saginaw's 3-1 loss to Kitchener Saturday night, leaves the Whalers all alone in first place in the OHL West with a record of 31-25-1-4, two points up on Saginaw (32-29-1-0) and five points up on Windsor (28-28-3-3). The Whalers have one game in hand on Saginaw and Windsor.

Plymouth plays in Sault Ste. Marie Sunday night.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Whalers take out Saginaw, 5-2

James Neal scored a goal and added two assists to lead the Plymouth Whalers to a 5-2 victory over the Saginaw Spirit Friday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Steve Ward scored two goals for Plymouth while center Evan Brophey had a goal and an assist and defenseman Ryan McGinnis added an empty-net goal for the Whalers. Jesse Gimblett and Ryan Berard scored for Saginaw.

Neal (above) scored what proved to be the game-winning goal at 16:32 of the second period, when he accepted Chris Terry’s pass in front of the Saginaw goal, cut to his left and appeared to tuck the puck underneath the bar for his 16th goal of the season. The goal light went on to signal a goal, but play continued.

At the next whistle, referees Mark Hicks and Brad Beer and linesmen Joe Celestin and Geoff Rutherford conferred and awarded Plymouth the goal. Television replays confirmed the puck was clearly in the net and Plymouth led, 3-1, after forty minutes of play.

The victory moves Plymouth into a tie for first place in the OHL West with Saginaw. Both teams have 65 points; Saginaw’s record is 32-28-1-0; Plymouth 30-25-1-4. The Spirit and Whalers are three points ahead of the third place Windsor Spitfires (28-27-3-3).

Plymouth hosts Windsor Saturday night and the Spirit host Kitchener.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

North Stars suffer 5-2 defeat to Phantoms

The Traverse City North Stars are becoming all too familiar with the NAHL’s top scoring line. The trio of Anthony Ciraulo, Marc Menzione and Drew Satterley made the Stars pay once again on Saturday at Centre ICE, as each posted a goal and an assist during a third period that saw the Mahoning Valley Phantoms turn a 1-1 game into a 5-2 victory for the visitors.

Traverse City stayed 13 points ahead of Alpena in the chase for the fourth and final playoff berth in the NAHL’s North Division.

The IceDiggers dropped a 4-2 decision to Cleveland on Friday at Northern Lights Arena.

“We just didn’t have the jump we had last weekend against Texas,” Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. “We had to dress 17 instead of 20 because of injuries and suspensions, but we have to figure out a way to get these guys (Mahoning Valley). It’s the same guys that beat us every time we play them.”

Patrick Nagorsen had the lone goal of the opening stanza – his 17th of the season -- giving the host North Stars a 1-0 edge they’d carry into the second period. Travis Paeth and Sal Ragusa drew assists. Milan Drevenak evened things up 5:03 into the second period, and Menzione gave the visitors a 2-1 advantage just 2:49 into the final session. Jarrett Rush and Matt Larke set up Jonathan Juliano for an equalizing goal two minutes after Menzione’s marker, but Satterley (10:50) and Mike Maltese (11:55) put the game away for the Phantoms. Menzione added an empty-netter with three seconds left to make it a 5-2 final.

Gardiner says he was disappointed with the outcome, but not the play of TC netkeep Ryan Donovan, who has taken his game to another level over the past month.

“Donnie kept us in the game tonight,” Gardiner explained. “It was a solid, solid effort for Ryan. Those first goals we gave up in the third were due to major breakdowns in our own end. We can’t let these guys get set up in the slot like that, because they’ll bury the puck, and that’s exactly what they did.”

Donovan made 37 saves on 43 attempts, while his Mahoning Valley counterpart, Ryan Zapolski, claimed the victory with 26 stops.

The Phantoms (30-16-4) return to Centre ICE arena on Saturday for another 7:30 p.m. face-off. The Stars, now 15-31-6, will play a third game this weekend, traveling to Alpena for a Sunday matinee.

Spirit clinch playoff berth for first time

With the Erie Otters losing to the Barrie Colts Thursday night, the Saginaw Spirit are set to appear in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

"The excitement of playoff hockey will now become a reality for the best fans in the OHL - the Saginaw Spirit fans" said Spirit co-owner and V.P. of Business Operations Craig Goslin. "We are thrilled that the team has qualified for the playoffs for the first time in our short history here in Saginaw."

The playoffs are scheduled to begin the week of March 20. Playoff tickets will go on sale to the general public starting March 8. Tickets will be sold at both the Spirit Store, 5789 State Street, and the Dow Event Center ticket office.

Watch for details on game opponents, schedules and more

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Black Bears fall in Sudbury Wednesday

The Northern Michigan Black Bears lost, 4-2, last night in Sudbury to the Jr. Wolves.

The Bears (26-14-6) still sit in third place in the NOJHL standings with two games left, both on the road next week.

Isaac Viau and Steve Kruszewski scored for Northern Michigan while Tony Stoehr and Elliot Hogue combined for 24 saves in net.

Northern Michigan is now off until next Wednesday when they play the Soo Thunderbirds and then next Friday in Blind River against the Beavers.

North Stars host Phantoms Friday, Saturday

As the host club of this year’s Robertson Cup tournament, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms get an automatic berth into the North American Hockey League’s version of the Big Dance, but that doesn’t mean the Phantoms are taking it easy down the stretch of the regular season.

On the contrary, says Mahoning Valley assistant coach and Director of Player Development Ian Fredericks, who will help lead his Phantoms into Centre ICE arena this weekend for a Friday-Saturday series with the Traverse City North Stars. The Phantoms sit in second place in the NAHL’s North Division at 29-16-4, just four points behind the U.S. National Team Development Program in the race for the division crown.

“That’s our aim, there’s no doubt about it,” said Fredericks, whose team has won nine of the 10 games against the North Stars this season. “USA has four games in hand, but after this weekend, we get to play pretty much against USA and (third-place) Cleveland the rest of the way. That should make for a pretty exciting stretch run, because we sure don’t want to back into the nationals. We want to earn our way there.”

Boasting what Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner calls “perhaps the best line in the league” -- Anthony Ciraulo (pictured), from Clinton Township, former Soo Indians' forward Drew Satterley (Kentwood), and Marc Menzione – the Phantoms come into Centre ICE having won six of their last nine outings since the Stars posted a 4-3 shootout win over the Valley on Jan. 28 in TC. With Gardiner’s team trying to hold off Alpena for the fourth and final playoff berth in the North Division, the weekend has added significance for both clubs.

“We know we have to play a 60-minute game against them,” Gardiner said. “We have to play well in all three zones, because that’s what they do. They have a nice mix of size and speed and skill, and we’re going to have to do the same.”

The Stars are coming off a near-sweep of last weekend, knocking off the two-time defending champion Texas by a 7-4 count on Friday before falling in a shootout on Saturday to the Tornado. TC led 2-1 with nine seconds left in regulation before Texas knotted the contest and took it to the shootout session. On Sunday, TC held a 3-1 lead halfway through the third period before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Team USA U-17 squad.

“We played well, and if we get that kind of effort that we saw from our guys last weekend, we’ll be able to play with anybody, and that’s kind of what we took away from last weekend.”

Fredericks says his team can’t afford a letdown against the Stars, given Traverse City’s style of play.

“We can’t go into Traverse City and think that they’ve only taken one (game) from us this year,” Fredericks said. “We know they’ll continue to battle us all game, and that sort of works against them in a way. When you get up on a team like Alpena, they just fold up shop, but not TC. They force you to play them hard for a full 60 minutes because they won’t go away, they won’t stop working.”

Ciraulo and Menzione lead the Phantoms with 66 points each, which ties them for fourth among all NAHL skaters. Menzione has 25 goals and 41 assists on the year, while Ciraulo has chipped in with 21 goals and 45 assists. Satterley is right there with a team-high 26 goals and assists on 25 others.

“They’re as good as any players we’ve faced,” Gardiner said. “You have to know they’re going to be doing things on the offensive end of the ice.”

Forwards Patrick Nagorsen and Travis Paeth lead the charge for Traverse City. Both are becoming offensive forces less than a year removed from high school hockey. Nagorsen, an Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep product, has registered 16 goals and 22 assists for a team-high 38 points. Former Muskegon Mona Shores star Paeth has lit the lamp 20 times, including three on Friday vs. Texas, and has drawn 13 assists as well.

The Stars three-game weekend ends on the road Sunday in a matinee against the IceDiggers. A win at Northern Lights Arena would almost cement the fourth and final postseason berth for Traverse City.

: Mahoning Valley Phantoms (29-16-4, 62 pts.; 2nd place in NAHL North Division) at Traverse City North Stars (15-30-6, 36 pts.; 4th place in NAHL North Division)
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Centre ICE arena
TICKETS: (231) 941-9200