Friday, March 10, 2006

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.

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