Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Goalie Hunwick signs tender with IceDiggers

The Alpena IceDiggers have added a goaltender for 2006-2007 as Shawn Hunwick has signed a tender with the second-year team.

Hunwick spent last season playing Junior B hockey in Canada with the Petrolia (Ont.) Jets of the Western Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The 19-year-old Sterling Heights native was a member of the state champion Victory Honda midget major team during the 2004-2005 season and was drafted by now-defunct Bozeman last spring, but elected to play with Petrolia.

"We are very happy to have Shawn on board for next season," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "I have no doubt he will help us get this organization back to its winning ways. Shawn will give us a chance to win every night."

Last year with the Jets, Hunwick went 17-17-1 with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage during the regular season. He then posted a 2-3 playoff mark with a 3.42 goals-against average and a .890 save percentage in five playoff games.

Matt Hunwick, Shawn's older brother and defenseman stalwart for Michigan, was recently named the Wolverines' captain for his upcoming senior season in Ann Arbor.

The younger Hunwick, all 5-feet-7-inches and 160 pounds of him, was among 25 goalies and 50 skaters at the annual Memorial Day weekend tryout in Toledo last weekend and left Miller impressed.

"Shawn was solid during the four-day camp," Miller said. "He was one of the best goalies during the goalie-only session and very solid during the scrimmage games before he injured himself."

Hunwick will be back at 100 percent before the main camp in Alpena the last week of July at the Northern Lights Arena.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Taylor not getting NAHL team after all

Helena Independent Record Sports Editor

The Helena Bighorns aren’t skating out of town.

After numerous rumors arose surrounding the status of the franchise, team president Mike Butters said the North American Hockey League (NAHL) franchise will stay in Helena. However, it will combine with the Queen City Cutthroats and compete in the Northern Pacific Hockey League (NORPAC).

The move was precipitated by the recent withdrawal of the Billings Bulls and Bozeman Icedogs from the NAHL. That will leave the Bismarck Bobcats as the closest NAHL franchise.

“With the repercussions surrounding that, we had no choice but to look at other options,” Butters said.

The team was given inactive status by the NAHL.

The announcement by Butters puts to rest a month of speculation that the Bighorns were going to leave Helena. Taylor, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, was mentioned as a possible destination for the team and Butters said a group from Taylor showed interest in buying the team. He said he entertained their offers, but never considered moving the franchise completely out of Helena.

“Hockey in Helena was never in jeopardy at all,” he said.

Helena hockey fans are familiar with the NORPAC hockey, a Junior B league which included the Cutthroats for the last two years. Butte and Bozeman are part of the league along with several teams in Washington and Oregon.

“Its not so much a downward shift, but a lateral shift,” Butters said about the move from Junior A to Junior B status.

Butters did say that USA Hockey is considering massive changes in the way it organizes teams and a move back up to the Junior A level could be in the offing after the 2006-2007 season.

He said last year’s crop of Cutthroats and Bighorns are currently mulling over whether to return to Helena or not. With the roster in flux, Butters said that strong recruiting will be important for success next winter. Butters said he and his staff will attend several hockey showcases this summer in order to fill their roster.

The coaching staff for the team will be headed up by Scott Cunningham, former coach of the Cutthroats. He led Queen City to two consecutive NORPAC titles.

Brent Agrusa, a former Bighorns coach, who took a sabbatical last season due to health issues will be the head scout for Helena this season.

Butters said the schedule for the team will be finalized in the next few weeks following the USA Hockey meetings.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

IceDiggers take Steingraber second overall

The Alpena IceDiggers held the second overall pick in Tuesday's NAHL Entry Draft and used it to select defenseman Christian Steingraber.

Steingraber (pictured) is a 1989 birth year who spent last season skating in the USHL with the Clark Cup champion Des Moines Buccaneers. He skated in 21 regular-season games and three playoff games.

The 6-foot, 180-pound Steingraber is a native of Oregon, Ohio, and played his minor hockey in Detroit, winning a national title with HoneyBaked.

"I knew that a player of Christian's caliber would not have lasted long in the draft, so when we had the chance to take him, we jumped on it," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "I have watched him grow as a player through the years and I know he will make an impact right away for our team.

"Christian is definitely a guy that can, and will, step in and make a difference every time he touches the ice. I know we are not only getting a great player, but we are also getting a great kid who comes from a great family."

The IceDiggers also selected forwards Jimmy McCusker and Marco Ruggeri during the draft. McCusker played last season with the Compuware midget AAA team where he was the team captain.

"Jimmy is a guy who will give us energy," Miller said. "And I feel he will score some big goals for us."

Ruggeri spent this past season with the Michigan state champion Belle Tire midget AAA squad where he was teammate of current tendered players Evan West and Logan Toohey.

"Marco is going to be a big time player for us," said Miller. "He is a game breaker."

The IceDiggers are hosting their first open camp of the summer in Toledo this weekend and any player that is still interested in attending should contact the Ice House main office at (419) 476-4690 for more details.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Rangers announce drafts and tenders

The Marquette Rangers participated yesterday in its first NAHL Draft, which was conducted from Frisco, Texas. Being the newest NAHL team, the Rangers had the first pick in each of the five draft rounds.

The five draft selections join 12 players tendered by the Rangers. The players selected from the try-out camps in Marquette, Chicago (May 26-28) and Detroit (June 23-25), along with the tendered players, will be competing to secure positions on the team’s roster, July 7-9, at the Invitational Camp in Marquette. (Profiles of the draft selections and tendered players are summarized below).

"We got our first look at local, regional and national talent during our first try-out camp over the past weekend," said Marquette head coach Leigh Mendelson. "Based on our tendered players, draft selections and free agents, we feel we’ve made significant progress toward building an excitingly talented team for our inaugural season."


Stephen Ritter - 6’3” 210 lbs. - Goalie - Providence College - 12/31/86
Native of Tenafly, New Jersey

Neeco Belanger - 5’10” 180 lbs. - Forward - Chilliwack Chiefs (British Columbia Junior Hockey League) - 1/1/87
Native of Marquette, Michigan and former Marquette Electrician and MSHS player

Anthony Hayes - 6’0” 175 lbs. - Forward - Victory Honda Midget AAA - 1/14/89
Native of Canton, Michigan

Scott Mathis - 5’11” 175 lbs. - Defenseman - Team Illinois Midget AAA - 4/21/88
Native of Crystal Lake, Illinois

Alex Valenti – 5’10” 175 lbs. - Forward - Whatcom Warriors (Washington) Midget A - 8/29/89
Native of Bellingham, Washington


Nic Weight - 6’1” 205 lbs., Eagle River, WI - Northland Pines (WI) HS - 12/30/87
21GP 24G 19A 43PTS

Weight is a power forward with good scoring touch around the net. Nic has the ability to make a clever play and set up teammates effectively. He is a two-time, All-State Selection.

Paul Isleib - 5’11” 180 lbs., Batavia, IL - Marquette Electricians Midget AAA - 6/26/87
62GP 31G 36A 67PTS 146PIM

Isleib is hard working, hard to play against and has a good skill package. His versatility will be helpful on the Rangers’ special teams.

Michael Macari - 6’ 200 lbs., Dearborn Heights, MI - Crestwood (MI) HS - 10/13/87
18GP 28G 23A 51PTS 28PIM

Macari is a smooth skater who has a shooter’s mentality. He has the ability to score goals off the rush, on the power play and in front of the net.

Jake Hauswirth - 6’4” 195 lbs., Merrill, WI - Ojibwa Eagles Midget AAA - 2/16/88
56GP 34G 20A 54PTS 40PIM

Hauswirth is a skilled puck-possession player. Has the ability to control the play, and uses his size effectively to create offense.

Dustin Partacz - 5’11” 170 lbs., Naperville, IL - Neuqua Valley (IL) HS - 7/30/88
26GP 21G 41A 62PTS 11PIM

Partacz is a hard working two-way player with a good skill package and a competitive edge. Dustin will be a key on Rangers’ special teams.

Michael Baker - 6’0” 175 lbs., Brainerd, MN - Brainerd (MN) HS - 11/3/87
Stats N/A

Baker is an excellent defensive forward, with skills to produce offensively. Work ethics and character are his trademarks.

Cole Holmes - 5’10” 175 lbs., Mequon, WI - University School (WI) HS - 3/18/88
26GP 42G 52A 94PTS 10PIM

Holmes is an offensive threat each time he has the puck in the offensive zone, with very good offensive instincts and skill. He competes well and is dependable in his own end. He is a first-team, All-State Selection.

Raymond Gillies, Jr. - 5’7” 150 lbs., Springboro, OH - Columbus (OH) Midget AAA - 5/10/87
62GP 25G 37A 62PTS 150PIM

Gillies is a relentless worker who has very good hockey sense and great speed. He will be a key to the Rangers’ special teams.


Matt Celin - 6’0 190 lbs., Gibsonia, PA - Pittsburgh (PA) Hornets Midget AAA - 8/12/87
Stats N/A

Celin is a solid two-way defenseman with solid puck skills. Celin will add stability and depth at both ends of the ice.

Zachery Juliano - 5’11” 185 lbs., Cape Elizabeth, ME - Cape Elizabeth (ME) HS - 6/19/88
28GP 15G 17A 32PTS 28PIM

Juliano has the ability to be effective at both ends of the ice with his puck skills, skating and intelligence.

Brandon Busse - 6’2” 205 lbs., Stevens Point, WI - Stevens Point (WI) HS - 6/29/88
26GP 15G 15A 30PTS 30 PIM

Busse is a very effective defender, using both his size and skating ability. Brandon will be a very dependable defenseman in his end. He is a two-time, first-team, All-State Selection.

Jason Cohen - 6’0” 185 lbs., Anchorage, AK - Capital Centre Pride (MI) Midget AAA - 10/22/88
57GP 13G 19A 32PTS 73PIM

Cohen has very strong skating and puck skills and a very competitive edge to him. He will be a key on special teams.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stars grab a pair of Maroons

Draft picks Dahlinger, Blain won ’06 title with Chatham

Mike Dahlinger and Kenny Blain won a Western Junior Hockey League championship last season for the Chatham Maroons. The Traverse City North Stars would like to do the same in the North American Hockey League this year.

With that in mind, the Stars took the high-scoring linemates who combined for nearly 50 goals, leading the Maroons to a 32-12-4 record with two of the team’s six picks in Tuesday’s North American Hockey League entry draft.

“We’ve signed some young kids to tenders, so heading into our second season we wanted to make sure we drafted some veterans,” explained Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “And we got two vets who know how to win. They’ve done it before, and we’re hoping they bring some of that to us.”

Dahlinger, the North Stars’ first round pick – and the fourth pick overall – has won three straight championships with Chatham. He poured in 25 goals and assisted on 49 others over the course of 48 regular season games for the Maroons.

“I’m very excited,” said Dahlinger, a 5-9, 180-pound forward, during a round of golf on Tuesday. “This just put me in a great mood. I’m very happy to be a part of this organization. I’m a very family-oriented person, and my father lives in Grosse Pointe, so hopefully he’ll be able to get to see me play some this year.”

Blain, tabbed by the Stars in the fourth round, had 23 goals and 36 helpers for Chatham, including six game-winning tallies. He says he’s excited about the prospects of joining his Maroons linemate in Traverse City.

“We really work well together, and we were together all year,” said Blain, a 5-11, 185-pounder. “We always seem to know where the other guy is on the ice, and we’ve been able to use our quickness out there to our advantage. Hopefully, we’ll fit in nicely up there.”

In the third round, Traverse City grabbed centerman Sabastion Kimmel, a rugged forward from New England’s Canterbury Prep. The New Milford, Ct. native scored 25 goals and helped out on 22 others over 49 games in the past two seasons. His play at last weekend’s tryout camp put him on the Stars’ draft radar. Similarly, defenseman Max Grover – who also wowed coaches at last weekend’s camp – skated into the team’s plans with his play.

“These guys earned their spots last weekend,” explained Stars associate coach Mike Stapleton. “Their raw ability was evident, and they played themselves into our draft.”

Grover, an East Kentwood High School standout, had a trio of goals and 11 assists from the blue line, and his +44 plus/minus rating is evident of the ripple effect he generates when on the ice.

“I talked to some of the guys who played in Traverse last year, and they told me how it was one of the best experiences of their hockey careers,” said Grover, who goes 6-0 and 185 lbs. “And being close to home so my family can see me play is a big factor, too. I just can’t wait to get up there and try to better myself as a player.”

With the Stars’ first pick in the fourth round, they landed Kevin Bodker, who spent last season with the Dubuque Thunderbirds Jr. B club, and was a high draft pick of the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights this year.

“He’s highly-ranked and highly skilled,” Gardiner said of the 6-3, 200-pound Bodker. “We feel fortunate to get him, and to get him where we did.”

The team also grabbed defenseman Todd White in the fifth round. Gardiner couldn’t believe the HoneyBaked midget-AAA product was still available.

“I saw him at a 1990 Selects tournament,” Gardiner said. “He’s skilled, mobile, and is only getting even better.”

Traverse City, which finished fourth in the five-team North Division in its inaugural season and took top-seeded Team USA to a fifth and decisive game in the divisional semifinals, had two extra fourth round selections in the draft acquired in trades during 2005-06. The Stars sent Jeff Diehl to Helena, and the Stars’ first-ever draft pick, defenseman Lucas DuBay, to Billings. A trade with the Texas Tornado sent the three-time defending champs Traverse City’s second round selection this year.

“We picked three defensemen and three forwards, so it was a nice balance,” Gardiner said. “We think we filled some holes in our roster, and we can’t wait to bring ’em all together and see how the pieces fit.”

FRANCHISE MOVEMENT: The league will have 17 teams for the 2006-07 season, the NAHL’s 31st campaign. The three Montana teams – Billings Bulls, Helena Bighorns, and 2005-06 runner-up Bozeman IceDogs – ceased operations, while Traverse City’s North Division rival Cleveland Barons were granted ‘inactive’ status. The NAHL will announce realignment soon, but the newly-forged Marquette Rangers are a candidate to replace Cleveland in the North Division.

NAME GAME: The former Wasilla (Ak.) Spirit were recently sold to a new ownership group and will be designated as ‘Alaska’ for 2006-07. The club is slated to remain in its current location in south central Alaska . Additionally, the former Minnesota Blizzard have changed their geographic moniker to ‘Alexandria,’ where the operation is based.

Saginaw hands out awards for '05-06 year

Saginaw first-rounder Nick Crawford and coach-GM Bob Mancini

It was a whirlwind weekend for Saginaw Spirit prospects as the OHL Priority Selection class of 2006 came to Saginaw last weekend. Players and prospects joined Spirit fans for the fourth annual Saginaw Spirit Awards Ceremony at the Temple Theater in Downtown Saginaw.

The ceremony honored players for their achievements over what had been a record breaking season:

Community Service Award -- Jesse Gimblett
Academic Award -- Garrett Sinfield
Heart and Soul Award -- Patrick Asselin
Wren Blair Leadership Award -- Jesse Gimblett
Rookie of the Year -- Zack Torquato
Most Improved Player -- Scott Fletcher
Most Valuable Defenseman - Patrick McNeill
Leading Scorer Award -- Ryan McDonough
Team MVP -- Patrick McNeill
Fan Favorite -- Francois Thuot

Even a fan was recognized for his Spirit, when Travis Hayes was awarded the Glenn Geer Spirit Celebration Award, or the "walleye." The award was created in the memory of walleye tosser Glenn Geer, who unexpectedly passed away last season.

First-Round Draft Pick Crawford Presented Jersey

The Spirit also presented first-round draft pick Nick Crawford with a jersey during a ceremony Saturday afternoon. Crawford was Saginaw's first pick, 12th overall, in the May 6 draft and is a native of Caledon, Ontario, who played with the GTHL champion Don Mills Flyers last season. The left-shot defenseman had 10 goals and 44 assists in 80 games.

Crawford's family joined him for the ceremony.

"We had an early indication that many OHL teams were looking at Nick," said Geoff Crawford, Nick's dad. "Our contacts at Newport Sports kept us very well informed about the OHL draft process."

Geoff and his wife, Sandra, were joined by their daughter, Melissa, during draft camp weekend.

"We visited 10-15 OHL rinks during the season last year," Geoff Crawford recalled. "Everyone in the league did a very good job of answering our questions about the OHL. I was very impressed with the league's commitment to education, for example."

Nick Crawford says he's looking forward to building on his season last year with Don Mills.

"We had a great season, and really started to achieve when we came together as a team," he said. "I want to spend the summer improving my physical condition, overall quickness and strength."

Monday, May 22, 2006

North Stars frontman Oleksy ponders options

Should he stay or should he go … to college?

That is the question facing Traverse City North Stars captain Steven Oleksy.

The 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman from Chesterfield Township has options heading into what could either be his final year of junior hockey or sophomore year of college.

Oleksy’s situation is somewhat unique, as the All-NAHL nominee played a year of baseball at Macomb Community College two years ago, which started the clock on his college eligibility. From the day a student-athlete begins his or her full-time D-I collegiate career – athletic or merely academic – they have five years of eligibility. The rules for D-III colleges are slightly less stringent, and Oleksy would have four years remaining at that level even if he played for the Stars next year.

“It’s something I have to think about,” he said. “I really love it up here in Traverse City. The fan support, the people from A to Z within our organization, the community – it’s a great place to live and play. I’d love to come back and try to help the guys give the fans an even better season than last year.”

Should Oleksy return to TC for 2006-07, he would pare his remaining D-I eligibility to two years, effectively excising himself from consideration among, who generally seek players with a minimum of three years left.

“If could do it differently, it would be that there was a (junior) team in Traverse City a year earlier, and I would have retained all four years of D-I eligibility,” Oleksy added.

Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner says the team would love to have him back, but the mission of the organization is to put players into college programs.

“If we can get him playing college hockey where he wants to be, then that’s what we have to do,” Gardiner explained. “Of course, we would welcome him back with open arms if that’s what he decides is best for him. We’ll support him unconditionally either way.”

Oleksy was a stabilizing force on the Stars blue line and in the locker room. He led all TC defensemen with 11 goals and 19 assists, which put him sixth among all Stars players in 2005-06. Six of his goals came on the power play, and three of them were game-winners. Oleksy is not averse to physical play, either, as he amassed a team-high 140 minutes of penalty time.

“He’s just rock-solid back there,” Gardiner added. “We preach hard work and heart around here, and that’s exactly how he conducts himself on and off the ice. He’s a been a great representative of our team – on the ice, off the ice, and in the community.”

Oleksy, who netted a penalty shot goal and added an assist for the Blue Team in Sunday’s Blue & White Game – a 3-2 White Team victory, was a standout baseball player at L’Anse Creuse High School in Metro Detroit. He earned All-District and All-Conference honors, and still holds the single-season home run record. He played at Macomb in 2004 and batted near the magical .300 mark with a pair of homers.

“I love both sports, but hockey is my first love,” said Oleksy, who has garnered interest from coaches in both sports at Wayne State. “I’m not sure I could do both sports and concentrate on school, though. If I had to pick – well, a hockey team is like a family.”

Oleksy and nearly 50 others, including 11 returning North Stars players, wrapped up what he called “a very successful” tryout camp on Sunday.

“It was a great mix of guys out there today, with our returning guys and some fresh talent. I think we meshed pretty well in just the few days we were together – both on and off the ice.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Alpena tenders another defenseman

The Alpena IceDiggers have tendered defenseman Logan Toohey for the upcoming 2006-2007 season.

Toohey spent last season with the Belle Tire midget major team and was a teammate of recently-signed Evan West.

The 5-foot-10, 180-pound Toohey is a native of Fairbanks, Alaska.

"Logan is another piece to the puzzle for us," IceDiggers' coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "He will be a force back on the blue line and will add depth back there for us as well."

The IceDiggers will hold their annual Memorial Day weekend camp in Toledo, Ohio. Players that are interested in trying out for the team can find tryout information on the IceDiggers website at or call the office at (989) 356-9812.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Stars' tender Kessel set for camp

Blake Kessel skates through lofty expectations like they were a bunch of lead-legged defenders along his route to the net. That'll happen when your father is a former pro quarterback and your older brother is expected to be one of the first five players selected in next month's NHL Draft. Even his sister Amanda is a star-in-the-making, and is set to play for the Capitols' 1991 boys bantam program next year.

But with the same silky-smooth aplomb that made the 6-3, 205-pound defenseman the leading scorer on his midget major club in 2005-06, Blake brushes off any pressure that might come with being a member of a high-achieving athletic family, and is in the process of penning his own success story. The opening chapter begins this weekend at Centre ICE arena, where Kessel and nearly 100 others are vying for roster spots with the Traverse City North Stars.

"I don't feel any added pressure because of who my family is or what they've done," said the former Madison Capitols star and North Stars tender. "I'm trying to be my own player - and I'm a different player than my brother."

Blake's eldest sibling, Phil Kessel Jr., played in the North American Hockey League with the U.S. National Team Development Program's U-17 and U-18 squads, and went on to the University of Minnesota, where he was an easy choice as the NCAA Freshman of the Year. Pro scouts have pegged him anywhere from the top overall pick in the June 24 NHL Entry Draft to sixth overall.

"Actually, it's been kind of neat to get to be with him through it all," Blake explained. "I mean, it's everyone's dream to play pro hockey and he's right there. He knows no matter where he goes (in the draft), he's going to have to prove himself all over again. I got to go with him to North Dakota and Vancouver this year (for NHL functions), and we're going to start working out with each other again this summer."

Blake's father, Phil Kessel Sr., played quarterback at Northern Michigan, was drafted by the Washington Redskins, and played professionally for Calgary of the CFL and Birmingham of the USFL, so he knows a thing or two about expectations and ability.

"I've never seen Blake be anything but happy for his siblings when they do well," he said. "In fact, I think it makes him work harder. I've tried to explain to Blake, and I know he understands, that his brother is one of those incredibly gifted athletes and things have come along very quickly for him - quicker than most. Blake is his own person, his own player, and he shouldn't be anything but proud of what he has accomplished and will accomplish in the future."

Blake might be the younger brother, but his on-ice abilities display a wisdom beyond his years. He led his Madison midget major club with an astonishing 33 goals and 47 assists, which are astronomical numbers over 62 games, especially for a defenseman.

"We just love him," said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. "We love his size, his skill, his attitude. He's just so solid in front of the net - either net. We are very excited to finally get to have him here and see him play this weekend."

Blake says that despite his jaw-dropping offensive numbers, it's his defense that provides him with the most satisfaction.

"I take a lot of pride in not getting beat," he said. "I'll jump in the play, but I just hate giving up goals. That's really been instilled in me by my (midget) coaches. They really pushed that style of play, and I try to live up to that every shift."

The weekend will be a benchmark for Blake, who - naturally - got some advice from his older brother.

"He told me about how much faster the play was going to be and to keep my head up. There are a lot of things I hope to learn, and I'm excited to see where I am compared to the other guys."

The North Stars tryout camp - held in advance of the May 23 NAHL Draft -- continues throughout the weekend, culminating in Sunday's Blue & White championship game at 12:15 p.m.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Enmark commits to Curry College

Second-year Alpena IceDiggers' forward Ross Enmark will attend Curry College and play Division III hockey for the Colonels starting this fall.

The 21-year-old Enmark, who was an assistant captain this past season, had seven goals and eight assists for the IceDiggers this season in 21 games. The Shelby Township native missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, but IceDiggers' coach-GM Kenny Miller was confident that Enmark would still play college hockey.

"There was no doubt in my mind that Ross would play college hockey," Miller said. "If he was not injured most of the season, he would be playing Division I on a scholarship. Curry College is not only getting a great player, but a great person. He will be very successful at the college level."

Curry College (enrollment: 1600) is located in Milton, Mass., and is a member of the ECAC Northeast Conference.

Heineman, Moran among Stars hopefuls

There are smart hockey players and there are hockey players who play smart. Chris Heineman is both.

The New Boston native, who will be among nearly 100 players slated to fill Centre ICE arena this weekend for the Traverse City North Stars’ first tryout camp of the summer, is a whiz on the ice and in the classroom. The former is evidenced by Heineman’s five-year run as a captain of the metro Detroit-based HoneyBaked hockey program, while the latter is shown in his 3.7 GPA at New Boston Huron High School.

“There’s a lot to like about Chris,” admitted North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner, who signed Heineman to a 2006-07 tender back in early April. “He does so many things well, and has a real presence on the ice. We hope he can come in and contribute right away.”

Heineman, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defenseman, is as adept staying at home on the blue line as he is setting up scoring plays and joining the rush himself. He registered seven goals and 48 assists to go along with 129 penalty minutes last season for the Midwest Elite Hockey League champion HoneyBaked squad, leading his team to an amazing 26-1-1 record in league action.

Heineman visited Traverse City during the North Stars’ first round playoff series against the U.S. National Team Development Program U-17s, and was as impressed with the fans as he was with the coaching staff.

“That was a great experience, seeing all those people in the stands and how into the team they were,” said Heineman, 16. “It must be great to play in front of a crowd like that. It seems like a great place to play junior hockey, and Mr. Gardiner runs a real solid program. I really hope that I can develop into a go-to guy for the North Stars.”

Heineman’s defensive partner with HoneyBaked for the past two seasons, Pat Moran, is also a North Stars tender, and will participate in the Stars’ June 2-4 tryout camp at Plymouth’s Compuware Sports Arena. Both players were also selected in the Ontario Hockey League’s recent draft with Heineman going to the Sudbury Wolves (eighth round) and Moran to the Guelph Storm (second round).

“Pat and I have become very close playing together so much,” Heineman explained. “We talk off the ice, too, and I think that really helps us compliment each other when we’re out there. It’s like playing with your brother.”

Heineman will still have to vie for a roster spot with the second-year North American Hockey League outfit, but Gardiner likes what he’s seen so far from both HoneyBaked products.

“You have two versatile, hard-working guys,” he said. “And they also can show their mean streak when they have to.”

“My game is to first get the puck out of the zone,” Heineman assessed. “I can jump in the play when it’s there, too, but I don’t make it a habit. And I’m not afraid to play the body, either.”

Heineman and the other TC hopefuls, returning North Stars players, and the cream of the crop from a goalie camp that began on Thursday, will play a series of scrimmages at Centre ICE arena over the course of the weekend, culminating with Sunday’s Blue & White championship game. The 12:15 p.m. finale will feature the top performers from the four-day camp.

“We’re looking to fill some holes,” Gardiner said. “Last year at this time, our goal was to pick a team that could compete with the Texas and Team USA-type teams. We found out there’s a lot in between those two styles of play that we didn’t fare as well against, and we’re looking to get stronger at every position.”

Thursday’s goalie camp featured 21 of the top high school, travel, and junior netminders, including a quartet of local backstops: Tyler Stricker, who led Traverse City Central to an MHSAA championship last season, TC West’s Dallas Kniss, and GTHA stars Benn Overholt and Spencer Sonneveldt. North Stars holdovers Ryan Donovan and Jeremy Kaleniecki – and tender Stefan Shively -- also participated, although Kaleniecki is exploring collegiate options as well.

“There is a lot of talent coming into camp this weekend,” Gardiner said. “And you’re always looking for that diamond in the rough, too.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Taylor getting an NAHL team for '06-07

This just released from the North American Hockey League...

The following actions with respect to member clubs were taken at the North American Hockey League's Board of Governors meeting in Boardman, Ohio, on Saturday, May 13, 2006:

The Board approved the relocation of Helena Bighorns to Taylor, Michigan, for the 2006-07 season.

The Board granted inactive membership status to the Cleveland Barons for the 2006-07 season.

The Board accepted the voluntary termination of the Billings Bulls effective immediately.

The Board approved the transfer of ownership of the Santa Fe Roadrunners to Mary Lorang

The Board approved the transfer of ownership of the Wasilla Spirit to a group lead by Mark Lee.

Due to these movements, the divisional alignment for the 2006-07 season has yet to be determined.

As more information is known about the Taylor team, that will reportedly play at the Taylor Sportsplex, it will be reported here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Marquette preparing for fall debut in NAHL

The Marquette Rangers continue their preparation for the upcoming 2006-07 season with a full slate of open tryout camps, the NAHL Player Draft, press conferences and fan events.

“We are about to have our first look at local, regional and national talent and are excited to participate in our first NAHL Draft,” said general manager David Saint-Onge.

During a teleconference based out of Frisco, Tex., Saint-Onge, Rich Tegge (director of hockey operations) and Leigh Mendelson (head coach) will get the first draft selection in each of the five rounds. A press conference will be held at the Lakeview Arena on Wednesday, May 24, at 9:00 a.m., announcing the drafted and tendered players, along with unveiling the Rangers uniforms.

“By adding the five draft selections to our tendered players, we are making significant process toward building a very good team for our inaugural season," Saint-Onge went on to say.

An open tryout camp will be held at the Lakeview Arena in Marquette, May 19-21. Additional camps in Boston, Chicago and Detroit will be held May-June where selected players will be invited to the invitational camp at Lakeview Arena July 6-9. The Rangers team roster will be created after the invitational and announced during a press conference July 11.

The Rangers continue to add to its organization, with the recent announcement of Sandy Chapman as housing coordinator, Bill Kiple as equipment manager, Dr. John Lehtinen as team doctor, Josh Drew as strength and conditioning coach and Dan Bonsall as academic advisor.

“We are currently in the process of retaining a business manager and we have an open solicitation for an assistant coach,” added Saint-Onge.

Season tickets can be reserved to ensure choice of seating, with a limited number of alcohol-served seats available. People with reserved season tickets will get to select their seats, based on the order they were reserved. Ticket reservations can be secured by visiting the Rangers website at and submitting the reservation form and deposit.

All tryouts and press conferences are free of charge and open to the public. Fans are encouraged to come meet the Rangers staff and observe team development.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Otsego native Bushee commits to Canisius

Des Moines Buccaneers' defenseman Kyle Bushee has verbally committed to Canisius College for the upcoming season.

Bushee, from Otsego, who skated for the Bucs in 2002-03, returned to Des Moines this season after two years at Western Michigan University. In 47 regular-season games for the USHL's Clark Cup champs, he tallied 15 points on five goals and 10 assists.

"With the way Kyle played for us this season, especially through the playoffs, he's going to have a chance to go in and contribute right away," said Bucs coach-GM Regg Simon. "Kyle's a good two-way defenseman. More importantly, he was a leader and a warrior for our team and he'll bring that same mentality to a good program that's really on the rise in college hockey."

"I felt it was the best fit for me athletically and academically," Bushee said. "I also liked the coaching staff along with the campus. It should give me the opportunity to contribute right away."

Canisius, located in Buffalo, competes in the Atlantic Hockey conference.

Bushee is the 17th Buccaneer this season to commit to a Division I program, the USHL's 146th.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Marquette Rangers slowly taking shape

By CRAIG REMSBURG, The Mining Journal

Steadily, the new Marquette Rangers Junior A hockey team under coach Leigh Mendelson is taking shape.

General manager David Saint-Onge said the club has signed six players to free agent commitments known as “tenders.” He declined to identify those players, however, until after the North American Hockey League entry draft on May 23.

“I’d rather the public evaluate a group of players ... rather than one or two at a time,” Saint-Onge said.

Including a trade he said gave the team two additional tenders, the Rangers have 12 overall to go with five NAHL draft picks.The Marquette club will have the overall No. 1 selection, as well as the top pick in four subsequent rounds to help fill out a 23-player roster.

“As an organization, we’ve scouted league games, talent showcases, and state and national championship tournaments in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Pennsylvania,” Saint-Onge said.“The entry draft is another way we’ll secure the services of players we feel can help us be successful.”

He said six or more roster spots could be up for grabs after the draft.

“There will still be plenty of opportunity for players to join the Rangers other than the tenders and draft picks,” Saint-Onge said.“Leigh has been out recruiting players for our team and regional tryout camps since his (coaching) season ended with the (Green Bay) Gamblers,” he added.

“He has been to Philadelphia, Chicago twice, Minneapolis, Madison (Wis.) and Toronto.

“Leigh has talked to hundreds of prospects ... We’ve been at it pretty diligently.”

Mendelson concurred.

“We’re making every effort to form a team that’s instantly competitive in the NAHL,” he said. “We think our fans will be pleasantly surprised.”

The Rangers plan to hold four open tryout camps: May 19-21 in Marquette; May 26-28 in Chicago; June 9-11 in Boston; and June 23-25 in Detroit. Registrations from 48 forwards, 24 defensemen and 12 goalies will be accepted for each tryout camp, according to Rich Tegge, the Rangers’ director of hockey operations. A final invitation-only camp is planned at a date to be determined in July in Marquette, from which the Rangers’ 2006-07 roster will be determined.

“We hope we can get a look at a wide variety of players at our Marquette tryout and sign some more players before the draft,” Saint-Onge said.“But a handful of tenders may not be committed until our follow-up camps in the other areas.”

The Rangers are currently seeking an assistant coach, and Saint-Onge said he hopes to unveil the team’s jersey at a press conference the morning after the NAHL draft.

“A lot is going on,” he said. “it’s all pretty exciting.”

Next for the Rangers
May 19-21: Tryout in Marquette
May 23: NAHL draft
May 24: Tenders announced
May 26-28: Tryout in Chicago
June 9-11: Tryout in Boston
June 23-25: Tryout in Detroit
July: Invite-only tryout in Marquette
September: Rangers begin play

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Plymouth inks trio of 2005 draft picks

Chad Beal (right) and assistant to the coaches George Scott at last summer's Whalers golf outing (Photo by Walt Dmoch)

It’s been a busy off-season for the Plymouth Whalers.

Three days after selecting 13 players in last Saturday’s OHL Priority Selection, the Whalers signed three players selected in the 2005 draft – 17-year-old center Chad Beal, goaltender Kyle Jendra, also 17, and right wing Kaine Geldart, 16.

Beal was taken in the 3rd round (49th overall), Jendra in the 9th round (165th overall) and Geldart in 12th round (229th overall) a year ago. All three played in leagues close to their hometowns in 2005-06.

Beal split time last season between the Pickering Panthers of the Ontario Provincial Jr. A League and Markham Waxers midgets. In 19 regular-season games with Pickering, Beal scored six goals and 14 points. Beal had seven goals and 17 points in 15 regular-season games for Markham and added 10 more points in 10 playoff games for the Waxers.

Geldart scored 19 goals with 28 assists for 47 points and 139 penalty minutes in 47 regular-season games for the Kingston Voyageurs of the OPJHL. He also scored four goals in 10 playoff games for the Voyageurs.

Jendra (left), from Bolingbrook, Ill., was the lead goaltender for the Chicago Chill midgets of the Mid-American Hockey League. The Chill won the Illinois Midget State Championship and finished second in the USA National Championship, losing 2-1 in overtime in the championship game to the Boston Jr. Bruins. Jendra posted a 1.40 goals-against average, .920 save percentage, 11 shutouts and 41-6-2 won-loss record in 49 regular-season games last season. He was even better at the National Championship in posting a 1.04 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and three shutouts in five games.

Beal, Geldart and Jendra will report to the Whalers Rookie Orientation camp on Saturday, May 20, along with free agents and players selected in last Saturday’s draft. The orientation is part of the Whalers’ Fan Appreciation Day at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Whalers, Spirit participate in OHL draft

Both the Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit took part in the OHL's annual Priority Selection last Saturday. The draft is done exclusively online and features 300 prospects become property of OHL teams.

Saginaw had the 12th pick in the first round and scooped up defenseman Nick Crawford from the Don Mills Flyers minor midget team. Last year, Crawford had 10 goals and 54 points in 80 games.

"We're excited and honored to welcome all fifteen of our draft picks into the Spirit family," said Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini. "I continue to be pleased with our selections for the direction and future of this hockey club."

One pick later, the Whalers grabbed forward Vern Cooper, a player some scouts and observers said could have been the No. 1 overall pick, from the Sudbury Nickel Capitals. Cooper scored 45 goals in 41 games a year ago and didn't turn 15 until midway through the season.

“Vern is probably the most dynamic player in the draft,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the draft as fast as he is. His offensive skills are tremendous. We had him rated No. 1 overall. We just talked to him and he’s excited to come here. I have a pretty good relationship with his agency and they’ve assured me he is coming to Plymouth.”

The rest of Saginaw's picks are here.
The rest of Plymouth's picks are

The complete OHL draft list is here.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Whalers ready for OHL draft this Saturday

Fresh off winning a ninth West Division title in their 16-year history, the Plymouth Whalers will select 13th overall in Saturday’s Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

The draft – performed by the 20 OHL teams via the internet - can be followed in real time Saturday starting at 9:00 a.m. by going to The Whalers’ website – – will have complete details about the Plymouth selections as the draft unfolds.

Besides having the 13th selection in the first round, Plymouth has 12 other selections in the 15-round, 300-player draft.

“With so many players returning from last year’s team, we’re looking for the best player we can at thirteenth,” said Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci. “We may also sign some of the players we selected from last year’s draft.”

Plymouth has at least 12 players returning from last season. All 12 came from the team’s last three drafts:

2003: Dan Collins (2nd round), James Neal (3rd round), Ryan McGinnis (4th round), Justin Garay (8th round), Zack Shepley (10th round) and Andrew Fournier (11th round) are all regulars and are expected to play significant roles next season. In addition, Michael Lombardi (1st round) and Tony Iaquinto (7th round) made the team, but were later traded.

2004: John Armstrong (1st round) and Tom Sestito (5th round) are regulars and will see significant roles next season. In addition, Cory Tanaka (2nd round), played a season and a half with the Whalers before being traded. Jeff McFarland (4th round) and Jake Helmick (4th) also saw some action with Plymouth, but have both moved on.

2005: Chris Terry (2nd round) and Joe Gaynor (2nd round) made the Whalers last season and are expected to fill key roles in 2006-07. Jeremy Smith (4th round) and Leo Jenner (4th round) could see bigger roles next year.

Plymouth can play three overage players – or 1986 birthdays - as well. Current overage candidates include defenseman Steve Ward, forwards Evan Brophey, Jared Boll and Ryan Stephenson and goaltender Justin Peters. Right wing Gino Pisellini recently signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and will start his pro career in the minor leagues next season.

Rediker glad to be back in battle

By RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

No one feels more fortunate to be playing in the OHL final than Frank Rediker.

The oft-injured, over-age London Knights defenceman remembers the sting of sitting out last year's stirring playoff run with a knee injury and pulling on his jersey for the celebratory championship photos with his teammates. It remains a bittersweet memory.

"When you get hurt and you don't play, you don't really feel like you're part of the team," the 21-year-old Sterling Heights, Mich., native said. "Last year, I hoped I could get back in the lineup, but I knew it was only a small chance, that it probably wouldn't happen and it didn't."

This year, Rediker's knee forced him to miss 14 games at mid-season and a dislocated elbow suffered March 1 in Belleville threatened the rest of his final OHL campaign.

He sat out the final month of the regular season and London's first 13 playoff games before returning last week to help the Knights sew up the Western Conference final series in five games over the Guelph Storm.

"I kept telling the guys they have to keep it going so I could get back and play," Rediker said. "This feels so much better than last year. This year, I get the chance to be a part of it and contribute."

The Knights are glad the big blue-liner is back, especially when facing a team with strong-skating forwards such as Peterborough. If London felt like Guelph's forecheck was particularly frustrating, then they better get ready for the Petes, who specialize in pinning teams in their own end.

"I'm a pretty good skater and I feel I can get to the puck pretty quickly," Rediker said. "That's what you have to do against a strong forecheck. If you don't, you'll have trouble getting the puck out."

Rediker's return also has allowed veteran Trevor Kell to move back to the forward ranks, where he becomes one of the team's top checking threats. Kell played his first game on defence in Peterborough March 2 as a replacement for Rediker.

"I thought he did a great job back there," Rediker said. "He learned pretty quickly."

Though there have been a few rough spots along the way, London's defence hasn't hurt them as much as many thought it would in the playoffs. The Knights have compensated for deficiencies in their own end with off-the-charts goaltending from Adam Dennis and clutch scoring.

London's defenders provide almost zero offence -- except for Ryan Martinelli's miracle goal to beat Guelph in Game 4 -- but they still strive to earn respect from the rest of the league with their play.

"It's a carrot we dangle in front of them," London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "Everyone knows our defence is a weak spot. No one thinks they're any good, so we tell them to go out and prove everybody wrong. We know these kids have a lot of character and they're going to work at getting better every game."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

IceDiggers add West for '06-07 blueline

The Alpena IceDiggers have added Evan West to the growing number of players signed for the upcoming season.

The 6-foot, 198-pound efensemen spent last season playing under Chris Coury for the Belle Tire Major Midget AAA team out of Fraser.

"Evan brings both experience and hard work to the team," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "He played in the national tournament this season, so he knows what it takes to win. Not only are we getting a good player, but we are getting a great kid. He comes highly recommended from his past coaches."

West hails from the same hometown, Marysville, as current IceDigger defenseman Chad Billins.