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.

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