Thursday, June 29, 2006

Saginaw selects Red Wings' prospect Mursak

The Saginaw Spirit took part in the CHL Import Draft yesterday, drafting Jan Mursak and Tomas Zaborsky. The Spirit had two first-round picks, getting one from a previous trade with the Sudbury Wolves.

Mursak was drafted with the 33rd pick. The 1988-born right wing from Maribor, Slovenia was recently selected 182nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The Red Wings connection is a particularly strong one for Mid-Michigan's own hockey team.

"We are thrilled to have a player drafted by the Red Wings here in Saginaw," said Spirit Vice President and Managing Partner Craig Goslin. "The Red Wings are a world-class organization and this will further strengthen the already strong relationship between our two teams."

Zaborsky was selected with the 36th pick. The 1986-born left wing is a native of Trencin, Slovakia, and was selected by the New York Rangers 137th overall in last Saturday's NHL draft. Zaborsky appeared in 49 games for Trencin of the Slovakian Junior League, tallying 49 goals and 27 assists for 76 points and just 20 penalty minutes.

Should Zaborsky report, he will be one of Saginaw's three overage players.

CHL and OHL rules allow each team to have two active European players on their roster.

Photo illustration courtesy of

Whalers draft Czech goalie, Slovak defenseman

The Plymouth Whalers made two selections in Wednesday’s annual Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. The draft distributes non-North American players throughout the CHL.

Plymouth picked up the 27th selection in the draft in a trade with the Belleville Bulls for a fifth-round draft choice in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection and took 18-year-old goaltender Michal Neuvirth from the Czech Republic. Neuvirth (below left) was selected in the second round (36th overall) by the Washington Capitals in last Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft.

Neuvirth posted a 2.02 goals-against average in 45 games last season for Sparta of the Czech Junior League and played for the Czech Republic in last spring’s World Under-18 Tournament, posting a 2.44 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in seven games. The Czech Republic won the bronze medal in the tournament, defeating Canada, 4-1.

Here’s what various scouting services are saying about Neuvirth:

Central Scouting Bureau:
"Plays the butterfly style … moves well and reads the game very well … a consistent, cool goaltender under pressure … has quick reflexes … very quick feet and a good glove … a good competitor."

International Scouting Service:
"He is technically very sound and his work ethic is unparalleled. He is generally quiet in the net, but he has the ability to pull fans out of their seats with a great save. Moves well from side to side on the pass. Is quickly gaining a reputation for being a big-game goaltender. His improved rebound control and ability to steal games have resulted in him moving up our rankings. Good balance in both the stand-up and butterfly positions. Recovers quickly when he goes down. Stays square to the puck. The team that drafts him will have to be patient. He is a player that will need some time to develop."

The Whalers then selected 18-year-old defenseman Jozef Sladok with the 39th pick. Sladok, a 6-foot-3, 194-pounder, played in the Slovakian Junior League last season with HKM Zvolen and scored five goals with three assists for eight points and 86 penalty minutes. He also played for Slovakia in the World Under-18 Championships, adding an assist with 10 PIM's in six games.

Sladok was not selected in the NHL Entry Draft.

Neuvirth and Sladok are expected to report to the Whalers training camp in late August.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Alpena's golf outing planned for September

The Alpena IceDiggers are hosting a fall golf outing at the Alpena Golf Club on Saturday, September 9 with a 9:00 a.m. shot gun start.

The format will be a four-person, best ball scramble. The event is open to all interested individuals and advanced golfing abilities are not required. Team signup can be as groups of four or as individuals and teams will be formed.

Cost is $65 per individual or $260 per team and it includes 18 holes of golf with cart and door prizes. Lunch will be provided immediately following the outing at the Twin Acres-19th Hole restaurant located at 1081 US 23 North .

Other games will consist of putting contests and skins and many more fun games.

Each team will have an IceDigger player or staff member that will join their group for this fun and exciting golf outing.

Hole sponsorships are being sold for $50 per hole.

The Alpena Golf Club is located at 1135 Golf Course Road in Alpena. Sponsorship opportunities and packages are still available.

For more information, call the IceDiggers' office at (989) 356-9812 or contact tournament director Kay Sayre at (989) 657-0699.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Whalers and Spirit to draft Europeans tomorrow

Both the Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit will participate in tomorrow's Canadian Hockey League Import Draft.

Plymouth selects 27th and 39th overall. The Whalers acquired the 27th pick today from Belleville in exchange for a fifth-round draft choice in next year's OHL Priority Selection.

Since, 1992, Plymouth's draft selections:

2005 - Ondrej Otcenas
2004 - Michael Kolarz
2003 - Vaclav Meidl
2002 - Martin Cizek
2001 - Jonas Fiedler
2000 - no selections
1999 - Tomas Kurka, Libor Ustrnul
1998 - Denis Arkhipov, Tomek Valtonen
1997 - Steve Lyle, Yuri Babenko
1996 - Sergei Fedotov
1995 - Jan Vodrazka
1994 - Milan Kostolny
1993 - Jozek Kohut
1992 - Richard Ujvary

Saginaw has the 33rd pick (from the Ryan McDonough trade last year) and their own 36th pick.

The Spirit's draft choices since 2002:

2005 - no selections
2004 - Marek Kvapil
2003 - Grigory Misharin
2002 - Tomas Csabi

Saturday, June 24, 2006

NHL Entry Draft coverage from Vancouver

Saginaw Spirit defenseman Matt Corrente was drafted with the last pick of the first round today as he was taken by the New Jersey Devils at No. 30. Corrente, entering his third season in Saginaw, was the Spirit's first-round pick, second overall, in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection.

Two Plymouth Whalers' forwards went two picks apart in the third round. Tom Sestito was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 85th overall and John Armstrong was chosen by the Calgary Flames with the 87th overall pick. Both Sestito and Armstrong were 2004 Plymouth draft picks with Armstrong being the Whalers' first-rounder 13th overall.

Rochester Hills native Luke Lynes, a forward with the OHL's Brampton Battalion, is now property of the Washington Capitals after being selected in the fourth round, 122nd overall.

In the fifth round, Saginaw goalie Ryan Daniels was selected by the Ottawa Senators 151st overall.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Rangers acquire Kosinski and Larson

The Marquette Rangers have announced the acquisition of two players for the upcoming season.

Nick Kosinski, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound veteran NAHL forward with two years experience playing for the Cleveland Barons, returns to his hometown.

"With consecutive 35-plus point seasons in the NAHL, Nick brings success and production to the Rangers," said Marquette head coach Leigh Mendelson.

Kosinski was acquired as a free agent from the Barons’ organization when they chose to suspend operations for the 2006-07 season. In the 2005-06 season, Kosinski scored 14 goals and registered 23 assists for 37 points in 54 games.

"We are pleased to have another Upper Peninsula native on the team and are excited to reunite two former Marquette Electrician and Marquette Senior High School teammates (Kosinski and Neeco Belanger) together on the Rangers," added Mendelson.

The Rangers also obtained Bret Larson, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound defenseman, in a trade with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

"Bret Larson brings the Rangers valuable experience and character as we continue to become a contender for the NAHL North Division crown and the league-wide Robertson Cup championship," stated Mendelson.

Larson is entering his second season in the NAHL and has committed to play hockey for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for the 2007-08 season.

"Bret’s commitment to West Point and his experience playing in the NAHL and Robertson Cup tournament this past May will bring added focus to our players from the start of training camp," said Mendelson.

Larson scored four goals and registered 11 assists for 15 points in 54 games with Mahoning Valley last season. Larson is also a former member of the Electricians.

Both Kosinski and Larson, as well as some 60 other players will convene at the Berry Events Center on the campus of Northern Michigan University July 6-9, to fight for Rangers’ roster positions.

"Our staff has put forth a great effort to prepare for the upcoming season," stated Marquette general manager David Saint-Onge. "Our final camp will give local fans a glimpse of the talent we have cultivated over the last several months and from which we expect to formulate our team when we open training camp in late August."

Training camp will open August 24 with the team traveling to Blaine, Minn., on Sept. 13 to participate in the NAHL Showcase. The remainder of the Rangers’ schedule is expected to be released by the end of June.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Whalers score big coup with Jenks signing

The Plymouth Whalers have snagged a top 15-year-old in center A.J. Jenks.

Jenks, who turns 16 later this month, was selected by Plymouth in the seventh round (132nd overall) in this spring’s OHL Priority Selection and signed with the Whalers today.

A native of Wolverine Lake, Jenks played last season for the HoneyBaked midgets, where he scored 26 goals with 29 assists for 55 points and 97 penalty minutes in 66 games. Before that, Jenks spent the bulk of his youth hockey days playing in the Compuware system.

“We’re excited about having A.J. here in Plymouth,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’s one of the top-rated prospects in his age group.”

The International Scouting Service had Jenks rated second overall among the top 1990 birthdays eligible for this spring’s draft, right behind Steve Stamkos – the top pick by Sarnia – and ahead of other first round OHL selections Michael Del Zotto (Oshawa), James Livingston (Sault Ste. Marie), Mitch Gaulton (Erie), Tyler Cuma (Ottawa), Cody Hodgson (Brampton), Greg Nemisz (Windsor), Michael D’Orazio (Owen Sound), Jared Staal (Sudbury) and Philip McRae (London).

Jenks had committed to the U.S. National Team Development Program and was reportedly off to the University of Michigan in 2008.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Team Mexico coming to Saginaw in September

The Mexican National Hockey Team will come to Saginaw in September to participate in a four-team exhibition tournament at the Dow Event Center.

The event is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15-16 and will feature the Saginaw Spirit, Plymouth Whalers and Erie Otters. The Mexican team is also tentatively scheduled to play the Northwood University club team at the Midland Civic Arena on Sept. 14.

This tournament is the result of the ongoing efforts of local video producer Ricardo Verdoni to find what he called "the elusive Mexican hockey player." Verdoni went to Mexico in June of 2005 and discovered a whole team that competes internationally through the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Verdoni and Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini extended an invitation to the Mexican National Team and Mexico’s head coach Joaquin de la Garma accepted.

The tournament also coincides with Michigan Hispanic Heritage Month.

For more information on the Mexican National Hockey Team, visit

Monday, June 12, 2006

Northern Michigan Black Bears saved


Nothing like shooting the summer breeze and writing about the northern boys of winter.

Thanks to the resolve of Charlie Perdicaro and the fact that the New York land developer loves hockey to the degree that he does, the NOJHL is still a seven-team league.

Perdicaro saved the Northern Michigan Black Bears from hibernation last Friday by purchasing the struggling franchise from owners who would have otherwise mothballed it.

It was Perdicaro to the rescue just in the nick of time, the day before the NOJHL annual general meeting.

The likeable New Yorker, as he said he would do, was quick to name NOJHL veteran Jim Capy as his coach and general manager. Capy in turn named named Don Gagnon as associate coach, Dave Murphy as director of hockey operations and the eagle-eyed Jim Yardanoff as chief scout.

Gagnon, who has coached AAA midget hockey in both Soo, Ont. and Soo, Mich., also played at a high level in both towns. He’s a former player with both the Ontario Hockey League Soo Greyhounds and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Lake Superior State Lakers.

Meantime, Perdicaro has said he’ll change the name of the franchise to either the Soo Indians or the Soo Spirit and that Big Bear Arena will continue to be the team’s home rink.

More summer breeze:

~ The new Soo, Mich. team will play the crossriver Soo Thunderbirds for the Carmen Provenzano Memorial Cup series in ‘06-07. The Provenzano Cup regular-season series was between the Thunderbirds and the Blind River Beavers in ‘05-06. Perdicaro greeted the news of the new Provenzano Cup format with enthusiasm.

“I really want to heighten the crossborder rivalry with my team and the Thunderbirds. It’s a natural promotion just waiting to happen.”

~ The first-ever Provenzano Cup golf tournament will take place on Sat. July 15 at Maplewood Golf Course in Soo, Ont. The course is owned by the family of the late Carmen Provenzano. It will be a four-person-per-team best ball tournament and the $100 entry fee per player includes 18 holes of golf, dinner and cold beverages. To register or for more information call me at 705-759-1599. Proceeds from the tournament will go to the two Soo teams.

~ The NOJHL is looking for a new commissioner as the contract of Art Yeo will not be renewed for the ‘06-07 season. Yeo resides in Sault Ste. Marie and NOJHL governors want the new commish to be more centrally located.

~ All teams will again play a 48-game schedule in ‘06-07 but the unbalanced format is gone. Teams will now play one another eight times each.

~ There’s already talk of trade between the new Soo, Mich. team and Blind River now that Charly Murray has left his job as director of player personnel with the former Black Bears for the same position with the Beavers.

~ The fact that the NOJHL is still a seven-team league is only part of the good news of late as far as I am concerned. The other good vibe comes from North Bay’s hiring of former Ontario Hockey League and National Hockey League star Darren Turcotte as head coach of the Skyhawks. Unlike so many former and current pros, Turcotte is as down-to-earth and an accomodating person as you’ll find in hockey. The man was obviously well brought up by his parents.

~ Blaine Smith, president of the Sudbury Northern Jr. Wolves, tells me his team intends to move to Sudbury Community Arena from its ‘05-06 home in Copper Cliff for the ‘06-07 season. Sudbury Community Arena is home to the Ontario Hockey League Wolves, who own the NOJHL Northern Jr. Wolves.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Whalers sign defenseman Frank Grzeszczak

The Plymouth Whalers have signed 16-year-old defenseman Frank Grzeszczak, their 11th-round pick (209th overall) of the 2005 OHL Priority Selection.

“We’re happy to have Frank in Plymouth,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’s an excellent skater who should help us.”

Grzeszczak – pronounced GRAY-shack – played last season with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, where he scored five goals with nine assists for 14 points and 30 penalty minutes in 50 games.

In 2004-2005, Grzeszczak toiled with the HoneyBaked minor midgets.

“I’m excited to be playing for the Whalers,” Grzeszczak said. “We’re supposed to have an excellent team next season and I really want to be part of that.”

Grzeszczak had reportedly given a verbal commitment to the University of Nebraska-Omaha this past winter.

Before next season’s training camp in late August, Grzeszczak has been selected to participate in the USA Hockey's Select-17 Festival July 8-14 in St. Cloud, Minn.

Independent scouting publication Red Line Report said this about Grzeszczak at a previous USA Hockey Evaluation Camp:

“Outstanding feet, the best here. Jumps smartly into the offense and has recovery speed.”

With rule changes instituted in the OHL last year designed to promote offense, Grzeszczak’s skating and skill will be a plus on the Plymouth blue line.

Traverse City forward hangs up skates

If Traverse City North Stars forward Joe St. John had the chance, he says he’d “do it all over again.” Those words came out of his mouth just days after doctors recommended that the Gaylord product discontinue his hockey career due to recurring concussions.

“It’s done, and that’s that,” explained St. John, who signed with the North Stars last May, eschewing his final season at Gaylord to play junior hockey. “It’s like something has been taken away, something that’s been such a big part of my life for so long. But I have no regrets. I did what I had to do.”

St. John suffered a pair of concussions little more than a month apart, leaving a Feb. 23 contest at Centre ICE arena following a collision with a Texas player, and capping his season – and career – on a run-in with Team USA’s Ryan Schnell during Game 2 of the NAHL North Division playoffs on March 31 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

“These weren’t just two concussions, they were two nasty concussions,” said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “And it’s too bad because Joe was really developing into a nice junior player, really starting to come into his own. He’s a big power forward and we’ll certainly miss him on and off the ice.”

St. John was one of the best players in Gaylord prep hockey history, landing on the Traverse City Record-Eagle All-Region team in each of his three seasons with the Blue Devils. He set a school record with 25 assists during the 2003-04 campaign, leading Gaylord to its first-ever state championship game appearance. The 6-1, 210-pounder registered three goals and assisted on three others in 35 outings for the North Stars.

“I had a fun time in Traverse City,” St. John added. “I loved my teammates and had a fun experience. I’d still do it all again if I had the chance, but now I gotta think about the future – the rest of my life, basically. There’s that bigger picture.”

The North Stars lost three players to injury this season with St. John and Tony Swarthout suffering recurring concussions, and Zeke Costello out for the season with a broken arm.

“It’s unfortunate, but you take a chance any time you go out there and play hockey at a high level – really any contact sport,” Gardiner said. “And the concussions you’re seeing more and more. In a way it’s a good thing because you never want anyone to suffer long-term effects of an injury, but with medical technology evolving and science telling us more and more about concussions, we’re able to protect the players better. In the old days, guys would go out and play through it. Now we know better.”

Despite the end of one athletic career, St. John – a senior at Traverse City Central -- wasn’t on the sidelines for long.

“The doctor said no contact sports, so I’m trying to play baseball,” St. John chided. “It’s a little less physical than hockey.”

Friday, June 09, 2006

Collins, Gerbe among U.S. junior camp invites

Fourteen players from the gold medal-winning 2006 U.S. National Under-18 Team are among the group of 45 players invited to the 2006 U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., August 5-14.

Participating players are candidates for the 2006 U.S. National Junior Team that will compete in the 2007 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, Dec. 26, 2006-Jan. 5, 2007, in Mora and Leksand, Sweden.

Among the invites are six Michigan natives and a Plymouth Whalers forward.

Fourth-year Plymouth forward Dan Collins (pictured above) is one of five major junior players on the roster and the other 40 are either in college or beginning college this fall.

Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff (Chesterfield/Miami University sophomore), defensemen Kyle Lawson (New Hudson/University of Notre Dame freshman), Mark Mitera (Livonia/University of Michigan sophomore) and Chris Summers (Milan/University of Michigan freshman) and forwards Justin Abdelkader (Muskegon/Michigan State University), Jim Fraser (Port Huron/Harvard University sophomore) and Nate Gerbe, pictured left, (Oxford/Boston College sophomore) represent the state.

Sophomore Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson, who was born in Minnesota, but raised in Ann Arbor, is also a camp invite.

The camp will feature practices and eight international scrimmages with a split squad of the best American players under the age of 20 facing off against Sweden and Finland.

Collins photo courtesy Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Birner signs contract with St. Louis Blues

Saginaw Spirit forward Michal Birner has signed an NHL contract with the St. Louis Blues.

The 20-year-old native of Litomerice, Czech Republic, joined the Spirit in December 2004 from the Barrie Colts.

“We’re very happy for Michal,” said Spirit head coach and GM Bob Mancini. “I want to wish him well and than him for all he did for the Saginaw Spirit.”

Birner was a 2004 draft pick of the Blues. He had 31 goals and 54 assists in 60 games with the Spirit and represented the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championship in January.

The 6-foot, 183-pound Birner was originally drafted by the Blues as their fourth-round selection, 116th overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Alpena signs Virginia native Pao

The Alpena IceDiggers have added forward Mike Pao to their 2006-2007 roster and in doing so, Pao becomes the first Virginia native to play for the IceDiggers in the franchise's six-year existence.

Pao was spotted at the EHK Showcase in Chicago where IceDiggers' coach-GM Kenny Miller was scouting. There were over 300 players at the showcase and according to Miller, Pao stood out and impressed.

"After watching Mike play one game at the showcase, I knew he could help our team," Miller said. "He is that good. As the weekend went on, he got stronger and was definitely one of the best players there. He is a big kid who can skate and has a knack for scoring goals. This is another good signing for our hockey club."

The 17-year-old Fairfax Station, Va., native was the final player tendered by Miller. Pao spent last season playing juniors in Alberta, Canada, in the Heritage Junior Hockey League.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Peters signs three-year deal with Carolina

Plymouth Whalers goaltender Justin Peters signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Carolina Hurricanes just one day before the deadline to sign 2004 North American draft picks.

Peters came to Plymouth from the Toronto St. Michael's Majors last December in a deal for fellow goalie Ryan Nie.

Carolina selected Peters in the second round (38th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. The Blyth, Ont., native attended the Hurricanes’ training camp in 2005 prior to returning to the OHL. In 55 regular-season OHL games with Toronto and Plymouth, Peters recorded a 29-21-4 record and a 3.14 goals-against average. In 13 playoff games with Plymouth, Peters went 6-6-1 with a 3.20 goals-against average before Plymouth lost in the second round to Guelph.

In 189 regular-season OHL games from 2002-03 to 2005-06, Peters, 19, posted a 2.88 goals-against average and a 88-70-16 record.

He receives a $400,000 signing bonus with his three-year contract that will pay him $450,000 at the NHL level in 2006-07 and $475,000 at the NHL level in the following two seasons. In the minors, Peters will earn $50,000 per year for the first two years of the contract, and $60,000 in the third year.

Carolina press release
Whalers bio

Saginaw and Windsor make late spring swap

From the Windsor Star...

The Windsor Spitfires' youth movement continued in earnest today.

The club completed two more trades and they allowed another deal made by former owner Steve Riolo to go through.

Vice-president of hockey operations Warren Rychel sent overage prospects Mitch Maunu and Ryan Garlock to the Saginaw Spirit. In return, the Spitfires received 16-year-old forward Anthony Soboczynski (pictured) and a conditional second-round pick in 2007 if both play at least one game in the OHL.

Windsor also traded overage prospect Peter Aston to the Oshawa Generals for another conditional second-round pick in 2008. That is also contingent on Aston playing at least one game for the Generals.

Both deals were made prior to the draft, but OHL rules do not allow them to be announced until June 1.

Maunu/Garlock photo figure courtesy