Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Spirit sign import picks Mursak, Zaborsky

Import forwards Jan Mursak and Tomas Zaborsky have signed their contracts to play for the Saginaw Spirit this season.

Mursak, a right wing, was drafted 33rd overall by the Spirit in the 2006 CHL Import Draft. The 1988-born player from Slovenia was also selected 182nd overall by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Zaborsky was drafted with the 36th pick. The 1986-born left wing is a native of Slovakia. He joins Spirit forward Tom Pyatt as a New York Rangers' prospect, being selected by New York 137th overall this past June.

OHL rules allow each team to have two active European players on their roster. Previous European Spirit players include Tomas Csabi, Georgi Misharin, Denis Yachmenev, Marek Kvapil, Michal Birner and Vaclav Meidl.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Armada native Battani inks with Spits

The Windsor Spitfires have signed forward Thomas Battani, the team’s second round pick, 27th overall, in this year’s OHL Priority Selection.

Battani, a native of Armada, played with the Petrolia Jets of the Western (Ontario) Junior B Hockey League, scoring 18 goals and adding 19 assists for 37 points in 41 games played this past season.

"Thomas has shown a willingness to pay the price in front of the opposing net in order to score goals and we expect him to do the same at the OHL level," commented Windsor GM Warren Rychel. "He will be a key part of our lineup and he will get a great chance to contribute to our team right away."

Battani was also the winner of the B.J. Munro Memorial Trophy, which goes to the OHA player selected highest in the OHL draft.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Saginaw signs top pick Crawford

Defenseman Nick Crawford has signed an OHL contract to play for the Saginaw Spirit.

The 1990-born native of Caledon, Ontario was selected by the Spirit in the first round (12th overall) of the 2006 OHL Priority Selection.

Crawford played the 2005-2006 season with the Don Mills Flyers. In 80 games, he notched 10 goals, 44 assists and 64 penalty minutes.

From the OHL website: Nick has been a steady, rock solid defenseman all year. His game is still a stay at home type style, and uses his physical presence on the ice. Nick has played in all the critical stages of Don Mills run in the playoffs. He has shown that he is a heady, hard-to-rattle type player. He plays the game safe and very rarely does he get caught out of position.

Past Spirit first-round picks include Jean-Michel Rizk (5th overall in 2002) Patrick McNeill (1st overall in 2003), Matt Corrente (2nd overall in 2004) and Zack Torquato (3rd overall in 2005).

Friday, August 18, 2006

Alpena starts training camp Monday

The Alpena IceDiggers will open training camp on Monday at 4:30 p.m. at Northern Lights Arena.

Every IceDiggers practice this season will be open to the public.

After a long offseason, the IceDiggers coaching staff and the 25 players that will make up this year's roster are ready for Monday to arrive.

"I am very happy and excited about starting fresh on Monday," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "I feel with the group of kids we have coming back and the new guys stepping in we should have a successful season."

The IceDiggers return 14 players from last years squad and every one of them will be counted on heavily by the coaching staff.

"Each guy brings something different to the table and I expect them to carry us all season long," Miller added.

With many returning players, Miller needed to find players not only to blend with the veterans, but to carry the torch in the future for the IceDiggers.

"The new guys will also help with our quest to gain our first playoff appearance since joining the league," said Miller. "I anticipate them to step in right away and also make a difference."

Goaltending should be a strong position for the IceDiggers this season.

"I believe that with the guys we have coming in to play goal we will have a chance to win every night if they are on their game," boasted Miller. "Shawn Hunwick is a small guy who relies on his athletic ability and is very good. Brandon Stephenson is a big kid who was one win away from winning a high school state championship last season and local netminder Justin Marzeen will gain experience playing and practicing at this level everyday."

The rest of the training camp roster includes Todd Rudasill, Brett Kaneshiro, Ben Kitzmiller, Evan West, Ricardo Yesue, Erik Peterson, Zach Barron, Drew Pierson, Chris Hendrickson, Marco Ruggeri, Ryan King, Taylor Doorlag, Justin Stadler, Jimmy McCusker, Austin Seiple, Chad Billins, Artur Kret, Nolan Craner, Korey O'Brien, Logan Toohey, Tyler Coe and Eric Roman.

Fans are encouraged to come to Northern Lights Arena and watch as the IceDiggers start practicing this Monday. Practice time for next week will be Monday thru Friday from 2:30-4:00 p.m.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Soo Indians gearing up for season

The new Soo Indians held their first pow wow recently in the form of an invite camp that drew close to 50 hopefuls from across the USA plus a handful from the Canadian Soo area.

Formerly the Northern Michigan Black Bears, the Soo Indians are now under the ownership of Long Island, N.Y. land developer Charles Perdicaro, who finalized the purchase of the NOJHL franchise from a group of Upper Peninsula investors earlier this month.

Unlike the former owners, Perdicaro has a hockey background that includes being the former owner and general manager of a minor pro team in Florida.

Away from the rink, Perdicaro has assembled a marketing/public relations staff that has been busy doing damage control in the wake of the failed Black Bears’ ownership that did little to make an impression among fans, business people and the media in the Michigan Soo.

Thus, after three years of operation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — two in St. Ignace and one in the Soo — the Black Bears are no more, having given way to Perdicaro, who was quick to return to the town’s hockey roots by renaming the franchise the Soo Indians.

The Indians will continue to play their home games at Big Bear Arena and Perdicaro was able to secure Kewadin Casinos as a major corporate sponsor though the new owner acknowledged that his marketing and public relations people “are working hard trying to get fans and the small business community on board.”

Perdicaro has already announced that season tickets for the Indians 24 home games can be purchased at the Big Bear Arena Pro Shop for $100 — the lowest price in the NOJHL.

On ice, coach/general manager Jim Capy, an NOJHL mainstay who’s coached with considerable success over six previous seasons — four with the Soo Thunderbirds and two with the Blind River Beavers — oversaw the weekend camp with associate coach Don Gagnon, goalie coach Dave Murphy and chief scout Jim Yardanoff alongside.

Capy (Ferris State), Gagnon (Lake Superior State) and Murphy (North Dakota) are all former NCAA Division I players and all have Twin Soo hockey roots. In fact, both Capy and Gagnon previously coached AAA midget teams in the Michigan Soo.

The chatty, personable Perdicaro was also in town for the invite camp.

Last weekend’s camp drew an array of talent from throughout the USA with among the more impressive rookie performers being goalie Brennan Poderzay from Minnesota, defenceman Billy Horton and forward Michael Connolly, both from the New York area, and forward Darren Mansfield, a Michigan Soo product.

While an injury kept veteran defenceman Chase Stevens from attending the camp, returning blueliners J.D. King, Dan Klever and Sean Reid all stood out.

Though some of returning forwards had less than standout camps, both Sean Farley and Isaac Viau played with passion and goalie Elliott Hogue got better as the camp progressed.

Two forwards who played for Capy at Blind River last season — Jake Reid and Nick Zilka — had permission to skate at the Indians’ camp, leaving Capy to try to work out a deal with Beavers’ GM Don Lees for the pair.

The Indians will assemble again on Sept. 1 for their main camp and have a pair of exhibition games scheduled with the Traverse City North Stars of the North American Hockey League before opening the NOJHL regular season at home on Fri. Sept. 15.

Many thanks to Randy Russon and Osprey Media.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Spirit gets former Detroit prospect Haskins

Tyler Haskins may get to call Michigan home after all.

Well, at least for one year anyway.

The Saginaw Spirit acquired the one-time Detroit Red Wings' draft pick from the Toronto St. Michael's Majors today for center Dustin Ekelman, as well as a conditional 2007 OHL Priority Selection 14th round pick and a 15th round pick in 2008. The Spirit also have the option to trade first-round Import Draft picks with Toronto next summer.

Haskins captained the Majors last year. He was Detroit's fifth-round pick in 2004, but didn't sign by the June 1 deadline this summer. If he reports to Saginaw, Haskins will be one of the team's three alotted overage (20-year-old) players.

The Madison, Ohio native ended last season with 24 goals and 51 assists in 56 regular-season games. During the 2006 OHL playoffs, he notched a goal and four assists in four games and was selected to play in the 2006 OHL All-Star Game for the Eastern Conference. His five shorthanded goals are also a team record.

Ekelman was Saginaw's fourth-round pick in 2005.

"We wish Dustin Ekelman the best of luck in his career in the OHL and beyond," stated Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini. "We would also like to welcome Tyler Haskins to the Saginaw Spirit."

Photo by Matt Mackinder

Saginaw prospects in the news

Ryan Garlock and Ian Keserich, two probable, but in the latter's case, not likely Saginaw Spirit players, were in the news recently.

Garlock was quoted in the Timmins Daily Press last Thursday saying he's keeping all options open for the next step in his career.

"I honestly can't tell you because I have no idea," Garlock said. "Saginaw is definitely a strong option."

The 20-year-old played two seasons with the Windsor Spitfires (who acquired him from the Guelph Storm midway in the 2003-2004 season), but the Spitfires on June 1 traded the overage rights to Garlock and defenseman Mitch Maunu, as well as a second-round pick in 2007, to the Spirit in exchange for forward Anthony Soboczynski (Saginaw's second-round pick in 2005) and a 15th-round pick in 2007.

A goaltender who has played the past two seasons at Ohio State, Keserich left Columbus to play for the USHL's Tri-City Storm with the hopes of transferring to another school next fall. Keserich's OHL rights were once held by the Plymouth Whalers, but were transferred to Saginaw in June 2005 for New Hudson native and incoming Notre Dame defenseman Kyle Lawson.

Keserich, 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, comes to the Storm with numerous accolades throughout his playing career. He was named the top goaltender at the Under-18 Junior World Cup in 2003 and was also a seventh-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2004.

Garlock photo by Walt Dmoch

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Smith, USA take silver at Hlinka Memorial

The United States Under-18 Select Team lost a hard-fought, 3-0, decision to Canada Saturday in the gold medal game of the 2006 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka. Earning the silver medal and its best finish since 2003, the United States ended the tournament with a 3-1 record after going undefeated in round-robin play.

“Overall, our team left everything on the ice and really showed a lot of courage,” said Team USA head coach Ed Olczyk. “We had some good chances, but we didn’t have the bounce in our step that we had throughout the rest of the tournament and Canada played a really strong game. I couldn’t be more proud of the boys and I’m very grateful to have had this opportunity.”

Brett Sonne gave Canada the early lead with a rebound goal on a two-man advantage at 10:49 of the first period.

Team USA had a scoring opportunity in the opening minutes of the second frame, but after a U.S. shot went wide of Canadian goaltender Trevor Cann during a 4-on-4 situation, Team Canada transitioned to a 2-on-1 odd-man rush. Once in the offensive zone, Tyler Ennis passed across the slot from the left faceoff dot to Sonne, who one-timed his second goal of the evening, and fifth of the tournament, to give Canada a 2-0 lead.

Canada again used special teams to extend its lead in the final period, as Ennis took a drop pass from Brandon Sutter to beat U.S. netminder Jeremy Smith (Brownstown/Plymouth Whalers) at 10:36.

Smith made 27 stops for Team USA, while Cann recorded 20 saves for Canada.

Release courtesy USA Hockey
Smith photo by Walt Dmoch

Marquette adds forward, goalie, defenseman

Forward Matt Tinordi, goalie Matt Brooker and defenseman Iiro Junnila were recently added to the inaugural Marquette Rangers roster.

"Matt Tinordi brings a great work ethic, good hockey sense and a physical element to the Rangers," Rangers' head coach Leigh Mendelson said. "As the season goes on, his offensive skills will emerge."

Tinordi formerly played for the Washington Junior Capitals.

The second part of the goaltending tandem also comes from the Washington Junior Capitals in Brooker.

"Matt Brooker is a young, athletic goaltender with a big upside," noted Mendelson. "He will develop very well and learn quickly as Stephen Ritter's understudy."

While playing for the Washington Jr. Capitals in 2005-2006, both Tinordi and Brooker were coached by Mark Tinordi, a 12-year veteran of the NHL.

As for the first of two import-players expected to be on the roster in Junnila, Mendelson raved about his new Finn.

"Iiro is a physical defenseman who comes from a very good program in Rauma," said Mendelson. "With his size and strength, we are looking forward to his contributions on both sides of the ice."

The 2006-2007 season begins with the Rangers Tailgate Party for the team and public on Aug. 23 at Lakeview Arena starting at 5:00p.m.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Plymouth netminder Smith one win from gold

Plymouth Whalers' second-year goaltender Jeremy Smith is playing for Team USA in the 2006 Under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia and Breclav, Czech Republic and has his team one win from a gold medal.

The U.S. advanced to the gold medal game tomorrow against Canada after defeating host Czech Republic, 4-3, in overtime yesterday. Smith stopped 41 shots in the victory and was named U.S. Player of the Game for the second straight game.

Smith turned aside 36 shots in Team USA's 4-2 victory over Russia on Wednesday and was named U.S. Player of the Game. Smith also stopped 24 shots to backstop the USA victory over Finland in the tournament opener Tuesday.

In all, Smith has saved 101 of 108 shots faced in the tournament for a .935 save percentage.

The Brownstown native was Plymouth's fourth-round pick, 64th overall, in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection out of the Belle Tire '89s. He played in five games last year and went 0-2-0 with a 5.94 goals-against average and a .845 save percentage.

Whalers' draft choices Nick Petrecki and Vincent Lo Verde also are on the U.S. team. Petrecki was Plymouth's first-rounder in 2005 and Lo Verde went in the tenth round. Both have verbally committed to college for 2007 as Petrecki is off to Boston College and Lo Verde will play at Miami.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Former Whalers' d-man hired by Windsor

The Windsor Spitfires announced yesterday that they have hired former Spitfire and Plymouth Whalers' defenseman Mark Ridout as the team’s new strength and conditioning coach.

Ridout, who has worked as a personal trainer for the past three years after retiring from professional hockey, started the 1997-1998 season with the Whalers before being dealt to Windsor that December in the package deal for defenseman Paul Mara.

"It’s great to have Mark on board," Windsor head coach Bob Boughner said. "We know he will do a great job in ensuring that our players are in the best physical condition possible. Mark’s hockey and fitness background will be a tremendous asset to our club."

Ridout was originally the Whalers' seventh-round selection, 128th overall, in the 1997 OHL Priority Selection.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Plymouth first-rounder Cooper signs

Vern Cooper, the Plymouth Whalers' first-round pick last May, has signed with the club.

Cooper, a 15-year-old center and native of Sudbury, Ontario, was selected by the Whalers 13th overall.

“We’re excited to have Vern in Plymouth,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’s a dynamic young player that our fans will enjoy watching for a long time.”

“Cooper has the best set of wheels in the draft,” said Plymouth head scout Jim Debenham at the time of Cooper’s selection. “He’s exciting to watch. Cooper’s a player with speed, skill and hands.”

Cooper, who scored 45 goals and 47 assists for 92 points and 50 penalty minutes for the Sudbury Nickel Capitals in 2005-2006, participated in the Whalers’ Rookie Orientation Camp last May and showed some of the skill Vellucci and Debenham were talking about.

The Central Scouting Service gave the following assessment about Cooper:

"Seems like the 'new' game was implemented just for Vern. A speedy player that is entertaining to watch. Has great anticipation and combined with one-step quickness, intercepts many passes, flies down the wing, the defense gets back peddling, the ice opens up from his speed and then his playing skills or scoring abilities become threats very quickly."

The signing of Cooper, seventh-round pick A.J. Jenks (Wolverine Lake), 2005 draftees Kyle Jendra and Frank Grzeszczak and Import selections Michal Neuvirth, a goaltender, and defenseman Jozef Sladok brings young talent to a Whalers roster that won the West Division title last season with a 35-28-1-4 record.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Saturday, August 05, 2006

North Stars open camp with a bang

After just two training camp sessions on Friday, Traverse City North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner can already see a very bright season on the horizon.

The invitation-only camp - comprised of returning North Stars players, draft picks, tenders, free agents, and the best of the best from a summer’s worth of scouting, video review, and tryout camps – is a de facto proving ground for a team trying to build on a 19-win season in its inaugural campaign. With only 25 roster spots and 45 players in camp, it doesn’t take a mathematician to recognize the competitive dynamic at work in the Republic Rink at Centre ICE arena.

“What a start,” beamed Gardiner following Friday’s second on-ice session. “The talent and the skill here is unbelievable – and that’s just the first day. These guys still have some summer rust on their sticks and the nerves factor. I can’t wait to see the scrimmages.”

Veteran defenseman Richie Zobak, who took part in numerous Stars camps a year ago, noticed a very palpable difference 12 months later.

“After just one workout, I can tell,” said Zobak, a Chicago-area native who posted four goals and 15 assists in his rookie season. “It’s crisper, sharper. I think a lot of it has to do with the number of guys out here who have played in this league, who have competed at this level. It shows.”

The numbers support Zobak’s deduction. There are 15 players in camp who finished the 2005-06 season in the North American Hockey League, while two others - defenseman Harrison Niemann (Omaha) and Ray Kaunisto (Cedar Rapids) - plied their trade in the tier-I United States Hockey League. In all, 26 of the hopefuls ended last season in the junior ranks.

There is also a strong Montana flavor to the camp, as four players from defunct franchises have found their way to Centre ICE. Forward Matt Hughes (three goals, three assists in 28 GP)and defenseman Jameson Raymond (5G-5A in 44 games) helped lead Bozeman to the best record in the NAHL and a Robertson Cup Finals berth, while Travis Hamway amassed 17 goals and 35 assists over 51 games to lead Billings in scoring, while John Jacob chipped in with three points in 10 games for the Bulls. Gardiner says that everyone will get a long, hard look.

“It’s tough to say exactly what you’re looking for,” Gardiner explained. “But you can’t take too many of the same kinds of guys. You need a mix of sill, size, grit – and chemistry on and off the ice.”

Forward Mike Sand, who saw action in six games for Traverse City last year before a leg injury ended his season, says that everyone in camp is in the battle.

“It’s a lot more competitive, and there’s a lot more depth here right now,” he said. “And everybody has to make the team. There aren’t any free passes. We all have to go out there and go hard if we want to play here.”

Friday, August 04, 2006

IceDiggers release schedules, preseason roster

The Alpena IceDiggers have released their 2006-2007 schedule and the NAHL team has expanded the regular season to 29 home games and 33 games away from Northern Lights Arena.

The IceDiggers will compete in the North Division against Traverse City, Marquette, USA National Development Program and Mahoning Valley.

"This season will be a test because of the added number of games and I look forward to the challenge of preparing the guys for the entire season," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller.

All 17 teams will kick off the regular season at the four day NAHL Showcase Sept. 13-16 at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, Minnesota. The IceDiggers will take on the North Iowa Outlaws, Alexandria Blizzard, Texas Tornado (three-time defending national champions) and the St. Louis Bandits (formerly the Texarkana Bandits). All of the Showcase games count in the league standings.

The IceDiggers' home season will begin on Friday, Sept. 22 versus the newest NAHL team, the Marquette Rangers at 7:00 p.m. The following night, Alpena will invade Marquette for the Rangers' home opener.

The IceDiggers also have several special dates for the season including a home game versus Traverse City on New Year's Eve and also St. Patrick's Day. The IceDiggers will endure a long road trip when after they host Traverse City on Friday, November 10, they will not return to Northern Lights Arena until Wednesday, December 13, playing ten games on the road during that stretch.

This year's schedule includes four Sunday afternoon games and four Wednesday night games.

"We are very pleased with the schedule and we hope the fans of Alpena will continue their strong support for our team on the Wednesday night games which were necessary due to the increase in the number of games that the league has added," stated Miller.

The IceDiggers last regular season home game will take place on Saturday, March 17, 2007 versus Traverse City.

"Coach Miller has worked extremely hard to select a team with some good players and more importantly good young men who I am sure will represent the community well and will be very competitive throughout the season," said IceDiggers' VP and GM Bob Krafft.

The IceDiggers plan to wear several special event jerseys this season. The IceDiggers are scheduled to wear camouflage jerseys on Friday, November 10, 2006 versus their cross state rival North Stars. And the popular NASCAR jerseys will be worn on Saturday February 3, 2007 when they play host to the Rangers. They will also wear their annual St. Patrick's Day jerseys on Friday, March 17, 2007. All three sets will be auctioned off immediately following each game in the main bleachers.

But before the season starts, the IceDiggers have a preseason slate beginning with a pair of home games at Northern Lights Arena on Friday, Sept. 1 at 7:00 p.m. and on Saturday, Sept. 2 at 12:30 p.m. versus the Rangers.

On Wednesday Sept. 6 at 7:00 p.m. Alpena will travel to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to take on the Soo Thunderbirds (NOJHL). On Friday, Sept. 8 the same two teams will tangle in Alpena. Face off is set for 7:00 p.m.

Season ticket holders will be admitted to all home preseason games free of charge. Admission for non-season ticket holders will be $3.00 per person per game.

Alpena also announced the 26 players selected to participate in training camp that starts Monday, August 21.

The level of play was very high during camp and it made for some tough decisions for the coaching staff.

"This was probably the most competitive camp we have had in a few years and we are very happy with the guys we have coming in," Miller said.

Training camp roster
(with last year's team)

Zach Barron, Alpena
Nolan Craner, Alpena
Taylor Doorlag, Alpena
Artur Kret, Alpena
Erik Peterson, Alpena
Drew Pierson, Alpena
Todd Rudasill, Alpena
Justin Stadler, Alpena
Ricardo Yesue, Alpena
Tyler Coe, Belle Tire AAA
Ryan King, Philadelphia Flyers AAA
Jimmy McCusker, Compuware AAA
Mike Paglino, Little Caesars AAA
Marco Ruggeri, Belle Tire AAA
Austin Seiple, Toledo Cherokee Jr. B

Chad Billins, Alpena
Chris Hendrickson, Alpena
Ben Kitzmiller, Alpena
Korey O'Brien, Alpena
Eric Roman, Alpena
Brett Kaneshiro, Capital Centre AAA
Logan Toohey, Belle Tire AAA
Evan West, Belle Tire AAA

Shawn Hunwick, Petrolia Jets Jr. B
Brandon Stephenson, Saline High
Justin Marzean, Alpena High

Michigan natives, juniors off to play D-III hockey

Shelby Township native Zeke Costello

While much of the focus this offseason is where certain players will play D-I hockey, a handful of Michigan natives and players who honed their junior skills in the Mitten State have agreed to play D-III.

This list will be updated (last on August 4) as more recruits are released:

F Michael Caprio,
Becker College (Northern Michigan Black Bears, NOJHL)

F John Carter, Detroit,
Trinity College (New Jersey Hitmen, EJHL)

D Jim Ceglarek,
Becker College (Northern Michigan Black Bears, NOJHL)

F Zeke Costello, Shelby Township
Nichols College (Traverse City North Stars, NAHL)

D Luc Du Bay,
Utica College (started season with Traverse City North Stars, NAHL)

F Ross Enmark, Shelby Township,
Curry College (Alpena IceDiggers, NAHL)

F Ryan Howarth, Grand Blanc,
Connecticut College (Syracuse Stars, EJHL)

F Steve Kruszewski, Clawson,
Becker College (Northern Michigan Black Bears, NOJHL)

G Tyler Owens, Detroit,
Fredonia State (Brockville Braves, CJHL)

F Patrick Palmisano, Ann Arbor,
Cortland State (Bay State Breakers, EJHL)

D Jarrett Rush
Manhattanville College (Traverse City North Stars, NAHL)

F Derek Stabile, Sault Ste. Marie,
Becker College (Northern Michigan Black Bears, NOJHL)


--Carter was the very last pick (291st overall) of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers; he did not sign.
--College locations: Connecticut College is in New London, Conn., Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., Curry is in Milton, Mass., Nichols College is in Dudley, Mass., Manhattanville College, Utica College, Fredonia State and Cortland State are in New York State and Becker College is in Worcester, Mass., and will be starting its first year of varsity hockey in the fall.

Rangers announce '06-07 schedule

Following months of planning and preparation, the Marquette Rangers have announced their 2006-07 season game schedule. The schedule is packed with special events, theme nights, contests and a wide array of entertainment.

The Rangers season opens at the North American Hockey League Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota on September 13-16. The Showcase includes all teams in the league, with the Rangers scheduled to play both Alaska-based teams, Southern Minnesota and Springfield (Illinois).

The league is comprised of 17 teams placed in three divisions. The Marquette squad will compete in the North Division along with the Alpena IceDiggers, Traverse City North Stars, U.S. National Development (Under-17) Team, and the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

The home opener will be held during a break in the Electricians Fall Classic on September 23, as the Rangers host the Alpena IceDiggers at the friendly confines of Lakeview Arena.

In all, the Rangers will play 62 games, with 29 of them at home. Most games are held on Friday and Saturday evenings, with a scattering of Thursday and Sunday games. The final regular-season game will be April 1.

Playoffs will include the top four teams in each division, with the three divisional champions facing off, along with a yet to be determined host team, for the NAHL Robertson Cup Championship in May.

In addition to great hockey, the Rangers will bring a full array of entertainment offerings to each contest. Fans will enjoy Chuck-A-Puck, Kid’s Score Zone, face-painting, apparel giveaways, tailgate parties before each game, post-game celebrations, adult beverages, and Eino and Toivo’s comedic interpretation of the rules of hockey.

The Rangers are currently working with local charities to organize three charity jersey game nights. Local charities will team up with Rangers to design an original jersey representing their cause. The jerseys will be worn by the players during the game and live-auctioned immediately following the conclusion of each game, with all the net proceeds benefiting the charity.

“This is just one of the ways we hope to give back to the fans and community. These select games will be very special as the proceeds will benefit some of the important charity’s that help make the central U.P. a great place to live and play,” said David Saint-Onge, president of the Rangers.

The Hanson Brothers, original Iron Rangers and stars of the classic movie, Slap Shot, will visit Marquette on October 7. Pre-game festivities will honor all former Iron Rangers players, with the current team donning replica Iron Rangers jerseys for use during the game. The jerseys will be auctioned after the game with the net proceeds being donated to the Oakie Brumm Memorial Scholarship Fund.

“We believe this is a fitting tribute to the players and team who were admired by the Marquette community and were lead by a man who truly loved the great game of hockey," said Saint-Onge. “The replica jerseys look fantastic, and the cause is a very worthy one. Plus, with the Hanson’s in the building, the energy and excitement level should be nothing short of spectacular.”

Another early season event will be “Hockey Day in Marquette.” October 14 will see the Rangers host the U.S. National Development (Under 17) Team at 4:00 pm at Lakeview Arena, with the Northern Michigan University-Michigan Tech University game at the Berry Events Center at 7:30 pm. There will be a variety of game day events promoting hockey in the Upper Peninsula.

Some of the other special events include:

November 17 – in honor of the hunting season, “Save a Buck Night”
December 3 – “A Soldiers Christmas” when the Rangers will collect children’s toys, games and clothing to help the families of U.P. soldiers assigned overseas.
December 23 – visits by Santa and his arch-nemesis, the Grinch.
February 11 – special jersey night to support the Pigs-n-Heat charity to raise some extra cash for a truly great cause.
March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day will see a jovial Celtic atmosphere in Lakeview Arena.

For an early glimpse of the Rangers, fans should plan to attend the Rangers tailgate party at Lakeview Arena on August 23, starting at 5:00 pm. The event will include a barbecue, door prizes, and live music. This will also be the first opportunity for fans who secured season ticket reservations to select their seats for the season.

“We are excited to show our fans what we’ve been up to these last few months," Saint-Onge said. "There is a ton of excitement and we promise to give you an experience that will be fun, economical and entertaining."

TC's Oleksy accepts LSSU offer

When the puck drops Friday, opening the Traverse City North Stars’ invite-only weekend camp at Centre ICE, head coach Scott Gardiner will be as excited about who won’t be competing for a roster spot as those who are.

That’s because a pair of North Stars players from the inaugural 2005-06 season are suiting up for NCAA schools this year -- defensemen Steven Oleksy and Jarrett Rush.

Oleksy (pictured) announced on Wednesday that he has accepted a scholarship from Lake Superior State University, while Rush signed with Manhattanville College earlier this summer.

“It’s exciting because that’s our mission: to put kids into college, and it’s happening,” Gardiner said. “And a couple of kids who had offers from schools decided to come back, so we’re glad that our kids are getting a shot at a college education and college hockey, even if it means they have to leave us. We couldn’t be happier for them.”

Oleksy becomes the second North Stars player to land an NCAA Div. I – and the first who has actually seen regular season duty in a TC uniform. Stars tender Kory Kaunisto verbally committed to Northern Michigan earlier this summer in advance of his rookie season in the North American Hockey League. Oleksy seriously considered Wayne State, another Div. I program, but had his heart set on heading to LSSU.

“I’m real excited about it,” said Oleksy, who has three years of collegiate eligibility remaining. “I told their coaches that Lake State is where I dreamed of playing, and to get the chance is just amazing. I have three good buddies who play up there, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

Oleksy led all Traverse City blue-liners with 11 goals and 19 assists in 57 games last season, and finished the year sporting the captain’s ‘C’ on his sweater – and the region imprinted on his heart.

“The whole atmosphere in Traverse City – the coaches, the organization, the fans, the community – it’s the kind of place you can’t wait to get to. The people made it fun to come to the rink, to come to practice or games and go at it hard. I loved being there and I’ll come back whenever I can," said Oleksy.

“Stevie was the heart and soul of our team,” Gardiner explained. “Sure, we want him back, but it’s a win-win situation. While we’d have loved to have him back, we couldn’t be happier for the guy. He’s a quality player and a quality person, and all of Traverse City wishes him well.”

Rush will join an NCAA Div. III school in Manhattanville that advanced all the way to the national quarterfinals before bowing out in double overtime. The New Jersey native will get to play close to home at the Purchase, N.Y. institution, and should see plenty of ice time.

“They lost four defenseman from last season, so there’s a good chance to get to play right away,” said Rush, who had five goals and assisted on eight others in 51 games last year. “That was one of the biggest factors in coming here. Plus, I’m less than three hours from home and 15 miles to the (New York) city. I’m looking forward to the whole experience.”

Gardiner expects that Rush will be a key cog in the Manhattanville defensive rotation.

“Jarrett’s a big, solid stay-at-home guy on the blue line, and at 6-5 he’s got that reach that can really shut down the passing lanes. He should do very well at the next stage of his career.”

Oleksy will be among the 45 players vying for roster spots at this weekend’s invite-only camp, in as much as he won’t be re-joining the team when the regular season convenes in late August, but knows the competition will be hot and heavy.

“You just can’t replicate the competition anywhere else,” Oleksy pointed out. “Spots are on the line and guys know it. You can skate all summer long and not get into a really competitive situation. Coach Gardiner asked me to skate, and I need a hard skate, so I’ll be there.”

Gardiner will be busy evaluating personnel for the North Stars’ upcoming second season over the course of the three-day event, and says it’ll be the best group of prospects he’s ever assembled. Local products Eric O’Hearn (TC Central) and Nate Greenman (TC West) drew invitations, while returning players Mike Sand, Jonathan Juliano, Patrick Nagorsen, Brett Englebright, Sal Ragusa, Richie Zobak, Arthur Bidwill, and goalie Ryan Donovan are also slated to compete. Five of the team’s draft picks, and six tenders – including reigning Michigan Mr. Hockey Zach Hitch – will also battle for roster spots.

“It’s the first camp we’ve ever had where every single guy out there is already fully capable of playing at this level. It should be very competitive and fun to watch.”

North Stars' tender off to NMU in '07

On the other side of Kory Kaunisto’s run as a Traverse City North Stars forward lies a spot in the classrooms of Northern Michigan University.

The Traverse City tender verbally committed to NMU, making him the first North Stars player to land a full-ride NCAA Div. I scholarship – even before the opening puck drops on his rookie campaign in the North American Hockey League.

“It’s great, because that’s why you play junior hockey – for the college scholarship,” said Kaunisto. “You’re out there looking for that opportunity, and to get a shot at it right away – I feel very fortunate.”

Kaunisto, who will take part in the North Stars invitation-only camp this weekend, says that even with a spot on the Wildcats roster seemingly assured, he can’t coast through his year or two in Traverse City.

“I won’t take it (the scholarship) for granted,” explained the 6-foot, 173-pound winger. “I know I still have to work hard if I want to develop as a player and be as successful as I can be at Northern. I’m excited to be going to play in Traverse City, and I can’t wait to get to work.”

Kaunisto played right wing for the Soo Indians of the midget major Midwest Elite Hockey League last season, catching the eye of NMU head coach Walt Kyle with 21 goals and 24 assists in 60 games. He also captured the attention of North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner, who inked Kaunisto to a tender early in the signing period.

“Kory was one of our first tenders, and we were delighted to get him,” Gardiner said. “He’s a player that does all the little things right, and all the big things, too. I think we saw the exact same thing that Northern saw – here is a complete hockey player that we gotta have.”

Photo courtesy of the Traverse City North Stars