Friday, August 04, 2006

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.”

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