Monday, February 27, 2006

Thuot takes weekly OHL and CHL honors

The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Saginaw Spirit goaltender Francois Thuot is the OHL Player of the Week for the week ending Sunday, February 20, after posting a 2-0-0 record with a 1.00 goals-against average and .976 save percentage in two starts last week.

As well, Thuot was selected as the ADT Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Week.

Thuot was the first star after making 38 saves in a 5-1 win over the Erie Otters on February 23. He followed up with a 43-save performance and was named first star again in a 4-1 win over the Plymouth Whalers on February 26.

Thuot, a 20-year-old native of Montreal, improved his season record to 17-16-1 with a 3.33 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 35 games. He has helped the Spirit move ahead of the Whalers by two points for first place in the West Division.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Marquette to ice team in NAHL

Junior A Rangers will play at Lakeview Arena next season

By Matt Mackinder
Courtesy of Michigan Hockey

It looks like the Alpena IceDiggers and Traverse City North Stars will get a new in-state rival this fall.

The Marquette Rangers have officially joined the North American Hockey League and will begin play this fall out of the 3100-seat Lakeview Arena. The Rangers will be managed by three principals: David Saint-Onge will serve as president and general manager, Rich Tegge will serve as vice president and director of hockey operations and Brad Layzell will serve the team as vice president and director of player development. Saint-Onge has an extensive business background and serves as president of TriMedia Consultants, Inc., a multi-disciplined professional service firm with offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and Montana. Tegge is a wealth manager with Salomon-Smith Barney and Layzell is a former Detroit Vipers’ defenseman and NHL draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens who will be instrumental in developing the team’s players.

A head coach is expected be named by the end of February.

Though the official announcement came Feb. 15, the process of getting a Junior A team in Marquette began some time back.

“We actually started our due diligence about three years ago,” said Saint-Onge. “Marquette is a great community, but there was a bit of a gap with our hockey. We have a tremendous youth program as well as excellent high school and midget (AAA Marquette Electricians) programs and then Northern Michigan University is also in town. There wasn’t a junior program. There are a lot of good players that come through here that had to leave here to play juniors.”

Saint-Onge also said that in the summer of 2003 when the NAHL had some problems with teams leaving and folding, the Marquette contingent suspended their expansion operation.

“But once the league reorganized, we picked up the pace and did more research,” he added. “The dynamics just make a lot of sense, especially with the new teams in Alpena and Traverse City. And when the Soo Indians franchise folded last spring, that created a void that we felt we could fill. We’ve always felt the Upper Peninsula should have junior hockey.”

In the Marquette community, even now the rallying support is evident. Three coaches recently told the Mining Journal that having a junior program in Marquette provides a positive feeling in town.

Marquette Senior High School head coach Joe Papin said the Rangers will do nothing but help his program.

“Our guys don't get a lot of (recruiting) looks other than when we go downstate,” he said. “This little bit of (Junior A) exposure brings a lot of scouts. With a Junior A program here, it brings more of an opportunity for our kids to go to the next level.”

Electricians head coach Jon Nebel echoed Papin’s sentiments and said the formation of the Rangers is a “win-win situation” for all those involved.

“It'll keep Marquette-based players closer to home,” said Nebel. “We look forward to forging a relationship with the Ranger players, coaching staff and organization for the betterment of the Marquette-based hockey player.”

Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle said he welcomes the Rangers, who will be the NAHL’s 21st team starting next season. Kyle said it will give the Wildcats another recruiting venue that won’t put miles on their cars.

“We look at the Rangers as something that will benefit our program,” he said. “We spend X-amount of dollars every year recruiting. This is going to give us a more convenient avenue with which to watch players (we may recruit). It'll be a lot easier for us to see Michigan players.”

And even as the Rangers will give area players an opportunity to stay and live at home while playing Junior A hockey, it’s not the No. 1 reason Saint-Onge and company put a NAHL team in Marquette.

“We’d obviously love to get a lot of the local kids,” Saint-Onge said. “But we’re not going to focus our entire efforts here getting all local kids. The kids have to have the talent to be able to play at this level, too. The Rangers are just one option, as there are also the other 20 NAHL teams and the USHL. But still, if we get a couple local kids, I think that could definitely help our fan base.”

Once a head coach is in place, Marquette will start evaluating players to tender and draft for their inaugural roster. The lone new team in 2006-07, the Rangers will have the first overall draft selection in this spring’s entry draft.

“When we first made the announcement (about joining the NAHL), we had 14 applicants for the head coaching position,” noted Saint-Onge. “That list has since grown to more than 25. We’re short-listing the candidates and reviewing resumes and we should have a coach hired here shortly. We’re also starting to get tryouts planned for Marquette, Detroit, Chicago and Boston.”

With a plethora of hockey in the area, Saint-Onge also said that they are going to go to great lengths to avoid any scheduling conflicts so that when the Rangers are at home, NMU is on the road and vice versa.

“We may even be able to schedule a couple days where we all play together,” Saint-Onge explained. “Maybe the Electricians play late morning/early afternoon, we play the matinee and then the Wildcats play at night. We’ll be out in the community and the community has already started to support us and put their arms around us.

“We’ll be ready to go on Sept. 15.”

Traverse City folds in third, loses to U-17's

For the second straight game, the Traverse City North Stars took a reasonably comfortable lead into the third period, and for the second straight game an opponent came from behind to claim victory at Centre ICE arena.

On Sunday afternoon, it was the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, scoring thrice in less than seven minutes to knock off the hosts by a 4-3 count. The loss comes on the heels of Saturday’s shootout setback against Texas, after TC had constructed a 2-0 advantage.

“It was still a great weekend from an effort standpoint,” assessed Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “And that’s a good sign heading into this stage of the season. We played nine hard periods plus an overtime this weekend, and I’m excited to see us play that way.”

Stars defenseman Steven Oleksy scored his second goal in as many nights to open the scoring on Sunday at the 15:21 mark of the third period. Adam Sponseller and Jared Mullen assisted. Joe Schweiger pushed the Stars bulge to 2-0 a mere 2:33 later, as Sponseller drew another assist. Mike Cieslak cut the U-17 deficit in half 2:38 into the second stanza, but Travis Paeth lit the lamp at 15:27 to help Traverse City regain a two-goal cushion. Patrick Nagorsen assisted.

A pivotal sequence near the halfway point of the final period saw Brett Englebright take a pass from Jake Erway and roof a shot that hit the inside top of the net, and bounced back into play. The goal judge hit the red light, the players celebrated, and the celebratory horns echoed throughout Centre ICE arena before referee Mike McCreary waved off the goal despite repeated objections from the goal judge, linesman, and nearly 800 fans in attendance.

“I’m not the kind of guy who will blame the officials for anything,” Gardiner said. “But that showed poor judgment on the referee’s part. They’re not supposed to help determine the outcome of the game, and that would have put us ahead 4-1 with 10 minutes or so to play. But we’re supposed to be able to overcome those kinds of things, the things we have no control over.”

Given new life, Team USA-17 (31-9-4) seized control of the affair, as A.J. Sturges (10:09), Colby Cohen (11:43), and Cade Fairchild (16:36) scored a trio of unrequited markers down the stretch to give the visitors two points.

Jeremy Kaleniecki got the start in net for TC, turning aside 27 of the 31 shots he faced. Josh Unice worked the pipes for Team USA, making 21 stops.

By virtue of Team USA’s 11-3 undressing of Alpena on Saturday night, the North Stars (15-30-6) retain a 13-point lead on the IceDiggers for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL’s North Division. TC has seven games left, while Alpena will play 11 times, including four versus the North Stars. Mahoning Valley comes to town next weekend for a Friday-Saturday series at Centre ICE.

“They’re a very good team,” said Gardiner. “They’re big and they play with skill. We have to figure out a way to beat them, since we’ve only done it once.”

Both games next weekend face-off at 7:30 p.m.

Saginaw solidifies hold on first, wins Sunday

Jesse Gimblett’s power-play goal at 15:26 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and the Saginaw Spirit went on to defeat the Plymouth Whalers, 4-1, in front of 4,170 at the Dow Event Center Sunday afternoon.

With the victory, Saginaw (32-26-1-0) moves into sole possession of first place in the OHL’s West Division with 65 points, two points ahead of Plymouth (29-25-1-4) and three points up on Windsor (28-26-3-3), who lost, 4-3, in Sudbury on Sunday afternoon.

Tom Mannino (pictured), Ryan McDonough and Zack Torquato added goals for Saginaw while former Spirit forward Joe McCann scored Plymouth's lone goal.

Francois Thuot stopped 43 shots for the win while Justin Peters stopped 27 for Plymouth.

Plymouth and Saginaw meet again Friday night at the Compuware Sports Arena at 7:30 pm.

Black Bears do weekend split

The Northern Michigan Black Bears fell Friday night at home to the Soo, but rebounded for a win last night in Blind River.

Friday night, the Bears suffered a 3-1 setback as only Anthony Perdicaro scored. Tony Stoehr made 22 saves in net. Northern Michigan out-shot the Thunderbirds, 36-28.

Last night, Perdicaro scored twice and added an assist in the 7-4 victory over the Beavers. Michael Herbert, Isaac Viau, Ryan Murtaugh, Chris Cooper and James Ciotti also tallied to back Elliott Hogue's 36 saves.

Ryan Huggett chipped in with two assists for the Bears.

Northern Michigan (26-13-6) plays on the road Wednesday versus the Sudbury Jr. Wolves.

London tops Plymouth in a shootout

Plymouth defenseman Ryan McGinnis defends London forward A.J. Perry in front of Whalers' goalie Justin Peters Saturday night

London captain Dylan Hunter scored the only goal of the shootout to lead the Knights to a 3-2 win over the Plymouth Whalers in front of 3,028 Saturday night in Plymouth.

"I've been going low blocker lately and (Plymouth goalie Justin Peters) took that away," said Hunter to the Canadian Press. "I faked a shot from my backhand and went back to my forehand, he bit on it and I had a wide open net."

Rob Schremp and Jordan Foreman scored in regulation time for the Knights.

Adam Dennis stopped 41 shots in regulation and all three shooters - Evan Brophey, Chris Terry and Mike Letizia - in the shootout.

"You just have to be patient and wait them out," Dennis said in the same CP story. "I was lucky to do that and get all three.

Tom Sestito and Andrew Fournier replied for the Whalers (29-24-1-4), who got 45 saves from Peters.

"We obviously wanted to get the two points," Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. "But we'll settle for one."

Peters stopped David Bolland and Schremp in the shootout.

The Whalers play in Saginaw this afternoon.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Texas edges Stars in shootout Saturday night

If two out of three ain’t bad, then three out of four must be downright respectable.

The two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado huffed and puffed, but in the end had barely enough wind left to eke out a 3-2 shootout victory over the host Traverse City North Stars on Saturday at Centre ICE arena. The Stars claimed three of a possible four points from the Tornado over the weekend, and moved 13 points ahead of fifth-place Alpena for the fourth and final playoff berth with eight games remaining for Traverse City.

“I’m happy – happy with our effort,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “We got three points, and we still have two more on the table tomorrow (against Team USA U-17). I saw some of our guys hanging their heads after the game and I told ’em, ‘Get your heads up. You just gave the two-time champs everything they could handle.’ If we get effort like we did these last two nights for the rest of the season, ANYTHING can happen.”

As they did in a 7-4 win over Texas on Friday, the North Stars jumped out to an early lead on Saturday, when Adam Sponseller got things going just 1:20 into the affair on assists from Brett Englebright and Joseph Schweiger. The Tornado actually outshot the hosts by a 14-7 margin, but few were quality scoring chances, and TC netkeep Ryan Donovan dealt with those that were.

Patrick Nagorsen capped a back-and-forth second stanza with his 16th goal of the season with a mere 1:02 remaining before intermission, giving TC a 2-0 edge.

The defending champs, who saw plenty of time in the Centre ICE arena penalty box, went seriously shorthanded with a series of unsportsmanlike maneuvers, including Andrew Harrison throwing a punch at an official. Harrison, Billy Skwarczewski, and Justin King were all ejected from the contest in the third, and Texas finished the contest with 61 minutes in box time on 17 infractions. The Stars drew seven penalties for 22 minutes.

Jordan Mowbray scored the game-tying goal with nine seconds left in regulation on a disputed play in which the Stars’ net was dislodged from its moorings as the puck crossed the goal line. Gardiner says it’s just part of the game.

“I’m not going to worry about that because it’s out of our control,” he said. “It’s done and there’s nothing we can do about it. When you look at the big picture, we have every reason to be proud of our effort and our conduct.”

In the shootout, Texas goalie Troy Redmann stopped all but one shot -- Travis Paeth’s – while Karl Sellan, Derek Danowski and Tom Brooks each found twine for the Tornado.

The Stars finish up a busy weekend on Sunday, hosting the Team USA Under-17 squad in a 1 p.m. matinee. They’ll be back at Centre ICE arena again next weekend, playing host to the Mahoning Valley Phantoms on Friday and Saturday.

Saginaw tops Sarnia Saturday, 4-1

The Saginaw Spirit regained a share of first place in the OHL West Division with Saturday's 4-1 win over the Sarnia Sting at home.

The Spirit win coupled with Plymouth's shootout loss to London means the teams are tied with 63 points atop the West. The Spirit have a game in hand on the Whalers. Idle Windsor fell into third place with 62 points.

Tom Pyatt (pictured) scored twice with Michal Birner and Patrick Asselin adding singles.

Spirit goalie Ryan Daniels made 28 saves in the game.

Saginaw's record improves to 31-26-1-0. The Spirit resume action today at 2:00 p.m. versus Plymouth.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Alpena smoked by USA Under-17 Team

Ross Enmark scored twice, but the Alpena IceDiggers lost big to the U.S. Under-17 Team on Saturday night, 11-3 at the Northern Lights Arena.

Justin Stadler also scored and Erik Peterson added two assists for Alpena (9-33-5). Johnny Morrow finished with 36 saves.

The IceDiggers host Cleveland this weekend.

North Stars get 'biggest win we’ve had'

The Texas Tornado was slowed to a dull breeze on Friday at Centre ICE arena, as the host Traverse City North Stars scored a 7-4 triumph over the reigning two-time North American Hockey League champions.

Travis Paeth (pictured) led the charge for the Stars with three goals and an assist, including the game-winning tally near the halfway mark of the third period. It was the second straight win for Traverse City, which has piled up 16 goals over that time, and was the biggest victory in the franchise’s brief history.

“To this point, yes, it was the biggest win we’ve had,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “To knock off the champs in front of our own fans, it was awesome. We outplayed them in the first and the third, but they dominated us in the second, so it was great to see our guys come back for that final period and respond the way they did.”

The North Stars (15-29-5) raced to an early 3-0 lead on goals from Jon Madden (46 seconds in), Gaylord product Joe St. John (7:46) and Paeth (10:39) before the visitors answered with an Andrew Harrison goal with 3:39 remaining before the first intermission.

Karl Sellan scored twice and Brett Blatchford added another for Texas in the second stanza, as the hosts fell behind for the first time with 21 minutes left in the contest. But Jared Mullen knotted the affair a mere 20 seconds into the third, and Paeth recorded the decisive marker at 10:50. Jarrett Rush and Paeth added empty netters in the waning minutes to send nearly 800 fans away delighted.

“It was great, and great because it was Texas,” said Paeth, who leads the North Stars with 19 goals on the year. “When we get that first goal like we did the last two games, we’re a whole new team. We have to do that more often.”

The contest was marred by 27 penalties for 82 minutes, including a 10-minute scrum at 11:03 of the first period. Gardiner says that he was pleased to see his players remain as calm as possible amid a flurry of infractions for both squads.

“I’m glad we were able to keep our composure as well as we did,” Gardiner explained. “They tried to change the game to their style of play, but we were able to bring it back to our style of game and to stay away from the nonsense.”

Despite a rough patch that saw the North Stars drop seven straight, Gardiner says his club is beginning to come around mentally.

“We were snakebit for so long, and you keep telling the guys – to a point where I think it was wearing on them to hear it – that you just keep working hard and the breaks can go your way. Hopefully, this is starting to register.”

Patrick Nagorsen led a bevy of Stars who drew assists on the night with a pair of helpers, with former Tornado Eric Elmblad, Rush, Madden, Jonathan Juliano, Matt Larke, Richie Zobak and Traverse City native Jake Erway collecting an assist apiece.

Ryan Donovan backstopped TC to the win, raising his personal record to 5-9-2 with 26 saves on 30 shots. Matt DiGirolamo was tagged with the loss for Texas, stopping 23 of the 30 shots he saw.

The teams square off again on Saturday, as the North Stars will try to make it two straight over the defending champs before the Team USA Under-17 squad comes to Centre ICE for a Sunday matinee.

“It’s our biggest win, and we’ll enjoy it tonight, but we have to go right back to work tomorrow,” Gardiner added.

Whalers double Otters, 4-2, Friday night

Evan Brophey’s 15th goal of the season at 5:10 of the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and the Plymouth Whalers went on to defeat the Erie Otters, 4-2, Friday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

The victory moves Plymouth (29-24-1-3) into a tie at the top of the OHL West Division with the Windsor Spitfires (28-25-3-3), who lost Friday, 5-3, in Sault Ste. Marie. The Whalers and Spitfires both have 62 points, but Plymouth has one more victory than Windsor. Saginaw was idle Friday and stands at 30-26-1-0.

Erie is now five points behind Sault Ste. Marie for the final playoff spot in the OHL’s Western Conference.

Joe Gaynor, James Neal and Gino Pisellini also scored for Plymouth.

Justin Peters stopped 35 of 37 Erie shots as the game’s second star.

Plymouth is back in action Saturday night against the London Knights at 7:30 p.m. at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Action photo by Walt Dmoch.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Saginaw wins No. 30, jump to 2nd in West

The Saginaw Spirit reached a new milestone Thursday night with a 5-1 victory over the Erie Otters at home. The Spirit won their 30th game and took sole possession of second place in the OHL West, jumping over the idle Plymouth Whalers.

The Windsor Spitfires beat the Sarnia Sting, 7-3, to remain in first place.

Vaclav Meidl (pictured) and Tom Pyatt each tallied a goal and two assists for the Spirit (30-26-1-0).

Michal Birner, captain Patrick McNeill and Chris Chappell also scored to back Spirit goalie Francois Thuot's 38 saves in the effort, earning the game's first star.

The Spirit resume action Saturday night at 7:11 p.m. at the Dow Event Center when Sarnia comes to town. It's also Country Night, courtesy 98 FM WKCQ, with national recording artist Shannon Brown performing the national anthem and in the Bud Light Blue Line Club.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

IceDiggers to hold 1st Annual "Tip-The-Team"

The Alpena IceDiggers are trading in their pads and sticks for aprons and towels for the 1st Annual "Tip-The-Team" Night. The event is to be held Thursday, March 2 from 5-8 p.m. at the Twin Acres 19th Hole in Alpena.

This event is going to feature current IceDiggers players as servers, greeters and bus boys.

All "tips" for the evening will be donated to the Alpena Hockey Association to award one youngster the IceDigger Hockey Scholarship and give that recipient the chance to be a part of the Alpena Hockey Association's 2006-07 season.

"This is a great opportunity for the community to come out and see the players outside of their uniforms and in a fun, relaxing environment and enjoy some great food," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "It's also a great opportunity to give a possible future IceDigger a chance to play hockey, when he or she maybe had no other chance."

The scholarship will be used to help offset the cost of dues for the Alpena Hockey Association membership.

Any tips given directly to 'Digger players or donated at the door will be used for the scholarship. Players will also be available for pictures and autographs. The 19th Hole will donate 10 percent of all sales back to the IceDiggers scholarship fund to help benefit youth hockey.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dearborn's Fanto makes college choice

Omaha Lancers forward Nick Fanto, a Dearborn native, will remain in Omaha next season to play for Nebraska-Omaha of the CCHA.

Fanto, 19, pledged to UNO on Monday, becoming the 13th player from the Lancers' franchise to sign with the Mavericks.

"It just kind of happened in the last couple of weeks," Fanto told the Omaha World Herald. "I've been here in Omaha for two years and the town is great. The team is doing really well and I wanted to be a part of it."

Fanto, a second-year forward who was voted one of three assistant team captains, selected UNO over an offer from Western Michigan.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder plays a physical game. Points haven't come in bunches for Fanto, who has scored nine goals after collecting 10 a year ago, but he's been getting attention in other areas.

"Nick Fanto has turned a corner for us in the last two months," Lancers coach-GM Mike Hastings said in the same Herald story. "On and off the rink he's become very responsible. His best hockey is ahead of him, especially with the work he'll be doing with (UNO's strength coach) David Noonan."

Fanto stood out so much in Omaha's 5-2 loss to Indiana on Friday night that he was named the second star of the game despite not burying a goal or an assist.

"I'm just making a push for the playoffs and playing as hard as I can every shift," added Fanto.

As part of next year's freshman class, Fanto will be joining former Lancer Mick Lawrence on the UNO roster. He'll also be reacquainting with Brandon Scero, from Canton, who played against Fanto before junior hockey.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Spirit fall to Knights Sunday afternoon

The Saginaw Spirit wrapped up a four-point weekend with Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Western Conference-leading London Knights in Saginaw.

The Spirit move to 29-26-1-0 with 59 points, a point behind idle Plymouth for second place in the OHL's West Division.

Zack Torquato (pictured) scored a pair and Michal Birner added the other for Saginaw. Goalie Francois Thuot had 28 saves in the effort.

Saginaw resumes action Thursday at 7:11 p.m. versus the Erie Otters at the Dow Event Center.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Black Bears beat Abitibi Saturday night

Four different players scored as the Northern Michigan Black Bears upended the Abitibi Eskimos, 4-2, Saturday night at Big Bear Arena.

Derek Stabile, Justin Dickinson, Isaac Viau and Anthony Perdicaro scored to back Elliott Hogue's 14 saves in net.

The Bears host the Soo Thunderbirds Friday night.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Whalers stay in first, top Guelph Saturday

The Plymouth Whalers snatched a victory from the jaws of defeat and in doing so, remain in first place in the OHL’s West Division.

Chris Terry’s seventh goal of the season with 3:15 left snapped a 4-4 tie and the Whalers went on to defeat the Guelph Storm, 6-4, before 3,066 at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Plymouth (28-24-1-3) needed the victory to stay in the first place in the OHL West. Saginaw (29-25-1-0) defeated Windsor (26-24-3-3), 7-3, on Saturday night as the OHL West Division continues to be tight.

Trailing 3-0 at one point in the second period and 3-1 after forty minutes of play, the Whalers tied the game in the third period on power-play goals by John Armstrong and Mike Letizia (pictured). Plymouth then took their first lead of the game on another power-play goal, this time by Steve Ward. Guelph tied the game on a power-play goal by Ryan Parent at 13:42, but Terry scored the game-winning goal 3:03 later when he skated in to Guelph zone on the right wing and snapped a shot by Storm goaltender Jason Guy.

Guelph head coach Dave Barr pulled Guy with in the final minute of play for the extra attacker and Guelph’s Rafael Rotter rang a shot off the cross bar. But Letizia picked up a loose puck at the hash marks in his own zone and scored on the empty net to give Plymouth a two-goal cushion.

After a scoreless first period, Guelph led 3-1 in the second period on goals by Jason Pitton, Matt D’Agostini and captain Ryan Callahan. Andrew Fournier started the Plymouth comeback at 8:43 of the second period.

That set the stage for the third period and the Plymouth victory.

Justin Peters stopped 33 shots for the win in goal.

The top of the OHL West Division could change again Sunday. The Whalers are idle, but Saginaw hosts London and Windsor plays in Mississauga.

Plymouth is home next weekend, hosting Erie Friday and London Saturday. The Whalers will then play in Saginaw next Sunday.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Saginaw rips Spitfires, 7-3, Saturday night

The Saginaw Spirit leapfrogged the Windsor Spitfires into second place in the OHL's West Division by beating Windsor, 7-3, Saturday night in Saginaw.

Jack Combs (pictured) and Tom Pyatt each scored twice for Saginaw and captain Patrick McNeill, Ryan Berard and Ryan McDonough also tallied to back Francois Thuot's 22-save performance.

Zack Torquato pitched in with three assists and Jamie Klie added a pair.

Saginaw hosts London tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.

Saginaw beats Sarnia, 3-2, at 19:59

The Saginaw Spirit downed division rival Sarnia on a last-second goal Friday night, 3-2. The Spirit victory takes Saginaw within a point of the West Division lead with 14 games remaining in the regular season.

Saginaw struck first in the first period, on the power play, when forward Zack Torquato hit defenseman Tyson Gimblett off a faceoff, for Gimblett's third goal of the season. The Sting equalized five minutes later on a goal from defenseman Mark Katic.

Sarnia took a 2-1 lead in the second period, when winger Harrison Reed scored at 7:19.

But Saginaw tied the game 2-2 early in the third period. Spirit defenseman Tommy Mannino, in his first game since returning from an October injury, scored at 3:37 from Jesse Gimblett and Jack Combs. The Spirit held the Sting scoreless, but after killing a penalty in the final three minutes of the game, turned around and scored at the last second to take the 3-2 win in regulation. Spirit captain Patrick McNeill hit forward Michal Birner (pictured) for the game-winner at 19:59.

Spirit goalie Francois Thuot made 34 saves in the effort.

The win takes Saginaw's record to 28-25-1-0, with 57 points. The Spirit resume action Saturday at 7:11 p.m. at the Dow Event Center. It's 70's night, with fun and prizes for fans in costume, and a visit from the Hanson Brothers from the movie "Slap Shot."

Whalers decimated in Owen Sound

Owen Sound got two goals each from Derek Brochu, Scott Tregunna and Marek Bartanus and a single for Jeff Moor in a 7-0 shutout of the Plymouth Whalers Friday night before 2,484 at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Arena in Owen Sound.

The Attack led 2-0 after one period and 3-0 after forty minutes.

Justin Garay started in goal for Plymouth and was lifted in the third period after Owen Sound made it 6-0. Jeremy Smith went the rest of the way. Garay stopped 28 of 34 shots; Smith two of three. Justin Peters will be back in goal tonight for the Whalers after serving an OHL-mandated two-game suspension for a fight with London goalie Adam Dennis last Friday night.

Owen Sound goaltender Michael Ouzas stopped all 26 Plymouth shots for his third shutout of the season.

Plymouth (27-24-1-3) remains in a first place tie in the OHL West with Windsor.

The Whalers host the Guelph Storm tonight at 7:30 p.m.

IceDiggers blank North Stars, 4-zip

Let the playoff chase begin.

In the first of six down-the-stretch meetings between the Traverse City North Stars and Alpena IceDiggers, goalie Johnny Morrow pitched a shutout on Friday, helping the host Diggers to a 4-0 victory at Northern Lights Arena.

A Drew Pierson goal just :43 into the contest, and a pair of tallies a mere 39 seconds apart late in the opening period set the stage for Alpena's fifth victory against the Stars this season heading into Saturday night's rematch at Centre ICE arena in Traverse City.

"The bottom line tonight was that we had our chances and couldn't make 'em count," said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. "You can't put a goose egg up on the board and win a hockey game."

Erik Peterson tacked on a third period goal after the teams battled to a draw in the second stanza, but it was the first 20 minutes of action that settled things on the scoreboard. Alpena peppered TC goalkeep Jeremy Kaleniecki with 26 shots prior to the first intermission, with Pierson, Korey O'Brien (16:04) and Justin Stadler (16:43) giving the home club more than would be required to emerge with a pair of points on Friday.

"I thought we played well in the second and third (periods), but we keep saying that you can't show up and play just 40 minutes," Gardiner added. "We came out flat, we gave up three early goals, and we didn't get a single goal of our own. You're not going to win a lot of games that way."

Kaleniecki made 42 saves but was tagged with the loss, falling to 10-20-3. Morrow faced 31 Stars chances, and turned each aside.

The Diggers, now 9-31-5 and only eight points behind Traverse City (13-29-5) in the chase for the final playoff spot in the North American Hockey League's North Division, will square off against the North Stars again tonight in TC. Face-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Morrow photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

CONFIRMED: Rangers officially join NAHL

David Saint Onge, president and general manager of the Marquette Rangers, left, and Michael Santos, North American Hockey League commissioner, display a Rangers sweatshirt prior to a press conference this morning at Lakeview Arena in Marquette. (Mining Journal photo by Andy Nelson-Zaleski)

The North American Hockey League has announced that its Board of Governors has granted a membership in the NAHL to a team that will operate in Marquette, Michigan, beginning with the 2006-07 season.

The team will be called the Marquette Rangers ( and will play out of the 3,100 seat Lakeview Arena in Marquette.

The Marquette Rangers will be managed by three principals. David Saint-Onge will serve as president and general manager. Mr. Saint-Onge has an extensive business background and serves as president of TriMedia Consultants, Inc., a multi-disciplined professional service firm with offices in Michigan, Wisconsin and Montana.

Rich Tegge will serve as vice president and director of hockey operations. Mr. Tegge is a wealth manager with Salomon-Smith Barney.

Brad Layzell will serve the team as vice president and director of player development. A former 1991 NHL Entry Draft selection of the Montreal Canadiens (fifth round, 100th overall), four-year player at RPI and member of the Canadian National Team, Mr. Layzell will bring an established professional playing record to the Rangers and will be instrumental in developing the team’s players.

“The NAHL is very pleased and excited to welcome Marquette as its 21st member,” said Michael Santos, commissioner and president of the NAHL. “Marquette is truly hockey country, with a great tradition of youth, high school and collegiate hockey. The Rangers will have an excellent facility and a great fan base upon which to draw. With the league’s roots in Michigan, the NAHL is glad to return another team to the state. We firmly believe Marquette will be an excellent member club in the NAHL.”

“This announcement culminates a three-year period of evaluation, investigation and organization,” said Saint-Onge. “Marquette is a wonderful community with large city amenities and small town service. With our facility being in close proximity to the brand new YMCA complex and Northern Michigan University, our players will be afforded an outstanding opportunity to develop and succeed.

“The team will have dedicated locker rooms and office space, and will have great off-ice training facilities. The players who choose to play here will find Marquette provides the perfect opportunity to advance their careers.”

The Rangers management team is currently reviewing coaching candidates and hopes to announce selection of a head coach by late February.


The Rangers team colors will be steel blue, nickel grey, and copper.

The Rangers web address is

Their mailing address is:
Marquette Rangers Hockey Club
Lakeview Arena
401 East Fair Avenue
Marquette, MI 49855

The Rangers team logo has been designed by the designer of the NAHL’s North Iowa Outlaws logo, which has enjoyed an outstanding debut season on North Iowa team merchandise.

Marquette is a proven ‘hockey town.’ It currently supports an extensive youth hockey travel program (over 550 players), a highly respected high school hockey program (four state championships), a nationally recognized Midget Major AAA program (Marquette Electricians) and the NCAA Division I Northern Michigan University Wildcats (1991 NCAA Champions).

Marquette is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, on the southern shore of Lake Superior. With a rich European and Scandinavian heritage, the area was originally populated as a result of rapid expansion of the iron ore mining industry. Marquette is home to Northern Michigan University (enrollment of approximately 10,000 students), Marquette General Hospital (a regional medical facility with an employment in excess of 2,900), and is the county seat of Marquette County, with a local population exceeding 40,000.

Click here for the story from the Mining Journal.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Whalers in first after beating Knights, Colts

The Plymouth Whalers are back in first place in the OHL West after two wins last weekend and two Saginaw losses.

Friday night in London, Plymouth's three Chicago-area natives all scored in a 3-0 win. Jared Boll, Gino Pisellini and Mike Letizia tallied for Plymouth in a game maybe most remembered for a Justin Peters-Adam Dennis goalie fight at center ice early in the third period.

Until that point, Peters made 31 saves. Justin Garay played the last 14:35 and made two saves.

Derek Merlini, Pisellini, Evan Brophey and Peters all received two-game suspensions for their roles in the brawl capped by the goalie tilt.

Saturday night at home, Plymouth got out to a 3-0 lead and held on for a 3-2 win over Barrie. Captain John Vigilante, Andrew Fournier (pictured above) and James Neal scored for the Whalers while Garay made 37 saves for his first win since November.

The Whalers put just 16 shots on Colts' netminder Dan LaCosta.

Plymouth (27-23-1-3) is in Owen Sound Friday night and back home Saturday to play Guelph.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

Black Bears top Sudbury, 4-2

After snapping their two-game losing streak Wednesday against the Soo Thunderbirds, the Northern Michigan Black Bears now have a two-game winning streak after a 4-2 win Friday night at home against the Sudbury Jr. Wolves.

Derek Stabile tallied a hat trick for Northern Michigan while adding an assist on Steve Kruszewski's goal. Tony Stoehr made 17 stops in net for the Bears.

Northern Michigan (24-12-6) hosts Abitibi on Saturday.

Spirit fall in Ottawa, Kingston

Maybe last weekend was a reality check for the Saginaw Spirit.

After losing in Peterborough Thursday night, the Spirit lost in Ottawa on Friday night and in Kingston Saturday night. Saginaw is now in third place in the OHL West after the Plymouth Whalers beat both London Friday and Barrie Saturday. Saginaw was in first place heading into the weekend.

The Ottawa game, a 4-1 loss, was marred by a brawl in the third period that saw Saginaw defenseman Scott Fletcher (pictured) leave the bench to jump Ottawa rookie Logan Couture. Elgin Reid then hopped the 67's bench to protect Couture and fight Fletcher. Suspensions await.

Jamie Klie scored Saginaw's lone goal and Francois Thuot stopped 35 shots for the Spirit.

Then Saturday night, captain Patrick McNeill, Michal Birner and Tom Pyatt scored in the 7-3 loss. Ryan Daniels finished with 39 saves.

Saginaw (27-25-1-0) heads to Sarnia on Friday to take on the Sting and then return home Saturday to face the second-place Windsor Spitfires.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Alpena takes three of four points vs. Blues

The Alpena IceDiggers recorded three of four points this weekend versus the Springfield Jr. Blues at Northern Lights Arena.

In the opener on Friday night, Springfield was able to get out of NLA with two points after the IceDiggers let a three-goal lead get away from them in the third period. Jeff Miller led the IceDiggers Friday night on the scoresheet with a goal and two assists as the IceDiggers lost, 4-3, in a shootout. Drew Pierson and Ross Enmark added goals and Johnny Morrow made 31 stops in net.

On Saturday night, it was all Alpena as they jumped out to a four-goal lead after 40 minutes. Only this time the 'Diggers would not waste a 40-minute effort and walk away with the first IceDiggers shutout. Enmark and Erik Peterson led the way offensively and Morrow turned aside 30 shots.

Alpena returns to action with a Friday night contest against the Traverse City North Stars at Northern Lights Arena. The IceDiggers will be wearing special NASCAR jerseys. Game time is set for 7:00 p.m.

Phantoms pound North Stars, 8-1

The well-oiled triumvirate of Anthony Ciraulo, Drew Satterly and Marc Menzione was in fifth gear on Saturday night at Centre ICE arena, as the trio accounted for five goals and 10 points overall to lead Mahoning Valley to a resounding 8-1 victory over the Traverse City North Stars.

Satterly led the Phantoms with three goals and an assist, including powerplay efforts in the first and third period, and a deflating unassisted tally just :14 into the final stanza. His first period goal was the lone marker of the first 25 minutes of the contest before Menzione and Chris Fairbanks made it 3-0 with second period goals that came a mere 1:17 apart. Both came on the Phantoms powerplay after Traverse City forward Eric Elmblad was assessed a kneeing major and ejection at 3:33 after a seemingly innocuous collision.

“We actually outplayed them before that,” Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. We were skating right with ’em. But their first three came on the powerplay, and the (Elmblad) penalty really changed the complexion of the game right there.”

Satterly’s two third period goals made it 6-0 before Patrick Nagorsen got the host Stars on the board at 7:48. Jake Erway and Steve Hackman assisted the Nagorsen power-play tally – his 14th of the season. Bret Larson (14:30) and Matt Quigley (18:02) closed out the scoring, sending TC to a sixth consecutive defeat.

Ryan Donovan stopped 30 shots, while his Mahoning Valley counterpart, Bryce Merriam, made 27 saves.

The Phantoms’ four-point weekend put them in a second place tie with Cleveland in the North Division standings at 27-14-4, just four points behind the first place U.S. National Team Development Program.

With Alpena’s 4-0 victory over visiting Springfield (Ill.), the Stars (13-28-5) and IceDiggers (8-31-5) are separated by just 10 points in the race for the fourth and final playoff berth in the North Division. The teams face off next weekend in a Friday-Saturday home-and-home series that kicks off a month of frequent clashes between the intrastate rivals.

“This loss and their win just makes the Alpena series just that much more important,” Gardiner said. “The next weekend is huge, but we’re up 10 points with six more meetings with them, so we really do control our own destiny to get in.”

Friday, February 10, 2006

Phantoms best North Stars, 5-2

Suffering from what head coach/GM Scott Gardiner described as a “lack of mental readiness,” the Traverse City North Stars put themselves in an early 3-0 hole on Friday at Centre ICE area, and couldn’t fully recover, suffering a 5-2 setback to the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

The Stars were able to bounce back from the three-goal deficit and make it a 3-2 contest on a pair of unassisted Richie Zobak tallies near the middle of the second stanza, but Phantoms goalie Ryan Zapolski slammed the door on the hosts, sending them to a fifth straight defeat.

“I just don’t feel like we were mentally ready tonight,” Gardiner explained. “I mean, we made huge mental mistakes that cost us goals. We’ve preached being sharp in our own end of the ice, and we didn’t come out and play that way in the early going tonight.”

Marc Menzione got things going for the Phantoms (26-14-4) a mere 2:24 into the affair, and Mike Maltese (14:04) and Dennis Urban (17:56) pushed it to a 3-0 Mahoning Valley bulge heading into the first intermission. Drew Satterly and Anthony Ciraulo drew a pair of assists each for the visitors in the first 20 minutes of play.

Zobak was the show in the second stanza, recording his second and third goals of the season at 10:36 and 12:20, respectively, to make it a one-goal contest until late in the third period. That’s when John Kivisto cinched it with a powerplay effort at 14:51, and Urban logged his second lamplighter less than two minutes to play to send the nearly 800 Stars fans home with an ‘L’.

“It seems like we can’t buy a goal, we can’t buy a break right now,” Gardiner opined. “Having said that, it’s true that you create your own luck, your own breaks, and we just didn’t do that tonight. I have to give Zapolski credit, though – he made some huge saves at the right times tonight, and we couldn’t solve him when we had to.”

Jeremy Kaleniecki worked the net for the North Stars, making 32 saves, while Zapolski stopped 30 of the 32 shots he saw. The Phantoms enjoyed a 37-32 shot advantage, including a 10-5 edge in the final period.

“We did show some heart to battle back like that, but we just couldn’t finish the job,” Gardiner said. “There a games where you can will yourself to win, and we just couldn’t do that tonight.”

The teams face off again on Saturday in a 7:30 p.m. rematch at Centre ICE arena.


The NAHL family regularly dedicates time, effort and funds to assist others who have been less fortunate, through disaster, disease or social distress.

Now it is helping one of its own.

Helena Bighorns coach Brent Agrusa has been ill since this past summer, suffering from an unusual combination of viruses that has left him not only unable to coach, but unable to function normally. At times, Brent has been bedridden as his doctors tirelessly searched for diagnosis and treatment.

“Brent has seen numerous doctors and has had several test to try and determine his illness,” says Bighorns president Mike Butters.

Brent’s visit to a respected doctor, to whom Agrusa was referred by the Mayo Clinic, has produced a complicated diagnosis and course of treatment.

“Here is what we know,” says Butters. “Brent has the following: Chronic EBV Virus, Chronic CMV Virus, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Rheumatic Fever. But Brent’s anti-viral drug treatments are currently costing him $3,000 per month."

Agrusa has been taking a number of experimental drugs prescribed by his doctor and these drugs seem to be having a positive effect. But his health insurance does not cover these treatments and his costs for the drugs and for related expenses have spiraled greatly.The medical costs Brent and his family have had to bear now exceed $80,000.

He has been fortunate to have received assistance from the Bighorns, from the Central States Hockey League (where he coached prior to the NAHL) and from a number of concerned friends.

But Brent still owes over $66,000.

So the hockey community is being asked to assist Coach Agrusa -- and the NAHL has stepped up to help raise money to defray his costs.

“I greatly appreciate the concern and assistance given to me and my family since I’ve been ill,” Agrusa said from his home in Michigan, where he continues to receive treatment. “ I want to thanks to the hockey community for their support -- and especially my friends in the NAHL. It is wonderful news that you will be assisting me.”

At a recent NAHL Board of Governors meeting, Butters briefed his fellow owners on Brent’s situation and appealed to them for help. NAHL commissioner Michael Santos has also issued an appeal to the teams and to friends and fans of the Helena Bighorns and the entire NAHL to assist Brent at this difficult time.

“Please keep Brent in your thoughts and prayers,” said Santos.

At Santos’ direction, the NAHL has established a fund for Brent Agrusa to which the NAHL community can donate whatever they can to help the Bighorns coach return to health and his profession.

These donations should be sent to:

The Brent Agrusa Fund
c/o Mark Rule & Co.
ATT: Suzie Hall
926 South Arizona
Butte, MT 59701

Please make your check or money order payable to the “North American Hockey League” with a notation that it is a “Donation to Brent Agrusa.”

The NAHL, the Helena Bighorns and the Agrusa family sincerely thank you.

Spirit, Whalers both lose Thursday

The only thing that changed in the West Division standings last night was Windsor gaining two points on both the first-place Saginaw Spirit and second-place Plymouth Whalers.

The Spitfires, behind a 28-save shutout from goalie Anthony Guadagnolo, beat the Whalers, 2-0, at Windsor Arena. Justin Peters was sharp in making 35 saves for Plymouth.

Meanwhile in Peterborough, the hometown Petes beat the Spirit, 6-1. Chris Chappell scored the lone Saginaw goal and Ryan Daniels stopped 39 shots for Saginaw.

Plymouth is in London tonight while Saginaw visits Ottawa.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

North Stars home for stretch run

Centre ICE to host 11 of team’s final 14 games

The Traverse City North Stars have played their share of tough road trips throughout the team’s first season in the North American Hockey League, and now get to reap the benefits of back-loading the home portion of the schedule starting tonight at Centre ICE arena against the Mahoning Valley Phantoms. The Stars, coming off a grueling four-day swing through Texas, will play 11 of their next 14 contests at home, and the only remaining road games are in nearby Alpena.

“We’re here, pretty much for the rest of the regular season,” Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. “All of our big trips are out of the way and now we can settle into a routine and get some serious practice time in as we head toward the playoffs.”

The Stars (13-26-5) are currently in fourth place in the NAHL north Division, leading fifth-place Alpena by 13 points. The top four team in each division qualify for postseason play. Traverse City plays the Phantoms (25-14-4) four times, the first place Team USA U-17/18s once each, and the NAHL champion Texas Tornado in a two-game set at Centre ICE on Feb. 23-24. The remaining six outings pit the Stars and IceDiggers against each other in the chase for the final playoff berth.

“We need to pick off some of these points that are out there on the home schedule,” Gardiner explained. “We have to try to put some distance between us and Alpena.”

The distancing process can begin tonight at Centre ICE arena against the Phantoms, but the Mahoning Valley players will likely have revenge on their minds after the North Stars prevailed in the teams’ last meeting – a 4-3 shootout on Jan. 28. Traverse City will get back two front-line scorers in Joe Schweiger (shoulder) and Ryan Bond (concussion), but will be without defensemen Jarrett Rush (ankle) and Steven Oleksy (one-game suspension). Fellow blue-liner Arthur Bidwill could also miss action with a back problem.

“That Texas trip beat us up a little bit, but it will be good to get those scorers back,” Gardiner added.

For now, Gardiner and the Stars will settle into a weekly rhythm that should yield positive results in the postseason should the team hang onto its foothold on the No. 4 seed in the North.

“We’ll get to work on the things we haven’t been able to do a lot with lately,” Gardiner said. “We’ll continue to work on our own zone, but we’ll get to the powerplay and penalty kill, which have been dismal at times. Now that we’re home, there’s just more time to do all those things and make a run at the playoffs. Once we get there, anything can happen.”

Marquette Rangers invading NAHL?

As the newest member of the North American Hockey League (NAHL), the Marquette Rangers are excited to have the opportunity to play in the upcoming 2006/07 season.

Located on the southern shore of Lake Superior, Marquette continues to prove itself as the quintessential hockey town.

We'll play our games in the friendly confines of Lakeview Arena and promise to give every spectator and visiting team a heck of a game.

Keep an eye on us as we prepare for our inaugural campaign in just a few short months!

For more information, call Marquette GM David Saint-Onge at (906) 360-5076.

IceDiggers to don NASCAR jerseys

The Alpena IceDiggers have announced that they will be wearing special event NASCAR jerseys on Feb. 17 against the Traverse City North Stars.

The jerseys represent the affiliation that the IceDiggers have with Lafarge and the kickoff of the NASCAR season. The IceDiggers have received a tremendous amount of support from their local sponsors and this is a way to show support to one of those sponsors.

"I would like to thank the folks at Lafarge for helping us with the design of the jerseys," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "What a great look and way for a fan to get his or her favorite players' jersey at the live auction after the game."

The special event jerseys will be auctioned off after the game with a live auctioneer. The bidding will start at $70.00 for each jersey.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Armstrong's hatter leads Whalers past 67's

John Armstrong's first OHL hat trick led the Plymouth Whalers over the Ottawa 67's, 4-2, Sunday afternoon in Ottawa.

The Whalers came into the game with only two wins in their past 10 contests and had scored only six goals in their previous five outings.

Plymouth captain John Vigilante also scored for the Whalers, who took four of six points this weekend.

"Well, I've been working hard and they just kept coming," Armstrong, a second-year centre who broke an 11-game goal-less drought, told the Canadian Press. "(Scoring) was just relieving to everybody. We've been getting lots of shots, but they haven't been going in the back of the net. Once we got the first couple, I could see in the room that everybody was more confident."

Justin Peters made 28 saves in goal as Plymouth (25-22-1-3) rebounded from a 4-1 defeat a night earlier in Belleville.

Plymouth is now one point out of first place in the OHL West behind the idle Saginaw Spirit.

The Whalers play in Windsor on Thursday and in London Friday before hosting Barrie Saturday night.

Armstrong photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

Northern Michigan falls to Manitoulin

Ryan Murtagh and Sean Farley each had a goal and an assist, but it wasn't enough as the Northern Michigan Black Bears suffered a 5-3 defeat at home to the Manitoulin Islanders Saturday night.

Justin Dickinson also scored for the Bears and Elliot Hogue made 24 stops.

Northern Michigan travels to play the Soo Thunderbirds Wednesday night.

Spirit, Whalers both lose Saturday

Both the Saginaw Spirit and Plymouth Whalers lost Saturday night as the West Division standings remain tight.

In Belleville, John Hughes registered a goal and two assists and Kevin Lalande made 40 saves to lead the hometown Bulls to a 4-1 win over the Whalers.

Matt Beleskey, former Whaler Cory Tanaka and Shawn Matthias added goals for the Bulls.

Captain John Vigilante replied for the Whalers (24-22-1-3) and Justin Garay, in his first start in nearly three months, made 27 saves in a losing effort.

Guelph captain Ryan Callahan scored twice and added an assist as the Storm edged Saginaw, 4-3, in Saginaw last night.

Mike McLean and Ryan Parent also scored for the Storm.

Ryan McDonough, Michal Birner and captain Patrick McNeill countered for the Spirit (27-22-1-0).

Ryan MacDonald made 23 saves for the win while Francois Thuot stopped 33 shots at the other end.

The Spirit remain in first place with 55 points and the Whalers remain three back. Windsor sits in third place with 50 points.

Plymouth plays in Ottawa this afternoon and Saginaw travels to Ottawa Friday night.

Tornado breeze past North Stars, 6-1

The Traverse City North Stars didn’t just go on a weeklong, four-game road trip through Texas, they went to school – call it ‘Junior U’. The team faced two of the top junior teams in the country in Texarkana and the two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado, and learned first-hand what it takes to rank among the best in the league.

On Saturday, the closing chapter in the Stars’ four-game Texas swing, the Tornado slammed home five goals in the first 20:55 of play and cruised to a 6-1 triumph over Traverse City at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter near Dallas.

“We went into this road trip hoping to see where we stood,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “I think what we learned is that in a two-game weekend we can play with these guys, but a four-game week is a little much to ask from anybody given the opponents.

“But it was a big learning experience for us, and we’re going to be better because of it. Our guys got to see things they hadn’t seen before. We learned where we need to be by April.”

After Andrew Harrison gave the hosts a 1-0 edge just 3:35 into the first period, Travis Paeth evened things up for Traverse City with his team-leading 14th goal of the season at 8:50 with TC on the powerplay. Devrin Stonehouse and Karl Sellan scored goals for the Tornado less than four minutes apart to close the first period before Sellan and Jordan Mowbray opened the second period with goals at :40 and :55 and the Stars found themselves in a 5-1 hole.

Harrison registered his second goal of the contest at 13:26 of the third period, making it a 6-1 final. Following the goal, Harrison was assessed a 10-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he grabbed the puck, skated to the North Stars bench and fired the puck at the Traverse City players.

Texas (32-9-3) was busy on the offensive end of the ice, peppering the TC tandem of Ryan Donovan and Jeremy Kaleniecki with 45 shots. Donovan made 13 saves, while Kaleniecki chipped in with 26 of his own. Texas netminder Troy Redmann wasn’t tested often – the North Stars (13-26-5) mustered just 14 shots on net, including two in the third period – but was up to the task when called upon.

Traverse City spent much of the final stanza shorthanded, having been assessed 27 minutes of box time that included 21 minutes to Steven Oleksy during one sequence with 8:11 to play.

Regardless of his team’s record on the Texas swing, Gardiner says he will continue to match his team against the best possible opposition.

“We’re not afraid to play anybody,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, we’re not afraid to measure ourselves against the best teams. That’s where we want to get, and we’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”

The Stars return to Centre ICE arena this weekend for a Friday-Saturday weekend series with Mahoning Valley. Traverse City last faced the Phantoms on Jan. 28, a contest won 4-3 in a shootout by the North Stars.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Spirit knock off Windsor in OT

Last night, the Windsor Spitfires and Saginaw Spirit showed why the West Division is still up for grabs.

Ryan McDonough tipped in the game-winner 1:11 into overtime as the Spirit beat the Spitfires, 7-6.

Zack Torquato put the Spirit up 1-0 after 20 minutes and then Jesse Gimblett and Ryan Berard (pictured) put the Spirit up 3-0 before the three-minute mark of the second period.

Bryan Bickell, on a two-man power play, and Saginaw captain Patrick McNeill would then exchange goals to make it 4-1.

The Spitfires managed to get back in the game when Jared Cipparone and Cal O'Reilly scored 12-seconds apart to make it 4-3.

Berard and McNeill twice put the Spirit up two goals in the third period, but Bickell and Iain McPhee countered.

Spirit goalie Francois Thuot stopped 20 shots in the effort.

The win takes first-place Saginaw's record to 27-21-1-0 on the season, with 55 points. The Spirit return to action tonight against the Guelph Storm. The Spirit will host a post-game autograph session and welcome former Red Wing great Ted Lindsay.

Lewicki leads Texarkana past North Stars

A rough-and-tumble road trip – and Aaron Lewicki – caught up with the Traverse City North Stars on Friday night at the Four States Entertainment Center. The Stars were caught flat-footed by a high-octane Texarkana offense and were saddled with an 8-2 loss helped along by Lewicki’s hat trick.

Traverse City dropped the third of its four-game Texas road trip, which winds up on Saturday night near Dallas against the North American Hockey League champion Tornado.

“We just flat ran out of gas,” admitted North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “We just didn’t have it. We had two hard games in a row and it really took a toll on us. We knew this trip was going to be tough, and it has lived up to that.”

The host Bandits (28-10-2) sprinted to an 8-0 lead behind the stellar goalkeeping of Riley Gill, who recently signed with Division I Western Michigan, and six different goal scorers: Pat Knowlton (3:25), Pat Maroon (14:56) and Lewicki (17:52) in the first period, and Casey Haines (:29), Anthony Becker (7:21) and Lewicki (16:13) in the second.

Lewicki (pictured), from Livonia, finished off the hat to open the third period (2:28) and Mike Leone made it an eight-goal rout 28 seconds later. Travis Paeth got the North Stars on the board with seven minutes to play, and Sal Ragusa capped the scoring with :37 left. Ryan Reid and Jonathan Juliano assisted on the Paeth goal, while Ragusa’s tally was unassisted.

Gill stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced, while Ryan Donovan (17 saves on 21 shots) and Jeremy Kaleniecki (24 shots faced, 20 saves) split time in net for Traverse City (13-24-5). Donovan was tagged with the loss despite working just one period and 30 seconds of another. The teams combined for 22 penalties totaling 68 minutes.

“We sort of limped into this one,” Gardiner added. “It’ll be nice to get some of our injured guys back like Joe Schweiger (shoulder) and Ryan Bond (concussion) when we get home, but it would be nice if we could go back to Texas and get two points out of this before we leave.”

Traverse City returns to Centre ICE next weekend for a Friday-Saturday tilt with Mahoning Valley following Saturday’s rematch with the Tornado.

Whalers snap losing streak, beat Fronts

Jared Boll’s second goal of the game at 7:51 of the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and the Plymouth Whalers defeated the Kingston Frontenacs, 3-2, Friday night before 2,213 at the Kingston Memorial Centre.

In winning, the Whalers snapped a five-game losing streak. Plymouth is now 24-21-1-3, in second place in OHL’s West Division. The Whalers kept pace with the first-place Saginaw Spirit (27-21-1-0), who defeated Windsor, 7-6 in overtime, on Friday night. Saginaw is in first place in the OHL West with 55 points, Plymouth is second with 52 and Windsor (22-23-3-2) is third with 50.

Besides Boll (pictured), rookie Chris Terry scored the other Plymouth goal. Blake Pronk and Todd Griffith scored for Kingston.

Ironically enough, the Whalers acquired Boll's rights from the Frontenacs last summer.

Kingston goaltender Danny Taylor stopped 38 shots as the game’s first star. Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters stopped 29 Kingston shots.

Boll’s game-winner came on an excellent effort by Plymouth center John Armstrong, who stayed with the puck in the Kingston zone and shot the puck from the left dot. Boll, stationed in front of the Kingston net, deflected the puck by Taylor.

Kingston pulled Taylor with 45 seconds left, but couldn’t find the equalizer.

Plymouth remains on the road Saturday in Belleville and Sunday in Ottawa.

Boll photo by Matt Mackinder.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Saginaw beaten in Windsor, 6-4

The Saginaw Spirit fell 6-4 to the Windsor Spitfires in Windsor Thursday night.

However, Saginaw maintained a three-point lead on first place in the OHL West Division over idle Plymouth.

Spirit forward Ryan McDonough's two goals gives him 68 points, tying the Spirit team record for points in a season set by former Spirit forward Nick Lees in the 2003-2004 season.

Windsor struck just 12 seconds into the first period when winger Bryan Bickell scored. Left wing Patrick Davis (Sterling Heights) scored just past the two-minute mark, making it 2-0 Windsor. Davis' second goal of the game made it 3-0 at 11:01 of the first. The Spitfires outshot Saginaw 22-10 in the first period.

Davis completed a power play in the seventh minute of the second to give Windsor a 4-0 lead. But Saginaw broke Windsor goalie Anthony Guadagnolo's shutout twenty seconds later when McDonough scored his first of two goals. Forward Tom Craig assisted. Windsor's Mickey Renaud made it 5-1 at 9:31 of the second to end the scoring for the period.

Saginaw cut into Windsor's lead early in the third period, when McDonough (pictured) scored from linemate Tom Pyatt and captain Patrick McNeill. Davis' fourth goal of the game extended Windsor's lead to 6-2. But Saginaw continued to chip away at the Spitfires lead.

Saginaw's Vaclav Meidl scored on the power play, from Ryan Berard and Jesse Gimblett, at 10:35 to make it 6-3. Gimblett then scored from Meidl three minutes later to make it 6-4 Windsor.

The Spirit challenged but could not catch Windsor the rest of the way.

Spirit goalie Ryan Daniels had 34 saves in the contest.

Saginaw's record moves to 26-21-1-0 on the season, in first place in the West and second place in the Western Conference. The Spirit resume action tonight versus Windsor at the Dow Event Center at 7:11 p.m.

Texas edges Traverse City, 4-3

For the second straight night, the Traverse City North Stars went blow-for-blow with one of the North American Hockey League’s best teams. And for the second straight night the Stars were outscored in the final 20 minutes to come away with a tough loss.

On Thursday, Traverse City fought to a 1-all draw through the first two-thirds of the contest at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter near Dallas, but a pair of goals over a span of 4:38 in the final stanza pushed the two-time defending NAHL champion Tornado to a 4-3 triumph. The night before in Texarkana, the Bandits hit for four third period goals in a 6-2 victory.

“But tonight we played three good periods ,” North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner explained. “Last night, we played two, but I was very happy with our effort tonight. It says we can compete with anyone on any given night – that’s what I take away from this.”

Despite being outshot by a whopping 17-3 count in the first period, the Stars got on the board first, as Eric Elmblad beat Texas goalkeep Matt DiGirolamo just 3:07 into the game. It was the second goal of the season for Elmblad, who spent 2004-05 with the Tornado. Patrick Nagorsen assisted.

Ryan Fuller evened things up for the hosts with the lone goal of the second period – at the 10:17 mark – on a power play, and the teams went to the second intermission break knotted at a goal apiece.

Texas (30-9-3) pulled ahead at 5:13 of the final session when Devrin Stonehouse converted a Tornado power play that capped a run of 10 unanswered shots on goal, but defenseman Jarrett Rush put the visiting Stars on even footing with his second goal of the season at 9:22 of the third. Sal Ragusa drew an assist on Rush’s even strength effort.

The tie lasted all of 29 seconds, however, as Nielsson Arcibal pushed the home club back in front – this time for good -- by a 3-2 margin with 10:09 to play. Jordan Mowbray slipped in a shorthanded empty-netter in the waning moments for Texas to make it a two-goal margin, but the North Stars wouldn’t go away. Nagorsen poked home his team-leading 13th goal with :48 left to make it a one-goal difference on the scoreboard.

Ryan Donovan drew the difficult assignment in net for Traverse City (13-24-5) when scheduled starter Jeremy Kaleniecki was took a puck to the throat in warm-ups and was driven to the hospital for tests. Donovan recorded 38 stops in 42 chances, while DiGirolamo faced just 18 shots and turned aside 15 of them.

“We played a good game tonight, but we have to follow that up with three periods of hard play again tomorrow night,” Gardiner said. “We have to finish the trip up strong and try to get out of here with some points.”

The North Stars return to Texarkana on Friday for a rematch with the Bandits before finishing up the four-game road trip back in Frisco for Saturday’s finale against the Tornado.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Black Bears stopped by Soo, 3-1

Derek Stabile gave the Northern Michigan Black Bears a 1-0 lead in the third period, but the Soo Thunderbirds rattled off three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 win at Big Bear Arena Wednesday night.

Tony Stoehr made 24 stops for the Black Bears, who play Manitoulin at home Saturday night.

North Stars dropped by Texarkana, 6-2

For two periods on Wednesday at the Four States Entertainment Center, the Traverse City North Stars battled Texarkana to a virtual draw, but a four-goal outburst in the final stanza gave the hosts a 6-2 victory and the visiting Stars opened their four-game road swing with a setback.

The Bandits outshot TC by a 42-29 margin, but it was the three-goal showing by Jason Weeks that proved to be the greatest of Texarkana’s difference-makers.

Weeks registered the lone goal of the opening period at 8:42 on an unassisted shorthanded effort, but the Stars issued a rejoinder a mere 33 seconds into the second stanza when Travis Paeth and Richie Zobak set up a Jonathan Juliano goal – his sixth of the year – with the North Stars on the powerplay. Just a minute and a half later, the host Bandits went back in front when Pat Knowlton answered the Juliano tally, but Traverse City evened things up again 27 ticks after Knowlton’s goal on Jared Mullen’s 12th of the season. Brett Englebright and Matt Larke drew assists for the North Stars.

The Bandits (28-10-2) took control of the affair in the third stanza with another flurry of lamplighters – three in a span of 5:55 on just four shots. Captain Casey Haines started things off for Texarkana 4:40 into the final session, followed by Aaron Lewicki less than a minute later. At 10:35 of the third, Weeks gave the hosts a three-goal cushion with his second goal of the evening. Weeks added an empty-netter with 1:25 to play to convert the hat trick.

Ryan Donovan, coming off his sterling performance against Mahoning Valley on Saturday, got the nod in net for the Stars and had 36 saves on 42 chances. Former Sault Ste. Marie prep star Miles Williams started for Texarkana and equaled Donovan with 27 stops.

Traverse City (13-23-5) travels to Frisco, Tex. on Thursday for the first-ever meeting with the North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado. The Stars return to Texarkana on Friday before heading back to the Dallas metroplex for another return engagement with the Tornado on Saturday.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Alpena announces first tender for '06-07

As the Alpena IceDiggers look to improve and grow in the 2006-2007 season, they are happy to announce their first commitment for next season as well.

Defenseman Chad Billins, from Marysville, will be donning an IceDiggers jersey next year as coach-GM Kenny Miller makes the first tender signing of his NAHL head coaching career.

"Chad is a very skilled defenseman who will definitely step in and become an impact player right away," Miller said. "He's the type of player that we are looking to add to our team for the '06-07 season. We are very happy that Chad has decided on Alpena."

"I am excited for the chance," Billins said. "And thankful for the opportunity to play at a higher level."

Billins, who turns 17 in May, has played 30 games this year for the Little Caesars midgets and has eight goals among 28 points since joining the team in early November.

North Stars visit Lone Star State

They say that things are bigger in Texas, so the Traverse City North Stars’ four-game swing through the Lone Star State must be the team’s biggest road trip of the year.

The mission? Go head-up with the two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado and the Texarkana Bandits, a team that North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner calls the “heir to the throne.”

“We knew what we were getting when we put these teams on the schedule,” Gardiner explained. “We wanted to play the best of the best and see right away as a first year team exactly how we measure up with them. It’s a big challenge to go on the road against two of the tops teams in two of the toughest buildings in junior hockey. We’ll find out a lot about ourselves.”

The champion Tornado sit atop the NAHL’s South Division with a 29-9-3 record, followed closely by the Bandits at 27-10-2. While Texarkana swept a two-game series at Centre ICE arena in November, most of the Stars will get their first peek at the Dallas area-based Texas club. One Traverse City player who has seen his share of Texas hockey is Josh Sorenson, who helped the team with the 2004-05 Robertson Cup before being dealt to the Stars early this season. TC defenseman-turned-forward Eric Elmblad also spent 2004-05 with the Dallas area-based Tornado.

“It’s like a totally professional atmosphere – you’re treated like royalty,” said Sorenson. “And it’s the best junior hockey building I’ve ever been in. It’s like another home away from home, and I loved every minute I was there.”

Texas leads the NAHL in attendance, averaging more than 3,200 fans per contest at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter – or better than 1,300 more than the next team on the list, Fairbanks. Texarkana is fifth in the NAHL at 1,484 per game.

“It’s a big deal down here, and it’s going to be a different kind of hockey – more physical than what we’re probably used to,” Gardiner added. “Frankly, I’m kind of curious myself to see what it’s all about.”

A trio of North Stars did not make the flight to Dallas, including Ryan Bond (concussion), Joe Schweiger (shoulder) and Mike Sand (illness). The players that did make the trip are in for quite an experience, Sorenson says.

“It’s an amazing place to play hockey. It’s different than anywhere else. It would be nice to come down here and get a win, and I hope we can pull it off.”

The North Stars (13-22-5) face off against the Bandits on Wednesday and Friday in Texarkana, and take on the Tornado in Thursday and Saturday contests. The team returns to Centre ICE arena Feb. 10-11 for a rematch against Mahoning Valley, who split with the Stars last weekend in Traverse City.

“We’re coming off one of our biggest wins of the year,” said Gardiner, referring to the club’s 4-3 shootout victory against the Phantoms on Saturday. “It would be nice if we could turn that into a good showing this week.”

WHO: Traverse City North Stars (13-22-5) vs. Texarkana Bandits (27-10-2) and Texas Tornado (29-9-3)
WHEN: Stars at Texarkana on Wed./Fri.; Stars at Texas Thu./Sat.
WHERE: Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, Tex. and Four States Entertainment Center in Texarkana
WHEN: Wed.: 8 p.m.; Thu./Sat.: 8:30 p.m.; Fri.: 8:05 p.m.; All times Eastern
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