Thursday, April 27, 2006

Letizia steps up early for IceHogs

By Reed Schreck

When rookie defenseman Mike Letizia joined the Rockford IceHogs just in time for the playoffs, he didn’t know what to expect.

Having played three games with the team, he now has figured out what he wants to happen.

“Hopefully, we can win (tonight) and then win the whole series at home Friday in front of our fans,” he said. “That would be nice for them.”

Game 4 is at 6:30 CDT tonight in Fort Wayne. Game 5 will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the MetroCentre. Rockford leads the best-of-seven United Hockey League quarterfinals 2-1.

Letizia, from Chicago, had a plus/minus of plus-6 going into Game 3, a 5-4 Komets victory on Tuesday. He collected his first professional goal that cut Fort Wayne’s lead at the time to 4-3.

“It didn’t do us justice in the end. We came out with a loss,” said Letizia, who notched two assists in the first two games of the series.

Rockford coach Steve Martinson figured he was getting a defenseman with multiple skills when he signed him to fill one of the two amateur slots for the postseason.

“He scored 13 goals in juniors (with the Plymouth Whalers), and it was my understanding he was a pretty heads-up, smart player,” he said. “When you get a lot of ice time, it usually means you’re good defensively. He’s used to playing a lot.

“I thought he’s been real smart. He’s moved the puck well. He’s been a big bonus.”

Letizia is pleased with his playing time, and with the way the team has accepted a newcomer.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” he said. “The guys are bigger, stronger, older.

“The guys on our team are pretty skilled, but I don’t know how they compare to the other teams in this league except for Fort Wayne.”

Martinson wants the whole team to play better defense tonight. He’s also anticipating an offensive breakout, at some point, from some of his scoring leaders.

“We’ve got two goals total from (Jason) Notermann, (Preston) Mizzi (played in Plymouth in 2001) and (Greg) Barber,” he said. “I don’t think they’re going to stay that quiet for the whole series.

“We’ve got to get more production out of those guys.”

Staff writer Reed Schreck can be reached at 815-987-1381 or

(Photo is circa 2001)

Tough guy Pisellini signs with Flyers

Plymouth Whalers’ 19-year-old right wing Gino Pisellini has signed an entry-level contract with the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers.

Terms of the agreement were not announced by the Flyers, who selected Pisellini in the fifth round (149th overall) of the 2004 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Philadelphia had to sign Pisellini by this summer’s 2006 NHL Entry Draft or relinquish his draft rights.

“We’re very happy for Gino,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’s worked very hard to develop into a good hockey player. He can be tough when needed and was one of our leaders. Gino was also one of best penalty killers this year and that’s a credit to his hard work.”

A native of Itasca, Ill., the Whalers selected Pisellini in the sixth round (116th overall) in the 2002 OHL Priority Selection. Pisellini started his Whaler career with a bang, scoring in his first two games Sept. 19-20, 2003.

Pisellini also established himself as one of the toughest players in the OHL during his rookie season, when he scored 15 goals with 15 assists for 30 points and 214 penalty minutes in 68 games in 2003-04. Injuries limited Pisellini in 2004-05, but he responded last this season to score 15 goals with 16 assists for 31 points and 194 PIMs in 63 games.

Pisellini played well on a forward line this season with Andrew Fournier and Tom Sestito. The Whalers’ version of the Grind Line had good success in shutting down the opposition’s top lines.

“We really enjoy going up against the other team’s top line,” Pisellini said in March. “We know we can give the team a lift by shutting them down. We can help some of our other lines, who can concentrate on scoring.”

While Pisellini has signed with the Flyers, Fournier (ranked 108th overall in the final Central Scouting rankings) and Sestito (112th overall) rate a good bet to be selected in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft June 24 in Vancouver.

Alpena hires Krafft for business operations

The Alpena IceDiggers ownership group announced yesterday the hiring of Bob Krafft as the Vice President and General Manager of Business Operations. Krafft will oversee all the business day-to-day operations of the hockey club.

"Bob is someone that we believe will help our organization grow bigger and better in Alpena," IceDiggers' president Michael J. Bihn said. "This is our home forever and with Bob's love of the IceDiggers he will help us become a permanent part of the Alpena community and keep the IceDiggers a winning organization both on and off the ice."

Krafft has spent the last six years working for Model Printing in sales and his duties included overseeing the entire sales department. Prior to joining Model Printing, he retired after 26 years of service in the Michigan State Police and Post Commander in Alpena.

"I'm very excited about having this opportunity to work with this fine organization," said Krafft. "The community has stepped up to provide great support for the IceDiggers and I'm looking forward to helping the team grow and prosper in Alpena for years to come."

This hiring will relieve the coaching staff from many of the business related duties and to further concentrate on their on ice responsibilities.

"I am very excited to have the opportunity to work with Bob," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "He and I have become great friends since my family and I moved to Alpena and adding him to the organization is a big plus for the team as well as myself. I will be able to dedicate more of my time to the coaching side of the club."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ryan King signs with IceDiggers

The Alpena IceDiggers have signed Ryan King for the 2006-2007 season.

King played in Philadelphia for the Jr. Flyers AAA program last season. The 6-foot, 195-pound right wing played in 24 league games scoring 11 goals and adding seven assists. The York, Penn., native is a senior at York Suburban High School.

"To be able to add a player like Ryan will give us more grit up front," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "We believe Ryan will add a scoring touch for us while giving us the type of defensive forward our team needs in our own end."

King is the third player tendered for the upcoming 06-07 season as he joins Chad Billins (Marysville) and Tony Dischler (Madison, Wisc.).

Friday, April 21, 2006

IceDiggers tender Dischler for '06-07

The Alpena IceDiggers have tendered 1988-born forward Tony Dischler for the upcoming 2006-2007 season.

Dischler, standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 175 pounds, spent last season playing for the Madison Capitals AAA hockey club under coach Bob Suter.

"Tony is a hard-working kid who leaves it all on the ice,” Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. “We are glad he decided Alpena is the place he wanted to spend his junior career and I know the fans of Alpena will enjoy watching him play.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Spirit's Goslin named OHL's top executive

The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Saginaw Spirit Managing Partner Craig Goslin is the OHL Executive of the Year for the 2005-06 season.

Goslin, a 45 year old native of Bay City, Michigan, has been instrumental in the success of the Saginaw Spirit franchise during their first four years of operation, setting and maintaining an atmosphere of first class quality sports entertainment.

Goslin joined the Spirit prior to their inaugural season in 2002, as Vice-President of Sales, following a distinguished 19 year career with Hilti Corporation where he set national sales records and was awarded “President’s Sales Council” honours for leading a top 5 sales region in North America, for 17 of his years with the company. Craig was named part owner, Managing Partner and Alternate Governor of the Spirit, in 2005.

During his tenure, Goslin has created a pair of groundbreaking relationships between the community and the Spirit. In 2004, and in cooperation with building manager SMG, he managed the sale of naming rights to the Spirit’s home to the Dow Chemical Company, changing the former Saginaw County Event Center into the “Dow Event Center”. Goslin also pioneered a ‘Presenting Sponsor’ relationship with Mid-Michigan Meijer stores. This was the first team presenting sponsorship of its kind in the CHL.

Building a fan and corporate sponsorship base from scratch Goslin has led the Saginaw Spirit business team to sales of 2,600 season tickets and an average of over 4,300 fans per game, both of which rank close to the top of the Ontario Hockey League. He has also led the Spirit in the creation of a corporate sponsorship base that is near the top of the entire Canadian Hockey League.

In June of 2005, Goslin was one of the individuals who spearheaded the creation of an OHL Business Development Committee. Subsequently in August of 2005, the committee was approved by the Ontario Hockey League Board of Governors and Goslin was named as chairman of the committee. Under Craig’s leadership this group is working to encourage cooperation among OHL member teams and leverage each team’s marketing strengths in order to raise the level of business operations of the Ontario Hockey League and all of its constituents.

Goslin was also instrumental in securing the 2007 OHL All Star Classic for Saginaw. The Saginaw Spirit business team has already begun preparations in order to make the game a first class event. When the game is played on January 31, 2007, it will mark the first time in the event’s history that the two day festival has left Ontario.

Whalers close season with awards banquet

The Plymouth Whalers finished the 2005-2006 season with an awards banquet held last night at Ginopolis on the Ice Restaurant inside the Compuware Sports Arena.

Plymouth general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci was succinct in summing up the feelings for his team at the banquet.

"Working with this team was the most fun I've had in fifteen years of coaching," Vellucci said. "Sometimes in January and February, the season drags on. But I didn't feel like that this year.

"This year's team got no respect around the league. Nobody except John Vigilante made an all-star team. We got very little mention on the Coaches' Poll and no consideration for Rookie of the Year.

"But in playing the way our team played this year, they earned everyone's respect."

The following players received awards:

REGULAR SEASON MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, LEADING SCORER and ALICE IAFRATE AWARD (OVERAGE OF THE YEAR) – Outgoing captain Vigilante (Dearborn), who scored 24 goals with 53 assists for 77 points this season. Vigilante (pictured above) finished his career in Plymouth sixth on the team’s all-time career list in scoring (245 points), ninth in career goals (93), fifth in career assists (153) and third in career games played (254). Vigilante signed as a free agent with the Nashville Predators last December.

BEST DEFENSEMANSteve Ward, who scored 14 goals with 33 assist for 47 points and 90 penalty minutes in 67 games.

SCHOLAR-ATHLETE – Overage defenseman Mike Letizia, who carried a B average at Schoolcraft Community College. Letizia finished his career in Plymouth fifth overall on the Whalers’ all-time games played list with 247 and has signed as a free agent with the United Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs.

TOP ROOKIE – Center Chris Terry, who scored nine goals with 19 assists for 28 points in 64 games.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER – Second-year left wing Tom Sestito, who scored 10 goals with 10 assists for 20 points and 176 penalty minutes in 57 games. Sestito is one of the Whalers eligible to be selected in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft.

HARDEST WORKER – First-year right wing Jared Boll, who scored 19 goals with 22 assists for 41 points and 205 penalty minutes in 65 games. Boll was a fourth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets last July.

BARBARA ANN KARMANOS COMMUNITY GOALS AWARD – Second-year goaltender Justin Garay, who played an integral part in the Compuware Sports Arena’s Learn-to-Skate Program and worked tirelessly in the Whalers’ community relations events over the course of the 2005-2006 season.

PLAYOFF MOST VALUABLE PLAYER – Third-year left wing James Neal, who led the Whalers in scoring in the playoffs with nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in 13 games. Neal is a 2005 second-round pick of the Dallas Stars.

This season, Plymouth won their eighth West Division title since 1994-1995 in going 35-28-1-4. After winning their Western Conference quarterfinal series in seven dramatic games against the Windsor Spitfires, the Whalers were eliminated in six games by the Guelph Storm in the Western Conference semifinals.

NEXT UP: Plymouth will be participating in the Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection on Saturday, May 6. The Whalers pick 13th in the first round.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Ex-Plymouth goalie Bacashihua in the news

Jason Bacashihua grew up watching the Red Wings, going to school at Dearborn Heights Annapolis and later playing with the Ontario Hockey League's Plymouth Whalers.

Being on the ice Saturday night, and starring for the St. Louis Blues in the Red Wings' 3-2 victory was a thrill.

"It's definitely the most exciting game I've played in so far," said Bacashihua, who stopped 35 Wings shots, including several breakaways. "It's disappointing we came up eight seconds short. We tested Ozzie (Chris Osgood) for two periods there. But we just came up short."

Osgood has worked out with Bacashihua in the past, and wasn't surprised to see Bacashihua play as well as he did.

"He's a good goalie," Osgood said. "He's fast and agile. He's just been hurt this season. That set him back from playing in a lot of games."

(From Sunday's Detroit News)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Plymouth's season over - Storm take Game 6

The Plymouth Whalers dropped Game 6 to the Guelph Storm Saturday night on the road and in the process saw their season conclude as Guelph won their Western Conference semifinal series.

In the 4-3 loss, Jared Boll, John Armstrong and Tom Sestito scored for Plymouth, but Mike McLean's goal at 16:58 of the third period was the game-winner for Guelph, who advance to face the London Knights in the conference finals.

Justin Peters finished with 31 saves for the Whalers.

Overagers Mike Letizia, captain John Vigilante and Derek Merlini (pictured) played their final OHL game last weekend as well. Vigilante has signed an NHL contract with the Nashville Predators, while Letizia and Merlini are free agents.

Tomorrow night is the team's annual banquet at Ginopolis on the Ice inside the Compuware Sports Arena.

The annual OHL Priority Selection draft takes place May 6 via the Internet. The Whalers have the 13th overall pick in the first round.

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Neal's hatter leads Whalers over Storm

From the Canadian Press...

James Neal (pictured) had a hat trick and added an assist as the Plymouth Whalers staved off elimination for the second consecutive game with a 5-2 win over the Guelph Storm Friday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Guelph still leads the OHL Western Conference semifinal 3-2, with Game 6 Saturday evening in Guelph.

"We don't want hockey to end this season yet," said Neal, who now has nine goals and seven assists in 12 post-season contests. "It's a seven-game series for a reason and we're going to battle all the way until it's over."

Neal netted two power-play goals with deflections and added an even-strength marker early in the second period as the Whalers jumped to a 5-0 lead before the Storm scored twice in the last seven minutes.

"(Storm goalie Ryan MacDonald) has been standing on his head for them," said Neal of Guelph's diminutive overage goalie. "We wanted to get a bit more traffic in front of him and get a chance at some rebounds. The forwards did that and the defence did a good job getting the shots through and on net."

Andrew Fournier had a goal and an assist for Plymouth, while Evan Brophey had the other goal. Defenceman Steve Ward chipped in two assists.

Justin Peters (below) finished with 29 saves.

Matt D'Agostini and Jason Pitton replied late for the Storm. MacDonald, who made 14 saves, allowed all five goals before being replaced by rookie Jason Guy after the second period. Guy stopped all nine shots he faced in the third.

Photos by Walt Dmoch.

Plymouth hosts Guelph for Game 5 tonight

The Plymouth Whalers still trail the Guelph Storm, 3-1, in their second-round Ontario Hockey League playoff series, but coach Mike Vellucci sees a break in the clouds.

"For us, it's simple," said Velucci, whose Whalers host the Storm tonight at 7:30. "You lose, you're out; you win and you put the pressure back on them."

The Whalers avoided elimination with a 4-3 overtime victory Wednesday at Guelph, which was looking for a 4-0 sweep.

From today's Detroit Free Press.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Whalers still afloat, take Game 4 in OT

Dan Collins’ third goal of the game at 10:55 of overtime, completing a natural hat trick, gave the Plymouth Whalers a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Guelph Storm Wednesday night in Guelph to stay alive in their Western Conference semifinal series.

The Storm still lead the series, 3-1, with Game 5 tomorrow night in Plymouth.

James Neal scored the other Plymouth goal, his team-leading sixth of the playoffs, and Whalers' captain John Vigilante added three assists.

Goaltender Justin Peters made 39 saves for the victory.

Puck drop Friday night is 7:30 p.m. at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Collins photo (from Monday) by Walt Dmoch

Ex-Whaler Liffiton makes NHL debut

Press release from the New York Rangers' website...

Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather announced today that defenseman David Liffiton has been reassigned to the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League (AHL).

Liffiton, 21, made his NHL debut on Tuesday night vs. the Islanders and recorded two penalty minutes, one hit and one blocked shot.

Prior to his recall, he skated in 55 games with Hartford (AHL), registering two goals and nine assists, along with 158 penalty minutes.

The 6-2, 210-pounder returns to the Pack ranking second on the team in penalty minutes (158).

Liffiton played for the Plymouth Whalers from 2001-2004 after being Plymouth's 16th-round pick in 2000.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Game 3: Guelph 8, Plymouth 0

This picture sums up Game 3 last night in Plymouth
(Photo by Walt Dmoch)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

North Stars drop Game 5 to Team USA

Josh Unice.

The U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 netkeeper donned his cape and cowl again on Sunday at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, stopping all 27 shots he faced en route to a 1-0 victory over the Traverse City North Stars in the fifth and deciding game of the best-of-five NAHL North Division semifinals.

Unice, who blanked the North Stars by a 2-0 count on Saturday night at Centre ICE arena, drew praise from Stars coach Scott Gardiner, who – along with fans from East Bay Twp. to Washtenaw County – was left agape at the goaltender’s stellar twin bill.

“The kid made saves with his gloves, his blockers his toes – whatever he needed to use,” Gardiner said. “I mean, he throws two goose eggs at us and we had a lot of chances. We just couldn’t get one past him.”

As was the case in Saturday’s Game 4 loss, Stars goalie Jeremy Kaleniecki matched Unice nearly save for save, and was named the second star of Game 5.

“Jeremy was unbelievable,” Gardiner said. “He gives up one goal last night and one tonight – he certainly did his job.”

C.J. Severyn, who came into Sunday’s finale without a playoff point, scored the lone goal of the contest at 3:19 of the second period on assists from Colby Cohen and Ryan Schnell. Traverse City had several chances – including a pair of breakaway chances, but could not solve the Toledo, Ohio native.

“I liked our effort,” Gardiner added. “We worked so hard, and I’m so proud of how our guys came together at the end of the season to play their best hockey of the year, and I can’t thank them enough for that.”

The loss caps a fantastic inaugural season for the North Stars, who came into the series as the fourth seed in the North Division and wrested home ice from the U-17s with a 2-1 win in the opening game of the set.

“We saw some very good signs from these guys, especially as the season wore on,” Gardiner assessed. “And those lessons we learned this year will certainly pay off next season when we have the veterans, those guys who have been through the battles before. There is nothing but good things ahead for this team.”

Heartbreak in OT for Plymouth Saturday night

Matt D’Agostini’s goal at 10:16 of the first overtime gave the Guelph Storm a 3-2 victory over the Plymouth Whalers Saturday night in Guelph.

The victory gives Guelph a 2-0 lead over Plymouth in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

Kelsey Wilson and Mike McLean also scored for Guelph. Wes Cunningham and Tom Sestito replied on the power play for Plymouth.

Guelph goalie Ryan MacDonald finished with 37 saves and Plymouth’s Justin Peters made 35 stops.

Plymouth and Guelph meet in Game 3 of the series Monday night at the Compuware Sports Arena at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

TC blanked by USA; deciding Game 5 Sunday

It’s hard to win without scoring a goal.

That much was proven true again on Saturday at Centre ICE arena, as the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad knocked off Traverse City by a 2-0 margin in Game 4 of the NAHL North Division semifinals.

The team returns to the Ann Arbor Ice Cube for an all-or-nothing Game 5 showdown that will decide which club advances to the North Division championship round to play for a trip to the Robertson Cup finals.

“The final game – that’s what playoff hockey is all about,” said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “(USA head coach) Ronnie (Rolston) made the call early on, saying that this one could go the distance and here we are. It’s been good, clean, up-and-down hockey, and we’re likely to see more of that on Sunday.”

Matt Rust broke a scoreless deadlock with 5:20 to play in the second period. USA-17 leading playoff scorer Brennan Vargas assisted. It was the only even-up tally of the evening, as Vargas added an empty-netter with 46 seconds remaining to make it a two-goal disparity on the scoreboard.

Josh Unice posted the shutout for the U-17s, his first of 2005-06, making 24 stops. Jeremy Kaleniecki was nearly a perfect as well, snuffing out 22 of 23 USA attempts.

“To not have a goal and to be in the game with a minute to go says a lot about how Jeremy played for us,” explained TC center Patrick Nagorsen. “He’s been awesome.”

The contest was played in a brief 2:12 span, as the teams combined for just 20 penalty minutes before 867 fans at Centre ICE. Sunday’s all-important showdown will mark the 11th meeting of the season between the clubs, and just three have featured a final margin of more than one goal – and two of those, including Saturday’s game, were two-goal finals that included an empty-netter.

“Every game has been close,” Nagorsen added. “We feel good about being able to go down there and beat them in their building because we’ve done it before. We have to go as hard as we know we can, and it might just come down to who has more of a will to win it.”

Game 5 is Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Traverse City wins pivotal Game 3 in OT

There have been two constants so far in the North American Hockey League’s North Division semifinal series between the Traverse City North Stars and the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 squad: Close games and a red-hot Jonathan Juliano.

Defenseman Eric Elmblad poked home a rebound off a Jon Madden blast from the point at the 15:44 mark of overtime on Friday at Centre ICE arena, to put the North Stars on the precipice of advancing to the North Division Finals if they can repeat the feat on Saturday.

Traverse City grabbed a 2-1 series edge in the best-of-five affair with the one-goal victory, making it seven times in nine meetings that the clubs have played to a one-goal disparity. Juliano continued his stellar performance in the postseason, driving home a pair of rebounds for his fourth and fifth lamplighters of the playoffs. He also assisted on two others.

“He was just Johnny on the spot again, no pun intended,” quipped Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “He was in the right place at the right time again tonight, and it’s not an accident.”

Juliano got the hosts on the scoreboard first in the opening period, collecting a rebound and putting the puck past USA netkeep Brad Phillips. The other two-thirds of the Juliano line – Matt Larke and Jared Mullen – drew assists at 14:31.

Ryan Schnell answered for the U-17s just 2:07 into the second period, but Larke gave TC back its one-goal bulge just over a minute later. Mullen and Juliano, naturally, were credited with assists.

The North Stars assumed a two-goal advantage at 12:46 when Juliano knocked in his second of the game for his second straight two-goal outing.

The teams battled through a scoreless final stanza until Team USA came alive with less than five minutes to play. Tony Mosey made it 3-2 at 15:38 with a power-play tally, and then assisted on Brennan Vargas’ game-tying effort with just :40.4 to play in regulation. Unlike regular season overtime sessions, playoff games that go into an extra frame require a resurfacing. Elmblad says that was a key factor in the hosts’ triumph.

“That (game-tying) goal totally deflated us,” admitted Elmblad. “If we didn’t get a chance to go off to the locker room and kind of regroup, who knows what would’ve happened. I just can’t believe it. I’m still on cloud nine.”

Gardiner echoed those sentiments, however fleeting.

“I’m relieved, but only temporarily,” he said. “It’ll wear off because we have to come right back tomorrow, and I know Ron (Rolston) will have those guys ready.”

The teams meet up again on Saturday night at Centre ICE in a critical Game 4 matchup. Face-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Traverse City fans are once again asked to wear white garb to show support for their Stars.

Whalers lose Game 1 to Guelph

In spite of finishing 40-24-1-3 during the regular season, it’s fair to say the Guelph Storm flew under the radar during much of the Ontario Hockey League regular season.

But the Storm showed why they are a potential threat to go far in the OHL playoffs as they specialized in defeating the Plymouth Whalers, 4-1, in the opening game of the best-of-seven OHL semifinal playoff series played Friday night at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Guelph built a 3-0 lead after one period on two power-play goals and a shorthanded effort and protected the lead the rest of the way.

Matt D’Agostini led the Guelph attack with a goal and an assist as the game’s first star. Mark O’Leary also had a goal and an assist for Guelph, while Mike McLean added a shorthanded goal and Jason Pitton scored into an empty net.

Andrew Fournier scored the lone Whaler goal in the second period for Plymouth.

Ryan McDonald was solid in goal for Guelph, stopping 23 shots as the game’s third star. MacDonald lowered his league-leading goals against average in the OHL playoffs to 1.23, while raising his playoff save percentage to .951 – which also leads the OHL playoffs.

Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters (pictured, circa 2001) finished with 30 saves.

Plymouth and Guelph meet in Game 2 of the series Saturday night in Guelph at 7:30 p.m. Game 3 of the series is Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

‘Whiteout,' Under-17's on Stars’ radar

Spring has sprung – for the moment – across northwestern Michigan, but with a certain degree of fan cooperation on Friday, there’ll be a ‘whiteout’ at Centre ICE arena when the Traverse City North Stars and U.S. National Team Development Program’s U-17 squad face-off in the third installment of their best-of-five NAHL North Division semifinal series.

North Stars fans have been asked to wear white to Friday’s contest, in the playoff hockey tradition made popular by the Winnipeg Jets’ faithful and continued by the Phoenix Coyotes when the franchise moved there in 1996.

“It was fantastic,” recalled North Stars associate coach Mike Stapleton, who played for the Jets in 1995-96 and the Coyotes for three subsequent seasons. “To look up there (in the stands) and see all the white like that, it was a pretty cool thing. It only helps when the fans take an active role like that. The players can just sense that kind of atmosphere.”

Fan solidarity aside, the Stars should sense plenty of playoff atmosphere on the ice Friday, when Traverse City and Team USA-17 vie for the pivotal third game after splitting the first two clashes last weekend. The North Stars stole home ice with a 2-1 win in the opener before the under-17s stormed back on Friday for a 4-2 reprisal.

“They really wanted that game and you could see it,” said Traverse City coach-GM Scott Gardiner of Game 2. “That’s the best I’ve seen them play this year, and we weren’t able to match their … intensity.”

Either team could advance to the North Division finals on Saturday at Centre ICE depending on Friday’s outcome, but if the issue is not decided at that time, the teams would return to Ann Arbor for a decisive fifth game on Sunday.

“It’s a big weekend, no question,” surmised Stars defenseman Steven Oleksy. “It’s good to have these big games in our own building with our fans. They’ve been there for us all year.”

The point of emphasis throughout much of the week for Gardiner, Stapleton and the Stars, has been the transition game. While the Traverse City offense generated just 15 shots on net in last Friday’s 4-2 loss, the puck rarely crossed neutral ice without intervention from the USA-17 players.

“We need to get the puck out of our own zone more efficiently,” Gardiner admitted. “They were really able to bottle us up on Friday. We have a pretty simple plan for getting the puck up ice, so it will come down to executing that plan.”

Friday’s 4-2 loss also represents just the second time in eight meetings this season that the Stars and U-17s have been separated by more than a single goal.

“There have been some great battles this year,” said Under-17 squad head coach Ron Rolston. “For whatever reason, we just seem to match up with one another pretty evenly.”

Forward Jonathan Juliano is tied for second in the NAHL in playoff goals so far with three, while Matt Larke and defenseman Arthur Bidwill have two assists each. Five U-17 players have scored goals through two games, led by Brennan Vargas, who has a goal and a pair of assists.

Traverse City forward Joe St. John will be a game-day decision, as the Gaylord native suffered a concussion in last Friday’s contest and is still being evaluated.

Oleksy, who finished the 2005-06 regular season tied for 10th among NAHL defenseman with 30 points, says he expects a good showing on the ice – and in the grandstand – Friday night.

“I’ve played hockey a long time, but if we can look over and see all that white up there, that would be about the coolest thing ever.”

Corrente and McDonough make Team Canada

Saginaw Spirit defenseman Matt Corrente and forward Ryan McDonough have earned a spot on Team Canada’s Under-18 squad headed to Sweden for the World Under-18 Championship this month.

“We’re thrilled for both of these young men,” said Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini. “They are truly deserving of this opportunity.”

McDonough set the Spirit team record for points during the 2005-2006 season with 39 goals and 49 assists for 88 points in 68 games played. The Spirit acquired the 18-year-old native of Toronto in a trade with Sudbury last July. He was the Wolves’ first pick, fifth overall, in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection.

Corrente had six goals and 20 assists and was +2 in 61 regular season games in 2005-2006. The 18-year-old native of Mississauga, Ontario was the Spirit’s first pick, second overall, in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection.

Previous Spirit participants in the Under-18 challenge include Tom Pyatt (2005), Jean-Michel Rizk (2004) and Geoff Platt and Paul Bissonnette (2003). Spirit captain Patrick McNeill was named to the 2005 squad, but was unable to attend due to injury.

The tournament begins April 12 and concludes April 22.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Warren's Danowski evolving into scorer

By Matt Mackinder
USA Junior Hockey Magazine

After coming to the Texas Tornado at the trading deadline on Jan. 15, 2005 from the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers, forward Derek Danowski has gone from a fourth-line plugger to a top-line sniper.

Danowski got the Tornado on the board in the national championship game last April, eventually won by the Tornado, when Fargo-Moorhead had just taken a 1-0 lead. He had almost a point per game in the playoffs, but this season has emerged as what Texas coach-GM Tony Curtale calls “one of the best stories about this season.”

“When I came here to Texas, I was pretty excited,” Danowski said. “It was an older team with a lot of depth and I fit right in and found my role. I was on the fourth line, but I was still producing. It wasn’t a step down from the USHL because Texas has such a tremendous organization and I think would excel in the USHL with those teams.”

The Warren, Mich., native has been second on the Tornado in scoring for much of the year behind Karl Sellan and has garnered some major Division I college interest. Danowski has his decision pretty much made up for next fall on the college end.

Northern Michigan offered me a half scholarship and it’s looking like I’ll end up there,” said Danowski, who turns 20 on April 16. “With the bigger ice surface there and in the CCHA, I think that fits me very well.”

Danowski said he was also in contact with Ohio State, Bowling Green, Nebraska-Omaha, RIT, Canisius and Connecticut, but NMU made a better offer.

Now with an increased role in Texas, Danowski said he knows the other teams put their top defensemen on him and that in itself is motivation, but pressure all at once.

“If I don’t produce, I feel like I’ve let my team down,” Danowski said. “It makes me feel bad because I should be putting up points.”

Before he heads to Marquette, Danowski has a couple areas he’d like to improve both on and off the ice.

“I need to work on my shot and getting it off quicker,” he said. “I also need to pack on more mass so I can make an impact in the college game.”

Whalers oust Windsor; Guelph next

Plymouth captain John Vigilante scored two goals and an assist and rookie Chris Terry scored twice to lead the Whalers to a 6-2 victory over the Windsor Spitfires in the seventh and deciding game in their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference quarterfinal series last night.

Plymouth led 3-0 after one period and 5-1 after forty minutes.

James Neal and John Armstrong scored the other Plymouth goals, while Peter Aston and captain Paul McFarland scored for Windsor.

Plymouth outshot Windsor, 43-24, and if not for the work of goaltender Anthony Guadagnolo would have scored more than six goals. Guadagnolo stopped six breakaways.

Justin Peters stopped 22 shots for the Whalers, who move on to play the Guelph Storm in a Western Conference semifinal series.

Friday, April 7 – Guelph at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 8 – Plymouth at Guelph, 7:30 p.m.
Monday April 10 – Guelph at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, April 12 – Plymouth at Guelph, 7:00 p.m.
Friday, April 14 – Guelph at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.*
Saturday, April 15 – Plymouth at Guelph, 7:30 p.m.*
Monday, April 17 – Guelph at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.*
*if necessary

Photo by Walt Dmoch.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Black Bears done in NOJHL playoffs

It'll be the Sudbury Jr. Wolves and North Bay Skyhawks in the NOJHL finals after the Wolves eliminated the Northern Michigan Black Bears last night in Sudbury.

The Wolves took a 4-1 win to capture the series in five games.

Michael Caprio scored for Northern Michigan and goalie Tony Stoehr made 20 saves in the season finale.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Whalers blow 4-1 lead; Game 7 Tuesday

Plymouth built a 4-1 lead after one period of play on goals by John Armstrong, James Neal (above) and a pair from Andrew Fournier, but the Whalers blew that lead and allowed six unanswered goals by Windsor as the Spitfires took a 7-4 win in Windsor last night.

Game 7 of this first round series is tomorrow night in Plymouth.

Justin Peters finished with 26 saves in net for the Whalers. Plymouth outshot Windsor, 36-33.

Photo courtesy

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Sestito's two goals propel Plymouth

Tom Sestito (above) scored two goals in 14 seconds in the second period to snap a 1-1 tie and the Plymouth Whalers went on to defeat the Windsor Spitfires, 3-2, in Game 5 Saturday night before 2,842 at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Plymouth now leads the best-of-seven OHL Western Conference quarterfinal series three games to two.

Plymouth captain John Vigilante (above) scored the other Whalers' goal. Mitch Maunu scored in the first period for Windsor, while Bryan Bickell scored his team-leading fifth of the playoffs in the third period for the Spitfires.

Plymouth outshot Windsor, 39-28.

For the fifth straight game in the series, Windsor scored first when Maunu tapped home a rebound at 2:37 of the first period. Plymouth tied the game at 6:55 of the first period when Vigilante scored in tight quarters in front of the Windsor goal by netminder Anthony Guadagnolo. Plymouth dominated the first period in outshooting Windsor, 17-8.

Sestito gave Plymouth a 2-1 lead at 3:07 of the second period when he took Derek Merlini’s pass in neutral territory on the right wing, moved into the Windsor zone and beat Guadagnolo with a hard shot from the right face-off dot. Sestito then scored at 3:21 when he took Andrew Fournier’s pass from the right wing in the Windsor zone into the slot. Sestito faked a shot from the forehand and scored on backhand by Guadagnolo.

Plymouth goaltender Justin Peters stopped a penalty shot by Windsor’s Mickey Renaud at 6:42 of the second period to keep the score 3-1 Plymouth. Plymouth outshot Windsor, 16-6 in the second period and continued to lead 3-1 after forty minutes.

Windsor took advantage of three power plays in the third period to start to turn the game around, but Peters and the Whalers penalty killers competed hard. Bickell cut the Plymouth lead to 3-2 at 17:24 of the third period when he tucked a hard shot through traffic under the bar by Peters.

Windsor pulled Guadagnolo with 28 seconds left in regulation, but could not find the equalizer.

Windsor hosts Plymouth in game six of this series on Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. at Windsor Arena.

If a seventh and deciding game is needed in the Plymouth-Windsor series, it will be played Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Photos by Walt Dmoch.

Black Bears down 3-1 to Jr. Wolves

The Northern Michigan Black Bears are in a 3-1 hole in their NOJHL semifinal series with the Sudbury Jr. Wolves.

Sudbury took a 4-3 overtime win last night at Big Bear Arena. Northern Michigan took a 3-1 lead into the third period, but the Jr. Wolves scored twice to send the game to overtime where Jordan Cheechoo (younger brother of San Jose Sharks' forward Jonathan Cheechoo) ended it 89 seconds in.

Michael Herbert, Derek Stabile and Tyler Huskey scored for the Black Bears and Tony Stoehr made 32 saves in goal.

Northern Michigan's only win came in Game 2 at home last Monday.

Game 5 is Monday night in Sudbury at 7:00 p.m.

Team USA squares series with Traverse City

Phil McRae and Kevin Shattenkirk had a goal and an assist each on Friday, leading the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-17 squad to a 4-2 win over the Traverse City North Stars in Game 2 of the North American Hockey League Robertson Cup playoffs.

Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-five North Division semifinals return to Centre ICE arena next weekend, with contests on Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8.

The Stars were outshot by a whopping 52-15 margin on Friday, one night after stealing home ice in a 2-1 victory over the U-17s.

"That's far too many shots to give up," assessed Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. "And give full credit to Team USA. They really elevated their level of play tonight, and we weren't able to match that intensity."

TC grabbed a 1-0 lead when Jonathan Juliano's breakaway goal - his second in as many nights - put the visitors in front. Jarrett Rush and Arthur Bidwill drew assists on the play at 9:41 of the first period. McRae set up James vanReimsdyk for the equalizer with :58 left in the second period, and the hosts poured it on in the third, as McRae and Shattenkirk scored goals just 2:48 apart.

Juliano cut the deficit to 3-2 with 7:05 to play, but any momentum the Stars had built evaporated a scant 1:51 later when Matt Rust's shorthanded tally sealed the split for USA.

"We were able to get the puck in deep, and our forecheck really helped us on the offensive end," said USA Under-17 head coach Ron Rolston. "We were able to get a lot of pressure on them, even after the pressure of being down a goal early."

Gardiner says his team is looking forward to having the next two games in friendlier confines.

"It's just like (Thursday) night, it's over as soon as it's over, and we look forward. We like where we sit with a split and going back to our building, and I know we'll be ready come (next) Friday."

Rolston says the series could return to Ann Arbor for the fifth and decisive game on April 9.

"I think this is going to be a great series, and it could go the distance," he surmised. "It's great for the league to have a series like this."

Next Friday's game as well as Saturday's home encore face-off at 7:30 p.m.