Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mendelson out as Rangers coach

The Marquette Rangers have released Leigh Mendelson from his contract as head coach, effective December 29, 2006.

“As an organization we do not take pride in having to make these kinds of decisions,” stated David Saint-Onge, president and general manager of the Rangers. “We remain committed to advancing our quality of play and the development of our organization. We have great respect for Leigh Mendelson and are extremely appreciative of his service to the organization. We wish him the very best and will support him in any way he may ask.”

To ensure team continuity and player development, Randy Enders has agreed to assume the role of interim head coach.

“Coach Enders has served our organization as assistant coach and we appreciate his willingness to serve as interim head coach,” stated Saint-Onge.

Enders joined the Rangers in July 2006. As a player, Enders played defense with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers for two seasons and served as team captain. His NCAA career included one season for the University of Alaska-Anchorage and three seasons with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Enders began his coaching career as an instructor at the Musketeers Hockey School. He also served as head instructor at the Winners Edge Development Camp and was an assistant coach with the Sheboygan (Wisc.) High School program.

“We have had the opportunity to watch Randy help form and develop our team over the last six months. His work ethic, attention to detail and camaraderie with the players are strong assets on which our organization and players can continue to rely,” stated Saint-Onge.

Friday, December 29, 2006

North Stars, TCAPS kick off fitness program

Traverse City Area Public School students give their brains a workout every day. The Traverse City North Stars and Traverse City State Bank are doing their parts to help make sure they give their bodies a workout as well.

Kicking off the joint North Stars-TCAPS program, “Wild Cherry & the Fitness Fruit All-Stars” at Bertha Vos and Willow Hill schools just before the Christmas/New Year’s Break, the team is hopeful that the goal-based mini-curriculum will further the efforts of TCAPS’ fine physical education instruction.

“We’re very excited to partner with TCAPS on the program, and it’s just been so well-received,” said North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. “The kids seem excited about it, our players love going out to the schools for the kick-offs, and every bit of feedback so far has just been very positive.”

Over 1,300 students from six area elementary schools – Bertha Vos and Willow Hill plus Norris, Long Lake, Central, and Courtade – in grades 3 through 6 are provided with “Wild Cherry & the Fitness Fruit All-Stars” booklets. These contain instructions on how to achieve certain physical fitness standards that were derived from the district’s own benchmarks, and further developed for the program by a committee of TCAPS physical education instructors, led by Tim Hysell and Kelly Roscher.

The areas of emphasis are flexibility, aerobic fitness, push-ups, and sit-ups. Each discipline is represented by a corresponding fictional fruit character (hence the name of the program).

Once the grade-specific proficiencies have been demonstrated to both parent/guardian and physical education instructor, the student is given a free game ticket to their school’s North Stars night, where they will be honored on the ice by a player at the second intermission, receive a special prize pack, and skate with the players and team mascot (Wild Cherry) following the game.

“It’s a matter of reinforcing what they’re already learning from their own phys ed teachers,” Gardiner explained. “And I think the more you reinforce, the more angles you can come at kids with positive influences, you add a certain depth and breadth to the message. Then I think you get even more students buying into the fact that physical fitness is an important component of a well-balanced, healthy human being.”

Attached please find the “Wild Cherry & the Fitness Fruit All-Stars” booklet, which is the same document that is being distributed to participating TCAPS students. It explains the program in greater detail, sets dates for the individual schools’ North Stars game nights, and provides an area to chart progress. This document can also be downloaded at

Thursday, December 28, 2006

IceDiggers fall to Sweden in shootout

From the Alpena News and author Steve Schulwitz

With two-minutes left in the Alpena IceDiggers contest it appeared the home team was about to claim an exhibition win.

But the Sweden Under-17 team pulled off a late rally to earn a hard-fought 5-4 win in a shootout at Northern Light Arena on Wednesday.

With 1:54 remaining on the clock and the IceDiggers leading 4-3, Alpena's Taylor Doorlag was whistled for a hooking call and sent to the penalty box for the rest of regulation. The Swedes called a time out with 51 seconds left in the contest and scored the game-tying goal with 27.7 seconds left to force overtime. The five-minute segment expired without a goal forcing the shootout.

After a miss by each team, the Swedish squad scored on its second attempt by Victor Hedman. Brett Kaneshiro's shot failed to connect on Alpena's next chance.

David Rundblad was next to face IceDiggers' goalie Mike Jarboe and appeared to have been stopped, but after a brief meeting amongst the officials, Rundblad was awarded a second attempt. On his first attempt he began up ice before the referee had blown the whistle to begin play, making the first shot null. As luck would have it, Rundbalnd scored on his mulligan and it proved to be the game-winner.

"The boys played really well after such a long layoff," Alpena coach Kenny Miller said after the contest.

The IceDiggers' special teams carried them in the first period, as they scored on a power play goal by Justin Stadler with 13:28 remaining in the first period. Erik Peterson and Chris Hendrickson were awarded assists on the play. Alpena's penalty-killing unit came through in the opening period also, as it killed off three Sweden man-advantages. The IceDiggers clung to a 1-0 lead as the buzzer sounded after the game's first 20 minutes.

The fireworks started early in the second segment, as the visitors knotted the contest 1-1 with an even-strength goal 2:50 into the frame and claimed a 2-1 lead less than two minutes later on a power play goal. Kenny Brandt evened the contest with 14:14 remaining in the second period on a goal that was assisted by Chris Hendrickson and Evan West. Jarboe was penalized for delay of game later in the second period and Sweden made Alpena pay, as it scored five seconds into the power play to pull ahead 3-2.

Brent Kaneshiro knotted it at 3-3 with under nine minutes left in the period on a goal that was set up by Mike DeGrazia and Justin Stadler. Marco Ruggeri scored early in the third period on a nifty two-on-one break with Eric Roman, who picked up the helper.

The home team couldn't make the lead stand, as it surrendered the tying goal and the eventual game winner in the shootout. Jarboe made several key saves in the final seconds of overtime, including a nifty backhanded glove save that helped the IceDiggers force the shootout.

Alpena returns to battle on New Year's Eve at Northern Lights Arena when it duels the Traverse City North Stars.

Saginaw adds Perron to goalie mix

The Saginaw Spirit has acquired goaltender Marc-AndrĂ© Perron from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Lewiston MAINEiacs.

Perron, who recently cleared QMJHL waivers, will be joining Ryan Daniels and Jovica Zelenbaba at the netminder position.

The 19-year-old native of Le Grand, QC played one game with Lewiston this season.

Perron, 6-foot-2 and 207 pounds, will be in Saginaw this weekend for the Spirit’s three games. Tonight, the Spirit faceoff against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds at home then head to Windsor Friday night for a game against the Spitfires. The Spirit return home on Saturday to take on the Kitchener Rangers.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

IceDiggers ready for Under-17 Swedish squad

The Alpena IceDiggers will play host to the Under-17 Swedish National Team tonight at Northern Lights Arena in an exhibition game. The puck drops at 7:00 p.m.

"This will be a great for our players and the fans of Alpena," Alpena head coach Kenny Miller said. "We will get to see where a team like us in the NAHL stacks up against the best 17-year-olds in Sweden."

This will mark the first game action for the IceDiggers since their 6-1 win over Traverse City prior to the holiday break.

Tickets for the event are on sale inside the IceDiggers' office and can also be purchased at the door prior to the opening faceoff. All tickets are $6.00 for the contest. General admission seating will be in place for the exhibition game

Alpena currently sits in second place, eight points behind first place Mahoning Valley in the North Division. The Phantoms have also played four more games than the IceDiggers.

The IceDiggers will return to league play on Saturday when they travel to Traverse City to play the North Stars, then return home on December 31 to play the same North Stars. The New Years Eve game will have a special 6:00 p.m. start.

All fans are encouraged to join the IceDiggers players and coaches at the 19th Hole following the first ever IceDiggers' New Years Eve game for food and fun as well as ringing in the new year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Lawson, Fraser named WJC alternate captains

Two Michigan natives and current collegians were named alternate captains of the United States Junior National Team today.

Defenseman Kyle Lawson (New Hudson/University of Notre Dame) and forward Jim Fraser (Port Huron/Harvard University) will wear an 'A' under captain Taylor Chorney from North Dakota.

Both Lawson and Fraser are playing on their first U.S. Junior National Team.

Lawson's OHL rights belong to the Plymouth Whalers and had previously been held by the Saginaw Spirit.

Team USA is currently preparing for its opening game of the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship against Germany next Tuesday. Opening faceoff is set for 9 a.m. (EST) in Leksand, Sweden. The game will be televised live in the United States on NHL Center Ice. In addition, a live audiocast of the contest can be heard at

Lawson photo courtesy Honeybaked Hockey Club (circa 2002-2003)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Former Detroit enforcer coming to Saginaw

Former Detroit Red Wings forward and assistant coach Joey Kocur is set to appear at the Saginaw Spirit home game against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Dec. 28.

Kocur will sign autographs for fans and partake in a pre-game question and answer session with Spirit broadcaster Greg Brady. Kocur will then be participating in the ceremonial puck drop.

"The Saginaw Spirit are excited to have Joey Kocur at our game,” stated Spirit managing partner Craig Goslin. “He is a legend in Red Wing history. He's a guy who played in the CHL before his career in the NHL. His presence at the game will bring back some great memories of his Stanley Cup victories with the Red Wings.”

Autograph packages will be available for purchase at the game. All three packages include a personalized photo of Joe Kocur and an autographed Red Wings puck. Fans that purchase a package are welcome to bring one additional item to be signed by Kocur.
One 8x10 picture and one puck -- $19.00
One 11x14 picture and one puck -- $29.00
One 16x20 picture and one puck -- $39.00

Kocur is best known as one of the Red Wings' “Bruise Brothers” with former Red Wings' enforcer Bob Probert. Together they formed one of the NHL's most penalized tandems. Kocur tallied 2,519 penalty minutes in his career - 1,963 with Detroit.

The Calgary, Alberta native started played his junior hockey career with the Western Hockey League's Saskatoon Blades and was drafted by Detroit in the fifth round of the 1983 NHL Entry Draft. He played 10 seasons from 1984-1990 and 1996-1999. He was with the New York Rangers from 1990-1996 and played seven games with the Vancouver Canucks in 1996. Kocur won four Stanley Cups, one with New York in 1994 and two with Detroit, in 1997 and 1998. He also won a Cup with the Wings as their video coach in 2002.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Spirits high in Alpena

After falling victim to streaking Mahoning Valley the week prior, the Alpena IceDiggers were happy to head into the holiday break on a winning note with two victories over Traverse City last week.

“Those were two big wins for us,” said IceDiggers coach Kenny Miller, whose team improved to 22-8-1. “It was good for our guys to come ready to play. We responded well and got the job done.”

The IceDiggers began their week on Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the North Stars. Justin Stadler (pictured) scored two goals in the win, with Erik Peterson assisting on both. Between the pipes, Shawn Hunwick turned aside 21 shots.

Alpena met up with Traverse City again on Sunday, this time skating away with a 6-1 victory. Todd Rudasill added to his league-leading points totals with two goals and two assists, while Drew Pierson and Chad Billins each rang up a goal and two assists. In goal, Mike Jarboe made 23 saves.

“We’re getting good play from everyone and, in order to win in the NAHL, all 20 guys have to be going every night,” said Miller. “The guys are really confident every time we step on the ice and that’s a big plus for us.”

Rudasill, who has sat atop the NAHL’s scoring chart for most of the season, has been a key contributor to Alpena’s success and is a bona fide Division I prospect.

“Todd has been our go-to guy all year and he’s delivered,” raved Miller. “He has an eye for the net and he’s been burying his chances.

“Wherever Todd ends up playing college hockey next year, that program will be very lucky because not only is he great player, but he’s also a great kid.”

The IceDiggers’ goaltending tandem of Hunwick and Jarboe has been equally impressive.

“I've said it before that I feel we have one of the best one-two punches in the league, and Mike and Shawn have proved that so far,” said Miller. “They’ve given us a chance to win every night and that’s all you can ask for in your goaltending.”

Miller has few complaints about his team’s first half and is looking forward to more good things to come in 2007.

“As a group, we need to get better everyday,” said the coach. “It’s important that we work hard - that will pay off for us. It takes little things to win hockey games and, in the first half of the season, we did them, and, in order to keep that up in the second half, we’ll need to continue to do the little things.”

But before the IceDiggers ring in the New Year, they’ll host an exhibition game against the Swedish National Under-17 Team on Dec. 27.

“Having a chance to play a team like Sweden will not only be special for our players, but also all of our fans in and around the Alpena area,” said Miller. “The boys are really looking forward to the chance to play some of the best 17-year-old players in the world."


Monday, December 18, 2006

Mursak garners five points in Group B

Saginaw Spirit forward Jan Mursak notched five points on three goals and two assists in five games with Team Slovenia at the World Juniors Division 1, Group B Tournament held in Denmark this past week.

Team Slovenia ends the tournament with a record of 1-4.

Mursak is expected to return to Saginaw following the Ontario Hockey League holiday break.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Ontario Hockey League

Thurs. Dec. 14
Plymouth 5 at Peterborough 1

Fri. Dec. 15
Plymouth 5 at Oshawa 1
at Kitchener 5, Saginaw 3

Sat. Dec. 16
Saginaw 7 at Erie 1

Sun. Dec. 17
Plymouth 5 at Brampton 1
at Oshawa 5, Saginaw 3

North American Hockey League

Weds. Dec. 13
at Alpena 5, Traverse City 2

Fri. Dec. 15
Mahoning Valley 5 at Traverse City 1
Marquette 3 at U.S. Under-17 Team 0

Sat. Dec. 16
Mahoning Valley 7 at Traverse City 1
at U.S. Under-17 Team 4, Marquette 2

Sun. Dec. 17
at Alpena 6, Traverse City 1

Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League

Weds. Dec. 13
at Soo 8, Blind River 4

Fri. Dec. 15
at Soo 3, North Bay 1

Sat. Dec. 16
at Soo 6, Sudbury 2

Saturday, December 16, 2006

NAHL makes commish change

The North American Hockey League announced Friday a change in its leadership.

Effective immediately, Mark Frankenfeld will serve as interim commissioner.

The NAHL wishes departing commissioner Eric Krupka the best in his future endeavors.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Neal, O'Marra, Pyatt make Team Canada

Forwards James Neal of the Plymouth Whalers and Ryan O'Marra and Tom Pyatt of the Saginaw Spirit have made the Canadian entry in the 2007 World Junior Championship.

Final cuts were made this morning in Calgary and the trio was not among them.

Saginaw captain and defenseman Patrick McNeill was cut on Wednesday.

O'Marra and Pyatt were members of the gold medal-winning Canada team last January in Vancouver.

"This is a wonderful accomplishment for both young men," stated Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini on O'Marra and Pyatt. "We are confident that they will represent not only Team Canada, but the Saginaw Spirit to the best of their abilities."

Pyatt was also named an alternate captain for Canada.

This year's tournament starts Dec. 26 in Leksand and Mora, Sweden.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

IceDiggers out in Alpena community

Tomorrow, the Alpena IceDiggers players will be going door to door in the Alpena community asking for donations of non-perishable items to give back to the Salvation Army.

The players will be around town from 5:00-7:00 p.m. The IceDiggers are asking members of the community to help with this much-needed cause.

"Our guys are happy to do this," Alpena GM Bob Krafft said. "They know it will benefit people less fortunate than them."

The IceDiggers return home on Sunday to play host to the Traverse City North Stars before heading home to spend the holidays with their families. Faceoff for the Sunday matinee will be at 3:00 p.m.

Alpena tops Traverse City Wednesday night

It’s been almost a month since the Traverse City North Stars didn’t come away from a game with a least one point, but that was little consolation following the Stars’ 5-2 setback at Alpena on Wednesday.

The contest marked the first of four games in five days against two of the North American Hockey League’s top clubs.

On Wednesday, the host IceDiggers got a pair of first period goals – including Drew Pierson’s power-play effort with just over two minutes until the first intermission – and outshot their visitors from the west, 15-10 over the first 20 minutes.

Patrick Nagorsen opened the second with a man-advantage conversion just 34 ticks into the stanza, but Justin Stadler registered his second of the game to put the hosts out front by two again. Less than three minutes later, Nick Von Bokern pulled TC to within a goal once more with his fifth goal of the year, but a pair of rapid-fire goals from IceDiggers Ben Kitzmiller (1:35) and Stars castoff Mike DeGrazia (3:49) – and being whistled for six of the game’s last seven penalties – put the contest out of reach for the North Stars at Northern Lights Arena.

“A flat team showed up here tonight,” said Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. “No jump, no intensity. We let in a couple of softies in the first period, and just couldn’t get back in it. I don’t know what it is about us in this building.”

Kyle Jendra spelled Stefan Shively in net early in the final period, and the two goalkeepers combined for 34 saves on 39 shots. Shawn Hunwick and Mike Jarboe shared duties for Alpena, amassing 23 saves. Jarboe, who worked the third period, faced just two shots.

Mike Glaesmer and Harrison Niemann drew assists on Nagorsen’s ninth goal of the year, while Ben Plocar and Sabastion Kimmel set up Von Bokern’s marker.

Traverse City (11-14-5) will play host to the red-hot Mahoning Valley Phantoms on Friday and Saturday at Centre ICE arena. The Phantoms have won 16 consecutive times since they dropped a 3-2 shootout decision in Traverse City on Oct. 14. The Stars return to Alpena for Sunday’s matinee and the final contest before the Christmas holiday break.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Whalers win weekly, monthly awards

Two Plymouth Whalers were in the news this week.

First, forward Tom Sestito (above) was named the OHL Player of the Week for the week ending December 10, 2006. The 19-year-old winger from Rome, N.Y., scored six goals and had seven points in three games last week.

Sestito helped the Whalers to a 7-1 victory on the road in London on Friday night over the Knights. He had a natural hat trick in the contest, including the game-winning goal and also added an assist. He was also named first star of the game for his efforts.

The next night, Sestito was once again the game’s first star after recording is second hat trick in as many nights as the Whalers defeated Sudbury 5-3 at home.

The back-to-back three-goal games give Sestito four hat tricks on the season and he currently leads Plymouth with 20 goals in 28 games.

Second-year left wing Joe Gaynor (left) was then selected the OHL Academic Player of the Month for November in the West Division.

Gaynor, 17, a native of Goderich, Ontario, is a Grade 12 student at Plymouth High School in Plymouth.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

IceDiggers finally come back home

After playing the last 10 games away from Northern Lights Arena, the Alpena IceDiggers finally get to come home Wednesday and play in front of the hometown crowd versus the Traverse City North Stars.

Faceoff is set for 7:00 p.m.

The IceDiggers finished their longest road trip of the season with a record of 7-3 and, although it gave the team not only a measuring stick within the North Division, it gave the players a chance to spend quality time together as a group.

But now they are happy to be back and ready to play in front of their fans and housing families.

"It was a successful road trip in terms of wins and losses, but for the guys it is going to be nice to play at NLA," stated head coach Kenny Miller.

Alpena will play Traverse City four straight times before the New Year. Aside from the exhibition game against the Under-17 Swedish National Team on Dec. 27, the North Stars will be the only opponent until the 2007 calendar year.

The IceDiggers currently sit four points behind first place Mahoning Valley, but Alpena has one game in hand on the Phantoms.


Center Todd Rudasill continues to lead the NAHL in scoring with 49 points in 29 games. He is currently eight points better than Fairbanks' Kyle Schmidt, who has 41 points.

The IceDiggers also announced today they have acquired forward Jonathan Juliano from Fairbanks. The Clinton Township native appeared in nine games with the IceDogs recording three assists. Juliano spent all of last season and the beginning of this season with Traverse City, where we played 72 games and scored 13 goals and added 27 assists. Last season, Juliano led Traverse City in scoring in the playoffs with seven points in five games.

The IceDiggers will be without the services of captain Nolan Craner, assistant captain Ricardo Yesue and veteran defensemen Korey O'Brien, who are out with various injuries.

"With these guys banged up other players will need to step in and make an impact," said Miller. "We have guys on the team able to do that."

All three players should be ready after the Christmas break.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Ontario Hockey League

Thurs. Dec. 7
Plymouth 7 at London 1

Fri. Dec. 8
at Plymouth 5, Sudbury 3
at Saginaw 6, Sault Ste. Marie 2

Sat. Dec. 9
Barrie 2 at Plymouth 1 (SO)

Sun. Dec. 10
Saginaw 2 at Sault Ste. Marie 1

North American Hockey League

Thurs. Dec. 7
Alpena 5 at U.S. Under-17 Team 2

Fri. Dec. 8
at Mahoning Valley 7, Alpena 1

Sat. Dec. 9
at Mahoning Valley 3, Alpena 2
Traverse City 3 at U.S. Under-17 Team 2 (SO)

Sun. Dec. 10
at U.S. Under-17 Team 4, Traverse City 3 (SO)

Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League

Fri. Dec. 8
at Manitoulin 4, Soo 3 (OT)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Zaborsky selected by Team Slovakia

Saginaw Spirit forward Tomas Zaborsky has been selected to play with Team Slovakia in the upcoming World Junior Championship.

Team Slovakia will take on Team Canada and Team USA, as well as squads from Belarus, Finland, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

"We are excited for Tomas as it is one more player representing our organization on the world stage," stated Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini.

Zaborsky came to the Spirit in this year's CHL Import Draft from Trencin, Slovakia, and was picked by the New York Rangers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The 19-year-old has notched six goals and14 assists for 20 points this season.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

IceDiggers to host Swedish National Team

The Alpena IceDiggers have been selected to host an exhibition game against the Swedish National Under-17 Team on Wednesday, Dec. 27 at Northern Lights Arena at 7 p.m.

"To be able to bring a team like this here to Alpena is going to be very special, not only for our boys, but for all our great fans," said IceDiggers GM-VP of operations Bob Krafft. "It should be a fun and exciting event."

The Swedish National Team will play in the Four Nations Tournament in Ann Arbor between the Christmas and New Year's holiday. Team Sweden will play the USA Under-17 team that the IceDiggers take on in league play. The other two teams competing in the tournament will be Germany and Finland.

"We're really excited for this prestigious opportunity," said IceDiggers head coach Kenny Miller. "This tournament showcases some of the best young players in the world and to be able to host Sweden in our building is a real honor."

The game will mark the first time the IceDiggers have played an international opponent.

Four Michigan OHLers get Canada invites

Three Saginaw Spirit players and one Plymouth Whalers' star have received invitations to Team Canada's final selection camp for the 2007 World Junior Championship later this month in Sweden.

Saginaw defenseman and captain Patrick McNeill and forwards Ryan O'Marra and Tom Pyatt got the call along with Plymouth's leading goal scorer James Neal (pictured).

O'Marra, then with Erie, and Pyatt were members of the 2006 gold medal-winning Canadian contingent.

“We’re excited for James,” said Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci. “He’s worked very hard during his career in Plymouth.”

“As an organization we are all proud of these three men and wish them the best of luck at the Selection Camp," stated Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini.

Team Canada will play against teams from the United States, Belarus, Finland, Germany, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. The tournament runs Dec. 26, 2006 to Jan. 5, 2007 in Leksand and Mora, Sweden.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Monday, December 04, 2006



Thurs. Nov. 30
Kitchener 4 at Saginaw 2

Fri. Dec. 1
at Plymouth 4, Saginaw 2

Sat. Dec. 2
at Plymouth 5, Guelph 3
London 5 at Saginaw 4 (SO)

Sun. Dec. 3
Plymouth 4 at Guelph 0


Fri. Dec. 1
at Traverse City 6, Marquette 5

Sat. Dec. 2
at Traverse City 3, Marquette 2

Sun. Dec. 3
Alpena 6 at Marquette 0

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Mancini wants more than Garber's offered, so far


The Saginaw Spirit have the same man handling the general manager and coach's duties.

That man is Bob Mancini, and under his direction the franchise has gone from a laughingstock to one of the best in the league.

Make no mistake about it, Mancini laid the foundation and built on it, erecting a strong squad that seems capable of making a long run in this year's playoffs.

Team owner Dick Garber wants both a general manager and a coach next season. He'll get no argument from Mancini.

"One of the issues Bob and I have had is the dynamics of this situation," Garber said. "I felt and still feel strongly based on our location in Saginaw we need a general manager and a coach; the positions are separate.

"It is a tremendous workload for one person. We're removed from the mainstream of the league being in Saginaw, and I believe Bob is in agreement it is a two-person job. Hopefully we'll come up with a plan that complements the community."

Mancini doesn't disagree with his boss, but he isn't happy Garber hasn't offered him a new contract and his current three-year deal expires in May.

Actually, Garber did submit a proposal to Mancini last summer and Mancini felt slighted by it.

"He offered me a one-year extension and I turned it down," Mancini said. "I would have expected for Dick to offer me a contract to be general manager beyond this year. I think Dick thinks I want to be coach and general manager and that's not true.

"I've told Dick time and time again I just want to be the general manager, but I felt strongly that the right thing for me and the team this year was for me to do both."

The issue is moot right now as far as Garber is concerned.

"We have higher priorities right now, and neither Bob nor I need the distraction right now," Garber said, referring to negotiating with Mancini for next season and possibly beyond.

Mancini doesn't see it the same way.

"I think I've earned a minimum of three years," Mancini said. "They gave (Owen Sound general manager-coach) Mike Futa a four-year extension. I turned it down because not only have I brought stability to this organization, I've obviously shown that I can not only point it in the right direction to win, but I can lead it in the right direction to win.

"I think I've shown so far I deserve a lot more than one year."

Mancini refused to speculate whether Garber is waiting to see how this season turns out before starting serious negotiations to keep him in Saginaw.

"The only pressure I feel is the pressure I put on myself," Mancini said. "That's just to do the best job I can every day."

But Garber said performance is part of any evaluation he makes of Mancini.

"Performance is tied to everything we do, and Bob understands that," Garber said. "He understands the expectations of the franchise. I made it clear to him when I hired him what I expected.

"He has done a great job. He has done exactly what I anticipated he'd do, but we still have a lot to prove. We have not won anything."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mursak selected to Slovenia World Juniors

Saginaw Spirit forward Jan Mursak has been selected to play in the 2007 IIHF World U-20 Championships with Team Slovenia.

Team Slovenia will take part in the Division 1, Group B Championship from December 11 to December 17 in Odense, Denmark. The team will see action against squads from Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine.

"We wish Jan the best of luck in helping his country at the World Juniors in Denmark," stated Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini.

Mursak is a native of Maribor, Slovenia and came to the Spirit in the 2006 CHL Import Draft. The 1988-born player was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

This season has seen Mursak score 13 goals and 33 assists for 46 points. He also has the distinction of holding the team's consecutive point streak record, scoring at least one point in 22 consecutive games.

The World Juniors is an annual competition that pits the best junior hockey players in the world against each other. Spirit forward Tom Pyatt was part of the Team Canada squad that won the 2006 World U-20 Championship. Spirit forward Ryan O'Marra, who was with the Erie Otters at the time, also participated in last year's gold medal winning Canada team. Canada's roster has yet to be announced.

Past Saginaw World Junior participants:
2006: Tom Pyatt, Canada (Gold)
2006: Michal Birner, Czech Republic
2005: Marek Kvapil, Czech Republic (Bronze)

IceDiggers add Plymouth native Brandt

The Alpena IceDiggers have signed forward and Plymouth native Kenny Brandt.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder reported to Alpena on Monday and began practicing with his new teammates at that time.

Brandt spend time with the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the USHL prior to joining the IceDiggers. In two seasons in the Eastern Junior Hockey League, Brandt played with the Valley Junior Warriors where he suited up in 79 games, scoring 24 goals and 26 assists for 50 points.

"We have a few minor injures up front and to be able to add a player like Kenny is a big plus for our hockey club," stated Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller. "He will give us another scoring threat and he is a tremendous skater with a knack for being around the net."

In other news, the IceDiggers will play without captain Nolan Craner this weekend as he nurses a minor injury. Miller said Craner should be ready to go next Thursday when Alpena travels to Ann Arbor to take on the USA Under-17 team before heading to Mahoning Valley to play the Phantoms on Friday and Saturday.