Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Sestito earns three-year deal from 'Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed Plymouth Whalers left wing Tom Sestito to a three-year entry level contract.

Sestito was Columbus' third pick, 85th overall, at the 2006 Entry Draft.

Sestito, 19, tallied 42 goals and 22 assists for 64 points with 135 penalty minutes and a +6 plus/minus rating in 60 games with Plymouth during the 2006-07 regular season. He led the club and ranked 13th in the OHL in goals and was tops on the club and eighth in the OHL with 21 power-play goals. He also led the Whalers with four shorthanded goals and was sixth on the club in points. He helped lead Plymouth to a 49-14-2-3 record, which was tops in the West Division and second in the league.

The 6-5, 212-pound Rome, New York native has appeared in 152 career OHL games with the Whalers, registering 53-35-88, 399 penalty minutes and a +3 plus/minus rating.

Schoolcraft native opts for Ferris State

Mahoning Valley Phantoms center Derek Graham has accepted a scholarship to play college hockey at Ferris State University beginning in the 2008-09 season.

“It happened so quickly that I’m still a bit overwhelmed,” Graham said. "(Ferris State) coach (Bob) Daniels watched me a few weekends ago up in Alpena. He stayed another day to see a second game. Two days later, I was given an offer.”

“Derek is just another guy who has worked hard and can now look forward to the next part of his life,” Phantoms coach Bob Mainhardt said of the Schoolcraft native.

Graham becomes the second Phantom to head to Ferris State, joining former Phantom and current sophomore defenseman Evan Case. He has followed the Bulldogs since he began playing hockey at the Mite level.

“I went to their summer hockey camps when I was eight until I was twelve,” Graham said. “They’ve been a top choice of mine for some time.”

With his commitment secured more than a year in advance, Graham will return next fall for a second stint with the Phantoms.

Mainhardt joked, “It breaks my heart that we’ll have him for another season.”

In 51 games this season, Graham has 57 points on 18 goals and 39 assists, tying him for 18th in North American Hockey League scoring. Among his 39 assists include 22 on the power play, tying him for fourth in the NAHL.

Graham has seen numerous parts of his game improve over the course of the season and plans to utilize next season to hone other skills.

“I’m doing pretty well with my vision, distributing the puck and being in power play situations,” said Graham. “I want to get bigger and stronger this summer. But for now, I’d like to be more consistent and improve my shot.”

Graham has his eyes focused on the ultimate team prize now that his decision on where to play at the next level is taken care of.

“I can begin to relax and move on now,” Graham said. “It gets easier to focus on and work harder towards the next game and, ultimately, a chance at winning a national championship.”

IceDiggers sign goalie Pason to tender

The Alpena IceDiggers have signed goaltender Dan Pason to a tender to play in Alpena next season.

The Trenton native spent the 2006-2007 playing for Bill Ciraulo with the Little Caesars midget major team and prior to playing at Little Caesars, Pason played at powerhouse Trenton High School.

"Dan comes highly recommended from Billy who has had great things to say about him," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "Every time we saw him play he was very good. He deserves a chance to play juniors. We are thrilled that Dan has decided to come to Alpena next year where he will get an opportunity to step in and play games if he performs to his ability."

The 1989 birth year had a record of 22-9-5 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage this season. As a junior at Trenton in 2005-2006, Pason had a record of 23-4-1 with a 1.71 GAA.

The highly-touted goaltender is the second player to sign a tender for the 2007-2008 season joining Toledo Cherokee forward Tyler Pilmore.

Alpena's Pierson cops weekly NAHL honor

The North American Hockey League announced Monday that Alpena IceDiggers forward Drew Pierson has been named the North Division Player of the Week.

It’s the third straight week an IceDigger has won the award and the second time in three weeks Pierson has copped the honor.

The Pleasant Prairie, Wis., native recorded one goal and two assists in Alpena's 4-1 victory at Mahoning Valley on Friday. On Saturday, Pierson netted two goals and two assists as the IceDiggers fell 5-4 in a shootout.

In his last seven contests, the Army recruit has been on fire, scoring seven goals and assisting on nine others.

"Drew has been playing really well the last three weeks,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller. "He has been very successful this season.”

Pierson is second on the club in scoring with 35 goals and 42 assist for 77 points. The 20-year old forward leads the NAHL with 17 power-play goals.

Goaltender Mike Jarboe, who won the player of the week award last week, was also nominated after going 1-0-1, only allowing five goals on 114 shots in the two games.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Indians begin semis this weekend at Big Bear

by Randy Russon
RR Media Service

Following a two-week layoff, the Soo Indians will begin their Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League best-of-seven semi-final playoff series with a pair of games this weekend at Big Bear Arena.

The Indians will play host to the North Bay Skyhawks on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.

The Indians haven't played since clinching first place in their last game of the regular season on March 10, a status that earned them a first-round playoff bye.

Indians' head coach Kevin Cain said no one is taking North Bay lightly. The Skyhawks finished sixth in the seven-team NOJHL -- albeit just below .500 with a 23-24-1 record -- before upsetting the third-place Abitibi Eskimos in the first round of the playoffs.

"They have had their ups and downs but North Bay is a talented team and they certainly put it all together against Abitibi," Cain observed.

North Bay is coached by Darren Turcotte, who played more than 700 National Hockey League games. And as Turcotte got North Bay to elevate its game in the playoff series with Abitibi, the former NHLer is well aware of what the Indians have.

"That's a good-skating, very-skilled team," Turcotte offered. "They ended the season strong and they are well coached. They've been a more-disciplined team since Kevin took over behind the bench. They're a team that works hard and a team that we really respect."

Cain has confirmed that first all-star team goalie Brennan Poderzay will get the nod to start the series. The affable Cain, who has been a voice of reason and a person of trust to his players, noted that "we need everyone on board from our goalies to our defencemen to our forwards.

"The leaders have to lead...we all have to do the jobs that have been assigned us."

Indians with previous NOJHL playoff experience who'll be expected to lead the way include forwards Shane Bailey, Sean Farley, Isaac Viau and Sam Yearsley and defensemen J.D. King, Pete Landem and Sean Reid.

The entire team was strong down the stretch as the Indians played their best hockey of the season under the direction of Cain and his assistants, Al DiPasquo and Warren LaVoy, fashioning a 9-2 record to close out the campaign in first place.

All in all, the Indians were 14-6 under Cain and Co. following the release of former coach Jim Capy and his staff. The Indians were 17-9-2 under Capy, meaning they actually had a better winning percentage under Cain and Co.

St. Louis visits Traverse City for home finale

The St. Louis Bandits need just two points this weekend to clinch the NAHL South Division regular season crown. The Traverse City North Stars would like nothing more than to put the Bandits’ celebration on hold.

“We don’t mind playing the role of spoiler,” said North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner, whose team plays host to St. Louis in a Friday-Saturday weekend series at Centre ICE arena. “We’re not going out and mailing this (season) in. This is one of the best teams in the league – if not the best – and they’ll have a lot of fans in our building. We played them tough for two periods two straight nights down there, we just have to put three periods of hockey together.”

The Bandits (42-13-3) hold a nine-point bulge on second-place Santa Fe, and trail only Mahoning Valley for the North American Hockey League’s best record. They’ve done it with a stout defense and one of junior hockey’s premiere netminders in Pat Nagle. The Bloomfield native owns a 24-7-3 mark with a .922 save percentage and 2.21 goals-against average.

“He was tough when we saw him down there last month,” said Gardiner, referring to a 6-2 setback in St. Louis on Feb. 17. “He’s definitely one of the best in the league, but they play very good defense in front of him, too. They’re just a solid, well-coached hockey club.”

St. Louis also boasts the league’s top scorer in rugged power forward Pat Maroon, who has registered 37 goals and 57 assists over 54 contests this season. The hometown product was held off the scoresheet in his only game vs. TC in February.

The North Stars are paced by the NAHL’s highest-scoring defenseman, Nick Von Bokern, who has 11 goals and 35 assists in his 59 contests between Fairbanks and Traverse City. Patrick Nagorsen is second on the club with 12 goals and assists on 29 others. Matt Hughes leads TC in lamplighters with 15, while Zach Hitch has 14.

While Traverse City has been officially eliminated from postseason contention, Gardiner says that final home series is a milestone of sorts for his veteran players.

“This is it for some of the guys,” he explained. “Their last home series, and their last few games in juniors. While we can’t get caught up in the moment – we have some hockey left to play – it’s still something to take note of for these guys as they progress in hockey, school and life.”

Friday’s game will feature the return to Centre ICE arena for at least one former North Stars player, Steven Oleksy, who will drop the ceremonial first puck. The original Stars blue-liner and former captain, who had 11 goals and 20 assists over 57 outings last year, completed his first season with the CCHA’s Lake Superior State University hockey team. The Chesterfield Township native finished his season strong for the Lakers, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on a third against Michigan State in the CCHA consolation game at Joe Louis Arena last weekend.

The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. for both Friday’s opener and Saturday’s lid-lifter.


MDA event an icy success

Thursday’s ‘Spaghetti on Ice’ event saw over 200 people served an Olive Garden pasta dinner by the skating North Stars wait staff, and raised over $5,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The first event of its kind in Northern Michigan, MDA event chairperson Shannon Gowan called the event a ‘success.’

“We started doing this in Flint and the first year we had very similar numbers to what we did tonight (Thursday),” Gowan explained. “That event has grown to over a thousand people, so we think we’re right on track to make this an annual event with some real growth potential.”

The event was sponsored by Olive Garden, Pepsi, TV 7&4, and Classic Rock The Bear.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

IceDiggers back on track

After battling through a rough stretch the past few weeks, the Alpena IceDiggers reversed their fortunes last weekend with three convincing wins in which they outscored their opponents, 16-2.

“We’re starting to play good hockey again at the right time,” said IceDiggers coach-GM Kenny Miller, whose team was 2-8 in its last 10 games prior to last weekend. “We’ll need to play like we did last week in order to be successful the rest of the regular season and the playoffs.”

The IceDiggers opened with a 3-0 win over Marquette on Thursday night behind a perfect 27-save performance by goaltender Mike Jarboe. Marco Ruggeri scored the game’s first goal, with Todd Rudasill and Jimmy McCusker (pictured) notching the others.The next night, Drew Pierson’s two goals, including the game-winner, lifted Alpena to a 5-2 win over Traverse City. McCusker added another goal and an assist, while Jarboe turned aside 30 shots.

On Saturday, Jarboe took center stage again, stopping all 28 shots in the IceDiggers’ 8-0 victory over the North Stars. McCusker and Carl Nielsen each struck for two goals, with Justin King adding three assists.

“We started off strong on Thursday and that carried over into the rest of the weekend,” said Miller, whose team improved to 35-20-4. “We were really excited about playing our last home game (on Saturday in front of 1,043 fans) and it showed; we controlled play for the entire 60 minutes."

Jarboe was calling the shots for most of the weekend. Picked up back in September in a trade with St. Louis, the 18-year-old recorded his first two shutouts of the season at an important time of the year.

“Mike has been great as of late,” said Miller. “He’s in a groove right now and in order for us to be successful the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs, our goaltending is going to have to play well and I’m confident it will.”

One of the youngest IceDiggers, 17-year-old McCusker is also blossoming into postseason form. Never short on effort, the Novi native has five goals and seven assists in his last 10 games, including his five-point performance last weekend.

“He’s one of our hardest workers and he’s starting to get rewarded,” said Miller. “I expect him to finish strong and carry his play into the playoffs.”

Pierson, an Army recruit, continues to play his hot hand offensively, as does Rudasill, the Ohio state-bound standout who trails St. Louis’ Pat Maroon by only 10 points in the NAHL scoring race with three games to play.

Versatile Ricardo Yesue has also earned high praise from his coach.

“He’s the ultimate team player who is willing to do whatever it takes in order for his team to win, whether it’s make a play offensively, kill off a penalty or stand in front (of the net) on the power play and takes whacks from defensemen,” said Miller.

King had his best weekend of the year in Miller’s eyes, providing an energetic spark through his hard work.

The always-improving Chad Billins continues to be the IceDiggers’ most consistent defensemen, according to Miller.

Eric Roman, who recently committed to Wayne State, has continued his solid play.

"Now that Eric has committed to college, you can tell he's more relaxed and just making plays all over the ice," said Miller.

His defensive partner, 6-foot-4, 215-pound Nielsen, has proved himself as one of the league’s toughest customers with talent to boot.

“He’s stepped up and is playing some really good hockey right now,” said Miller.

Alpena’s turnaround this season has been dramatic. After winning all of 13 games last season, the IceDiggers can come close to tripling that number this year (they have 35 wins with three games to play).

“Veteran leadership has played a big part,” said Miller of his team’s 180. “The guys work hard in practice and in the weight room and it’s paid off so far.“We were able to add some players through trades and also from Junior B and all those players have stepped in and been a big part of the team, along with the 14 guys that returned from last year. And our first-year players all came from high-quality teams and have been great additions to the success we are having as well. We have guys that have skill, but we also have guys that work very hard.

“In our four years in this league, this is the most talented team we’ve had, skill-wise, and it may also be the hardest-working team,” Miller added. “The guys get along very well off the ice; they spend lots of time together away from the rink.”

Of Alpena’s three remaining games, two are at North Division champion Mahoning Valley this weekend. The IceDiggers are 3-11 against the Phantoms this season and winless in Ohio.

“We’ll have to be at our best because we haven’t had success in that building all year,” said Miller. “I like the fact that we’re playing good hockey right now as we head there.“It’s no secret why they have the best record in the league,” he added. “They’re a really good club and they have tons of skill and they work hard. It will be a tough challenge, but I know the guys will be ready for it.”

Taken from weekly NAHL release

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Ann Arbor native to become a Spartan

Omaha Lancers' goaltender Drew Palmisano has committed to Michigan State University for the 2008-2009 season.

The Ann Arbor native has posted an 18-8-4 overall win-loss record thus far this season. He has a 2.84 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage. He currently ranks eighth among USHL goaltenders.

“Drew has been one of the most instrumental players in turning our season around and we're happy for him to able to play at a university like Michigan State,” said Lancers' head coach Mike Hastings. “Drew is excited about the opportunity to play so close to home.”

Palmisano is the third Lancer goaltender in recent years to sport the green and white for Michigan State. Dominic Vicari played for the Spartans during the 2003 - 2006 seasons. and Jeff Lerg is currently the starting goaltender for the Spartans.

Indians await second-round NOJHL opponent

They've had their rest and have been working hard at practice and now the Soo Indians are looking forward to the second round of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs.

Finishing in first place during the NOJHL regular season earned the Indians a first-round bye.

"We took a few days off (after clinching first place by winning their regular-season finale on March 10) but since then we've been busy doing dryland and practicing to get ready for the next round of the playoffs," noted Indians' head coach Kevin Cain.

"We're looking forward to getting back in action."

With the first round of the playoffs still ongoing, the Indians will begin a semi-final series on Saturday night at Big Bear Arena against a yet-to-be-determined opponent.

"We had some bumps and bruises that have healed and the only question mark is Nick Novak," Cain said of his defenseman who broke his hand in a game three weeks ago.

Looking ahead to the semi-finals, Cain said he's expecting "nothing less than a battle, regardless of who we face. You know the league, you know how tough and tight it's been all season. We don't have a weak team in this league."

Cain took over the Indians with 20 games left in the regular season and led the team to a 14-6 record, including a 9-2 finish. Despite placing first, the affable head coach noted that "since I came on board, we haven't had an easy game. Not one."

Jarboe earns weekly NAHL honor

For the second straight week, an Alpena IceDiggers' player has claimed the North American Hockey League's North Division player of the week honors.

Netminder Mike Jarboe takes the honors for the week of March 12-March 18. Jarboe picked up three wins last week, allowing just two goals in nine periods of hockey. The Grosse Pointe Park native recorded two shutouts making a total of 85 saves in 180 minutes.

"Mike has been good for us all year, but he is in a groove right now and playing his best hockey," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "This is what I expected of him when we got him earlier in the year in a trade. He has the ability to be one of the best goalies in the league and he is showing everyone that right now."

Jarboe is the first IceDigger in franchise history to earn player of the week honors twice in one season. IceDiggers have earned the award a total of eight times this season. Other players wining the award have been Drew Pierson, Erik Peterson, Todd Rudasill, Justin Stadler, Nolan Craner and Shawn Hunwick.

Friday, March 16, 2007

North Stars eye scoreboard, visiting Diggers

Officially, there are three distinct divisions within a given hockey season: preseason, regular season, and postseason. But unofficially – for teams on the proverbial playoff bubble – there is another segment, wedged betwixt the regular season and the postseason: Scoreboard season. That’s when coaches and fans find themselves as interested in what’s going on in other NAHL arenas as their own.

‘Scoreboard season’ is also the time when a coach can be root for a team one night, and have to face them the next. And that’s exactly where Traverse City North Stars coach Scott Gardiner was on Thursday night, silently rooting for the Alpena IceDiggers as they took on Marquette, the club his North Stars trail for the fourth and final NAHL North playoff spot. The Diggers held up their end of the bargain on Thursday, blanking Marquette by a 3-0 margin, but will go from friend to foe again on Friday when Alpena visits Centre ICE arena for the front end of a home-and-home series.

“Yeah, when you’re in the situation we are – trailing Marquette – you do find yourself watching the scoreboard a little,” Gardiner admitted. “We were rooting for Alpena on Thursday and we have to turn around and face off against them on Friday and Saturday. It’s just that time of year – you cheer for a rival one night and try to take it to ’em the next.”

This weekend’s game could well amount to a do-or-die scenario with respect to the Stars’ slender playoff chances. Marquette – which has seven points and a game in hand for the fourth NAHL North postseason berth over Traverse City – has two games against Fargo-Moorhead on the docket for this weekend and a pair against the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad next weekend. Traverse City and Marquette play twice more this season in TC’s final contests of the regular season March 30-31. Marquette then hosts Alpena in a Sunday matinee on April 1 to end the 2006-07 campaign.

“The way we see it, there are six games left and 12 points on the table,” Gardiner explained. “We have the opportunity to take four (points) if we win both games up there to end the regular season. That means we have a few points to make up in the meantime. But if we don’t take care of business this weekend against a very good Alpena team, none of that will matter. We have to take ’em one game at a time, as the cliché goes.”

The high-octane Diggers (32-20-4) are led by Todd Rudasill (29 goals, 48 assists), Drew Pierson (29-37) and Nolan Craner (23-37). The trio has been among the NAHL scoring leaders all season, and have combined for 38 of Alpena’s league-best 83 power play goals. Nick Von Bokern leads all North Stars in scoring (46 pts.), while Patrick Nagorsen (12 G-29 A) and Aaron Pietila (11-20) are second and third, respectively. Zach Hitch and Matt Hughes are TC’s top goal-scorers with 14 each.

Friday’s game at Centre ICE arena and Saturday’s rematch at Northern Lights Arena in Alpena both face off at 7 p.m.

Alpena blanks Marquette Thursday

On Thursday, Alpena IceDiggers' (33-20-4) netminder Mike Jarboe recorded his first shutout this season with a 3-0 win in Marquette (21-30-4) against the Rangers.

Marco Ruggeri got the IceDiggers on the board seven minutes into the game giving Alpena the early lead. Kerry Bence and Drew Pierson assisted on Ruggeri's game winning goal. IceDiggers' leading scorer Todd Rudasill netted his 29th goal of the season to give Alpena a 2-0 lead with co-captains Nolan Craner and Ricardo Yesue assisting on the tally.

Rookie forward Jimmy McCusker scored the IceDiggers third and final goal late in the second period. The shorthanded tally was his tenth of the campaign and Rudasill added the lone assist.

"We came out and played well early and as the game went on, we got stronger in all three zones," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "In the third, Mike did a great job of making some key saves and the guys played well in front of him."

Jarboe had to make nine saves in the final frame for a total of 27 saves for the game. With the win, Jarboe now has a record of 16-9-2 with Alpena.

The IceDiggers will now head to Traverse City to take on the North Stars (17-34-5) on Friday at 7 p.m. inside Center Ice Arena. Several IceDigger fans will travel across the state on a fan bus to cheer the Diggers on as they look to pick up their 34th win of the season.

Alpena will host Traverse City in the IceDiggers' final regular season home game on Saturday at Northern Lights Arena. The puck will drop at 7 p.m. and the first 350 fans in attendance will receive a souvenir puck courtesy of Verizon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grand Rapids native goes with D-III Eau Claire

Springfield Jr. Blues forward Ross Janecyk has committed to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (NCHA) for the 2007-08 season.

“Ross’s leadership and strong character compliment his hockey skills to the fullest,” said former Jr. Blues coach-GM Nick Pollos. “I’m very proud of him in his choice to play at Eau Claire.”

Janecyk, a Grand Rapids native who started his NAHL career in 2005-06 with the defunct Helena Bighorns, was traded to Springfield from Bismarck earlier this season. After 43 games this year, the 20-year-old has 10 goals among 22 points.

“Ross has been a great addition to our team since coming over from Bismarck,” added Pollos.

IceDiggers' Roman to Wayne State

Alpena IceDiggers defenseman Eric Roman has committed to Wayne State for the 2007-2008 season.

“I am extremely happy for Eric and his family,” Alpena head coach Kenny Miller said. “He is getting a chance to play at the D-I level in the Detroit area.”

Roman is in his second season with Alpena after spending his high school career at Orchard Lake St. Mary's where he won a state title in 2005.

“Eric stepped in last year and played a big role with our hockey club and he has improved everyday since he got here,” added Miller. “His hard work has paid off for him.”

The 20-year-old West Bloomfield native has played in 55 games this year and has seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points. Roman is also third on the IceDiggers with 103 penalty minutes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pierson earns weekly NAHL honors

Alpena forward Drew Pierson rang up four goals and three assists last weekend and was named the North Division player of the week as the IceDiggers split a pair of games with Mahoning Valley.

On Friday, the 20-year-old Army recruit recorded a hat trick in a 4-3 loss. The next night, the Pleasant Prairie, Wis., native scored the game-winning goal and three assists as Alpena doubled up the North Division champion Phantoms, 6-3.

"Drew was very good this weekend," Alpena head coach Kenny Miler said. "He has been playing hard every shift and this weekend he was rewarded for his efforts. He was a big part of the reason we played so well this weekend."

Pierson is eighth in the NAHL scoring race with 29 goals and 36 assist for 65 points. The second-year player also leads the league in power-play goals with 16.
New Plymouth Whalers' defenseman Jordon O'Neill

(Photo by Walt Dmoch)

Saginaw's Pyatt inks with Rangers

The New York Rangers announced yesterday that Saginaw Spirit center Tom Pyatt has signed his first pro contract.

Pyatt was drafted by the Rangers in the fourth round, 107th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. The terms of the contract were not disclosed.

“It's nice to sign your first contract," stated Pyatt. “It's good to move my game up to the next level. I am looking forward to training camp next fall.”

Pyatt came to Saginaw four seasons ago when he was drafted in the second round, 21st overall, of the 2003 OHL Priority Selection. In his time with the Spirit, Pyatt has tallied 93 goals and 107 assists with 42 goals and 38 assists this season.

The 20-year-old Pyatt hit the 200 point marker last weekend in the 7-4 win over the Guelph Storm. The Thunder Bay, Ont., native also tallied his fourth hat trick of the season in the effort, set a new record for the Spirit in single season shorthanded goal scoring with his sixth of the season and tied the team's single-season goal record held by Nick Lees (42 goals) from the 2003-04 season.

Pyatt, with 80 points on the season, is closing in on the single season points record held by Ryan McDonough (88 points) from the 2005-06 season. Pyatt participated in the 2005 and 2006 ADT Canada-Russia Challenge and the 2006 and 2007 OHL All-Star Classic. He was the Western Conference MVP in the 2006 All-Star Classic and the Western Conference captain in the 2007 All-Star Classic. Pyatt played with Team Canada in the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Championship, winning a gold medal in both tournaments.

“We're thrilled that Tommy has taken the next step in fulfilling a lifelong dream to play in the National Hockey League,” stated Spirit coach-GM Bob Mancini. “He has a tremendous future in the game.”

Monday, March 12, 2007

Saginaw clinches first round home ice

The Saginaw Spirit beat the Guelph Storm, 7-4, Sunday afternoon in Guelph and have clinched the coveted fourth seed in the OHL Western Conference, good for home ice advantage in the first round of the OHL playoffs.

Tom Pyatt tallied his fourth hat trick of the season in the game. Tyler Haskins, Jan Mursak, Cody Bass and Andrew Hotham each notched two assists. The win moves Saginaw’s record to 41-21-0-3.

Jack Combs, Ryan O'Marra, Ryan McDonough and Nigel Williams scored single goals for Saginaw, who got a 12-save outing from goalie Ryan Daniels.

Whalers hit 100-point plateau Sunday

Chris Terry led a balanced attack with a goal and three assists and Michal Neuvirth stopped 31 shots as the Plymouth Whalers defeated the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, 6-1, Sunday afternoon at the Compuware Sports Arena.

Besides Terry (pictured), Plymouth received goals from Andrew Fournier, Jared Boll, Vern Cooper, captain Steve Ward and Kaine Geldart.

With the win, Plymouth hits 100 points with a record of 48-14-1-3 – the second time in the Whalers’ 17-year history they’ve hit 100 points in a season. The 1998-1999 Whalers hold the franchise record with 106 points (51-13-4).

Plymouth remains tied with London as the top team overall in OHL. London (also 48-14-1-3) defeated Owen Sound, 7-6 in a shootout, on Sunday afternoon.

Plymouth pulled away from Sault Ste. Marie in the game, leading 1-0 after one period and 5-1 after 40 minutes.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Indians claim first in frantic fashion

It took their last shot in their last game of the regular season for the Soo Indians to claim first place in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Goal-scoring leader Sean Farley found range on the Indians' third attempt of the shootout to give the Tribe a dramatic 5-4 win over the Manitoulin Islanders on Saturday night at Big Bear Arena.

The victory gives the Indians 64 points from a record of 31-15-2 and first place means a first-round playoff bye. Sudbury also finished the season with 64 points, but the Jr. Wolves are relegated to second place because their 29 wins are two fewer than the Indians.

Leading 4-1 in the third period on goals by Nick Zilka, Farley, Joe Larson and James Ciotti, the Indians seemed well on their way to victory. But Manitoulin netted three goals in the space of 4:03 to tie the game and force overtime.

After a scoreless five-minute overtime, the game went to the shootout.

Indians' goalie Elliott Hogue shrugged off a shaky third period to stop all three Manitoulin shooters in the shootout. Then, after Sam Yearsley and Ky Moje were denied by Manitoulin goalie J.J. Gargour, Farley scored on a nifty set of dekes to win the game -- and first place -- for the Indians.

The Indians gave themselves a shot at first place with a 3-1 home-ice win over North Bay on Friday night. Chris MacKay scored twice for the Indians, Isaac Viau added the other and Brennan Poderzay was strong between the pipes to improve his won-loss record to 17-3, lower his goals-against average to 2.72 and improve his save percentage to .906.

The season-ending sweep capped a strong finish for the Indians under head coach Kevin Cain and his assistants Al DiPasquo and Warren LaVoy. The Indians went 9-2 down the stretch and had a 14-6 record under Cain and Co., who took over from the fired Jim Capy and his assistants in early January.

Of the victory over Manitoulin, Cain noted that "it says a lot about the closeness of the league that it went right to the end for us to finish first and to get such a tough battle from a team that finished in last.

"I give credit to my staff and to my players but that Manitoulin team never quit. I said it before that there are no easy games in this league. None."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Marquette continues to make progress

After a grueling first half of their inaugural season, the Marquette Rangers may have found their way. Going into Christmas break with an 11-19-2 record, the Rangers knew something had to change. After several roster and organizational changes, the Rangers were determined to get back on track and that’s what they’ve been doing since.

Gaining confidence during the Dec. 22 game that earned the Rangers bragging rights, they were able to successfully rally and put an end to Mahoning Valley’s 19-game unbeaten streak. Coming back from Christmas break was a large transition for many players and fans, as interim head coach Randy Enders took the bench and vowed to attempt changing the Rangers’ method of play, efforts and record. Since Enders took lead of the Rangers, the team has gone 10-10-2, improving their overall record to 21-29-4. Even though the Rangers have a long way to go, they have shown to be a strong competitor and playoff threat.

Hopefully the wins didn’t start too late in the season as the Rangers are now vying for a playoff position and chance at the Robertson Cup championship.

“The points are even more important now as playoff positioning unfolds," said Enders. "Our guys are prepared to come out and play hard, especially knowing what’s at stake."

Nick Kosinski and Brodie Zuk leading the Rangers’ scoring, and, combined with the newest addition to the Rangers, goaltender Beau Christian, the Rangers are building themselves a solid team with a strong defensive line, special teams and shooting. Out of the top 100 scoring leaders in the NAHL, six of them are Rangers.

The ice isn’t the only place the Rangers have been making waves though. Many Marquette and surrounding community members have had a chance to meet and work with the Rangers. The organization prides itself on volunteering and community efforts and have demonstrated that by collecting 640 pounds of food for the TV6 Can-A-Thon, collecting hats, mittens and scarves for the Women’s Shelter, volunteering monthly and for special events at the Jacobetti Home for Veterans, volunteering at the YMCA weekly, collecting toys and gifts for the children of deployed Upper Peninsula soldiers and working for the U.P. 200 Sled Dog Races. Most recently, the Rangers’ organization collected over $3000 for the local Pigs-N-Heat (police and fire fighters) relief fund.

The Rangers launch an eight-game home series next Thursday that will wrap up the regular season April 1. Events and activities are being planned such as St. Patrick’s Day celebrations March 17, parents and billet families being honored the weekend of March 23 and an array of events for the whole family continuing thru the final game.

Whalers tied with London for OHL lead

Daniel Ryder scored two goals and an assist and linemate Dan Collins added a goal and three assists as the Plymouth Whalers defeated the Windsor Spitfires, 6-3, Thursday night before 3,127 at Windsor Arena.

With the victory, Plymouth (now 46-14-1-3, 96 points) moves into a first-place tie with London (also 46-14-1-3) as the top team in the OHL. London lost to Kitchener, 4-1, on Thursday night at the John Labatt Centre in London.

Plymouth swept the season series with Windsor, winning all eight games this year.

Ryan McGinnis, Andrew Fournier and rookie Jordon O’Neill (first OHL goal) also scored for the Whalers.

Plymouth outshot Windsor, 48-41. Whalers' goaltender Jeremy Smith stopped 38 shots as the game’s third star and his sixth win against Windsor this year.

Plymouth is on the road Friday in Erie and returns home Sunday at 2:00 p.m. to host the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Indians can finish in first place

The Soo Indians now control their own destiny as they chase down first place in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The Indians got a helping hand on Wednesday from the fourth-place Blind River Beavers, who stunned the Sudbury Jr. Wolves right in the Nickel City, 4-3 in a shootout. Sudbury gets a point from the shootout loss and has 62 points with one game left in the regular season.

On the other hand, the Indians have two games to play and are two points back of Sudbury. Should the two teams finish in a tie, the Indians would get first place based on more victories than Sudbury.

Sudbury concludes its regular season at Abitibi on Saturday night while the Indians play both their remaining games on the home ice of Big Bear Arena. On Friday the Indians play host to North Bay and on Saturday, Manitoulin will visit Big Bear.

Both games are 7 p.m. starts.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Saginaw on short list of Memorial Cup bids

The Saginaw Spirit has been approved to make a formal bid presentation to host the 2008 MasterCard Memorial Cup. The Spirit will join the Kitchener Rangers, London Knights, Oshawa Generals and Sarnia Sting in making a formal bid presentation to the Memorial Cup Site Selection Committee on April 18.

The announcement of the host site for the 2008 Memorial Cup will be made the Week of May 7.

“We're honored to be selected along side the elite company of the four other teams chosen for this honor," stated Spirit managing partner Craig Goslin. “We look forward to continuing the bid process on behalf of a community that has become endeared with CHL hockey. I am confident that if we are selected to host the Memorial Cup, the league will be pleased with the presentation and treatment of the visiting teams and their families.”

Original release courtesy of the Ontario Hockey League

Plymouth 'Green Out' scheduled for March 17

The Plymouth Whalers are asking all fans attending the game on St. Patrick's Day on Saturday, March 17 vs. the Kitchener Rangers to get in the spirit and wear their Whalers green. The Whalers will wear their third jerseys (the green ones) and fans will have the opportunity to bid on those game-worn jerseys.

--All bids start at $200 (bids must increase by at least $5 increments)
--All silent auction bidding stops when the puck drops to start the third period
--A live auction on select players will take place about 30 minutes after the game
--Winners will be posted at the box office
--Winners can claim and pay for their jersey at the box office (cash, check or charge)
--Different from years past, the Whalers will keep the green jerseys for the playoffs and winners will receive the jerseys after the Whalers playoffs are complete.

Silent Auction
(during the game behind Section 120)
#2 Brett Bellemore
#3 Wes Cunningham
#4 Leo Jenner
#5 Jozef Sladok
#6 Steve Whitely
#8 Chad Beal
#9 Vern Cooper
#10 Ryan McGinnis
#12 Kaine Geldart
#15 Andrew Fournier
#16 Brett Valliquette
#17 Dan Collins
#18 John Armstrong
#23 Joe McCann
#25 Joe Gaynor
#27 Daniel Ryder
#28 Zack Shepley
#34 Jordon O'Neill
#39 Kyle Jendra
#40 Michal Neuvirth

Live Auction
(after the game on the ice)
#7 Jared Boll
#11 Evan Brophey
#13 Sean O'Connor
#19 James Neal
#20 Chris Terry
#21 Tom Sestito
#22 AJ Jenks
#26 Steve Ward
#30 Jeremy Smith

Monday, March 05, 2007

Saginaw's Daniels wins monthly honors

The Ontario Hockey League today announced the OHL Performers of the Month for February 2007.

Goaltender of the Month

Ryan Daniels, Saginaw Spirit

Daniels was named OHL Goaltender of the Month after posting a 1.87 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in 11 games. The Pickering, Ontario native went 8-2-0-1 and posted two shutouts in the month. The first was a 9-0 victory over the Erie Otters on Feb. 3 and then a 7-0 road win Feb. 10 over the Belleville Bulls.

Daniels was named the game’s first star in both shutout wins.

He was also named the first star of the game in a 2-1 victory over Sarnia when he made 33 saves against the division rival on Feb. 16.

The 18-year old Ottawa Senators draft pick is currently sixth among OHL goalies with 34 victories in 56 games.

IceDiggers go NASCAR-style this weekend

The Alpena IceDiggers (31-19-4) will wear special-event NASCAR racing jerseys this Friday and Saturday night when they play host to the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

The NASCAR jerseys will be auctioned off following the game on Saturday. Bidding for these one-of-a-kind jerseys will start at $100. Auctioneer Ivan Sumerix will be on hand to call the auction.

The IceDiggers teamed up with OT Sports, the official jersey supplier of the North American Hockey League, to design the jerseys.

This is the second season the IceDiggers have sported the NASCAR jerseys.

"The jerseys turned out very nice and we would like to thank OT Sports for working with us," Alpena business manager Bob Krafft said. "Our fans are really going to like the jerseys."

Earlier this season, the IceDiggers wore special camouflage jerseys that were also auctioned off after the game.

"The kids really enjoy it when we wear these type of jerseys," IceDiggers' head coach Kenny Miller said. "It is also a chance for our fans to get a game-worn jersey of their favorite player."

Last season, when the IceDiggers wore the NASCAR jersey, defenseman Ben Kitzmiller's jerseys sold for $575, tops on the team.

Indians within one point of first in NOJHL

The Soo Indians still have a shot at finishing in first place in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

The Indians moved to within a point of the first-place Sudbury Jr. Wolves with a 7-2 road win over the North Bay Skyhawks on Sunday evening. Both the Indians and Sudbury have two games left in the regular season.

Sudbury, with 61 points, is home to Blind River on Wednesday night and at Abitibi on Saturday. The Indians, with 60 points, wrap up their regular season with a pair of home games at Big Bear Arena, Friday against North Bay and Saturday vs. Manitoulin.

In the Indians' win over North Bay, captain Isaac Viau and Scott Pulak both scored twice and Nick Zilka, Ky Moje and Chris Cooper added solo goals in support of goalie Brennan Poderzay, who made 26 saves.

The Indians began the weekend by losing 3-1 on the road to Abitibi. Moje netted the only goal for the Indians.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Whalers clinch West Division title Sunday

Jared Boll scored a hat trick, Evan Brophey added two goals and an assist and Michal Neuvirth stopped 44 shots as the Plymouth Whalers led from start to finish in an 8-2 victory over the Mississauga IceDogs Sunday afternoon before 2,641 at the Compuware Sports Arena.

With the victory, Plymouth (45-14-1-3) wins their 11th division title in their 17-year history. The Whalers are 13 points ahead of second-place Saginaw (39-20-0-3, 81 points). If Saginaw wins their remaining six games, they’ll finish with 93 points.

Tom Sestito, Daniel Ryder and Andrew Fournier scored single goals for Plymouth. Brophey’s three points gives him 101 points on the season with 34 goals and 67 assists in 63 games. Chad LaRose is the last Whaler to score over 100 points in a season. LaRose – now with the Carolina Hurricanes – scored a franchise-record 61 goals with 56 assists for 117 points in 2002-03.

Plymouth led 4-0 after one period and 6-1 after forty minutes.

Although the Whalers scored eight goals, their defense and penalty killing played a big part in this victory. The Whalers’ league-leading penalty killing unit (87.4 percent) stopped 11 of 12 Mississauga power plays, including five straight in the first period. Neuvirth played well when called upon, lowering his goals-against average to 2.44 (second in the OHL), while raising his league-leading save percentage to .929.

Plymouth leads the OHL in team defense, allowing just 165 goals over 63 games.

The Whalers are on the road in Windsor on Thursday and Erie on Friday before returning home next Sunday at 2 p.m. to host Sault Ste. Marie.

Plymouth has home ice in the first round of the upcoming OHL playoffs and will open the playoffs on Sat. Mar. 24 at 7:05 p.m. against an opponent to be determined.

Brophey photo by Walt Dmoch

Friday, March 02, 2007

Rangers eyeing NAHL playoffs

The Marquette Rangers took to the road yesterday afternoon on their way to a three-game weekend in Boardman, Ohio, facing off against the leading team in the NAHL, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

During the Phantoms’ visit to Marquette in December, the Rangers successfully rallied in putting an end to Mahoning Valley ’s 19-game unbeaten streak. Now, the Rangers are looking to tally points after being defeated by the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 team last weekend.

Since the new year, the Rangers have improved their overall record to 20-27-4. Hopefully, the wins didn’t start too late in the season, as the Rangers are now vying for a playoff position and chance at the Robertson Cup championship.

“The points are even more important now as playoff positioning unfolds," said Marquette head coach Randy Enders. "We know to beat the Phantoms our special teams will play a huge role and we need to limit their power-play opportunities and capitalize on ours. Our guys are prepared to come out and play hard, especially knowing what’s at stake."

Nick Kosinski continues to be a strong leader for the Rangers not only as the leading Rangers’ scorer with 44 points in 50 games, but is currently ranked 26 out of over 450 players in the NAHL. Brodie Zuk just trails as 33rd in the league with 43 points in 44 games played. Neeco Belanger has amassed 39 points, while Nic Weight has tallied 32 and Jake Hauswirth 30. Out of the top 100 scoring leaders in the NAHL, six of them are Rangers.

The Rangers return home launching an eight-game home series next Thursday, March 15, at 7 p.m. Events and activities are being planned to wrap up the Rangers’ inaugural season with St. Patrick’s Day celebrations March 17, parents and billet families being honored the weekend of the 23rd and an array of events for the whole family continuing to the final game on April 1.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

IceDiggers visit Ella White Elementary

In front of 450 elementary students and over 50 faculty members at Ella White Elementary school, the Alpena IceDiggers' Blue team defeated the Alpena White team, 6-4, in a five inning game of blindfold kickball on Wednesday morning.

Team blue captain Mike Jarboe led his team to victory. Other members of Team Blue were forwards Taylor Doorlag, Alpena co-captain Nolan Craner, defensemen Ben Kitzmiller, Evan West, Eric Roman and Korey O'Brien.

Team White's captain Justin King and his team could not even the score in the bottom half of the fifth inning as the blue team prevailed in front of the rowdy crowd. Other members of the White team consisted of IceDiggers' co-captain Ricardo Yesue, Zach Barron, Mike DeGrazia, Justin Stadler, Alpena native Erik Peterson and defenseman Carl Nielsen.

This is the second straight year the IceDiggers have participated in the event.

"The guys really had a good time," Alpena head coach Kenny Miller said. "They were real competitive and I am sure the students enjoyed themselves at the game."

Saginaw beats the Hounds Wednesday, 4-1

The Saginaw Spirit beat the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, 4-1, Wednesday night in Sault Ste. Marie.

The Spirit, with the second best power-play squad in the league, took advantage of three Hounds penalties for three power-play goals. Saginaw gains two points with the win for a total of 77 points and a record of 37-20-0-3, good for second place in the OHL West Division and fourth place in the Western Conference.

Tom Pyatt scored twice and Patrick Asselin and Ryan O'Marra added singles to back Ryan Daniels' 26 saves.

The Saginaw win caps off a successful month for the Spirit, with a record of 8-2-0-1 in February. The Spirit's head-to-head record against the Hounds this season moves to 6-2-0-0. The Spirit host the Guelph Storm Friday night and the Mississauga IceDogs Saturday night. Both contests start at 7:11 p.m.