Monday, May 21, 2007

Traverse City tenders forward, defenseman

The Traverse City North Stars gave up 49 more goals last season than any other club in the North American Hockey League and that will be a point of focus heading into Tuesday’s NAHL Draft.

In the interim, the team tendered a pair of players on Monday, laying claim to the rights to slick-skating defenseman Phil Wendecker and original North Stars forward Marc Thompson.

“To lead the league in goals-against, we know we have to add more support on the back end,” said Stars GM Anthony Palumbo. “We’ll be looking at defensemen and maybe some goaltending in order to address that. In general, we need to find a couple of kids who can come in and make an impact.”

The North Stars pick third in the draft, behind Alaska and the expansion Kenai River Brown Bears. The draft, which gets underway at 1 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, is held via teleconference with all 18 NAHL clubs taking part.

The two newest North Stars properties will not be subject to the drafting process. Their rights belong to Traverse City and no other NAHL club can select them.

Wendecker starred at Livonia Churchill last season, registering 10 goals and assisting on 19 others. His offensive ability may help replace the statistical loss of Nick Von Bokern, the NAHL’s leading scorer among defenseman in 2006-07.

“He’s a skilled, puck-moving defenseman,” said Palumbo. “He is good in his own zone and can really help out with some offense, too.”

Wendecker, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound blueliner, says he’s excited about the chance to try his hand at the next level.

“Obviously, there’ll be an adjustment period, but I’m looking forward to it,” Wendecker said. “Mr. Palumbo came and watched me play, and he seemed very interested, which felt good. Now I have to go out and prove him right.”

Wendecker was a teammate of current Stars defenseman Chris Heineman when the two were members of the IceDogs squirt and pee wee youth teams. He also faced off against league rival Zach Hitch when the TC forward was Mr. Hockey at Brighton High School.

Thompson, on the other hand, was a draft choice of the North Stars in 2005 and spent 15 games in a Stars sweater that season. He played with the Soo (Mich.) Indians of the midget-major Midwest Elite Hockey League last year, recording eight goals and 10 assists in 26 contests.

“Marc really played well at the (May 11-13) pre-draft camp and we took note,” Palumbo explained. “He’s grown physically and is maturing into a very solid hockey player. We think he can contribute right away.”

Thompson played last year with fellow 2007 TC tenders and natives Eric O’Hearn and Eric McLintock.

Tuesday’s draft could net the North Stars – who dealt away some of its draft selections last year - three players, or just two if the club does not expend its final tender. In a new twist, NAHL teams can turn a portion of their tenders into draft picks.

“We’re looking for high-quality players who want to compete – guys with skill, character, and toughness,” Palumbo explained. “It’s hard to find players who have all those qualities, but we think we have a few of them now, and we have our eyes on some guys who do, too.”

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