Saturday, June 30, 2007

Traverse City trio shines at camp

Todd Knaus came into this weekend’s open tryout camp with a backup plan.

While the former Traverse City West star has already earned a spot at the Traverse City North Stars’ training camp – from which the 2007-08 roster will be hewn – he knows that a roster slot is anything but assured. That’s why the 17-year old forward tried out for – and made – the Soo Indians midget AAA squad earlier this month.

“Obviously, I’d like to make it with the North Stars, but if it doesn’t work out this year, I have already lined up the next challenge,” said Knaus, who levied 27 goals and 16 assists last year for the Titans en route to all-conference and all-region honors. “I’d like to stay at home, stay at (TC) West and finish my senior year here.”

That approach to the weekend-long tryout camp differs slightly from that of a pair of Knaus’ TC Central counterparts, juniors-to-be Dane MacDonell and Eric Swy. That tandem would certainly welcome an invite to join the North Stars for the club’s third season, but are also here to gauge their own on-ice aptitude.

“I want to take hockey as far as I can take it,” explained Swy, a defenseman. “But I came into camp wanting to know where I stand, to see what’s out there, and to sort of assess my strengths and weaknesses against some of the best players from around the state. The competition here is bigger and faster (than prep hockey), but I did kind of expect that.”

MacDonell, who teamed with Swy and current North Stars tender Eric O’Hearn to help TC Central claim the 2006 high school state championship, had a similar mindset when the puck dropped on Friday.

“You just want to see how you stack up against some top talent,” MacDonell explained. “The overall strength of the players here, how smart they are on the ice – it’s a great learning experience.”

While Knaus has decided not to play prep hockey next year, MacDonell and Swy are eager to get back on the ice with Chris Givens’ Trojans in 2007-08.

“The only way to top winning a state title is to win a second state title,” quipped MacDonell. “We have four or five guys coming up from the bantam AA team that won the state title last year, and we have a solid core in place. It should be an awesome year.”

Despite their relative youth and the self-evaluative nature of their approach to Stars camp, MacDonell isn’t just standing around on the ice taking notes.

“We’re here to compete, and eventually that college scholarship is something we’re all gunning for. It would be a lot of fun to get to work on that by playing here if I got the chance, but if it doesn’t work out this time around, there will be other opportunities to try out for juniors.”

While Swy and MacDonell have been playing alongside each other since they were 10, the Central duo got to square off against Knaus two to three times a year on high school ice.

“Todd is a handful out there,” Swy asserted. “He’s one of those guys where if he has the puck anywhere near the bottom of the (face-off) circles, you know he’s going to score.”

North Stars coach Anthony Palumbo – who coached Knaus at TC West and coached against Swy and MacDonell – says that all three have impressed the scouts with their play. Knaus and Swy are on the Red Team, while MacDonell and ex-Trojan O’Hearn are toiling for the Gold Team.

“In my mind, their performance is a testament to the quality of high school hockey in Traverse City,” said Palumbo. “To be at this camp and to compete the way they have speaks very well of the programs in town from GTHA right on up to the high school level.

“These three kids are all very competitive, but very different kinds of players. Eric is a very smart, stay-at-home defenseman. Dane is a hard-nosed kind of guy who will go down to block a shot and make things happen with his aggressiveness. Todd, who is challenging for a roster spot, is more of a skilled goal-scorer type, but all three have shown a lot all weekend.”

Knaus says he’d like nothing more than to see his cross-town rivals-turned-fellow hopefuls right there with him and the other invitees for the Stars’ Aug. 3-5 training camp.

“Dane’s a smart player, always where he should be always moving the puck where it should be going,” Knaus said. “And Swy is one of the best all-around defensemen in his age group. They both have very bright futures in hockey.”

North Stars camp wraps up on Sunday with the all-star Blue & White game slated for 10 a.m. Following the contest, Palumbo and his staff will issue the final invites to the August camp.

“We’re going to have some tough decisions to make, but that’s a good problem to have,” Palumbo explained. “First, to pick guys for Sunday’s all-star game, then to take the best of that group for our invite-only training camp in August. The intensity of the camp has been excellent, and our forwards have come back with a real focus that is very evident out there.

"We’re getting closer to the season and you can feel it.”

Friday, June 29, 2007

Soo Indians will take one-year hiatus

Soo Evening News

The Stars and Stripes will not be represented this year in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League as the only American-based team takes a one-year leave of absence.

Coach Kevin Cain confirmed Friday that the local Junior A Soo Indians have been granted a one-year hiatus from the league. A local group of investors entered into negotiations to buy the Indians franchise from current team owner Charlie Perdicaro, but a deal could not be struck by Thursday's deadline at league meetings in Sudbury, Ontario.

“They basically ran out of time to put a deal together,” Cain said. “There is a local group which wants to buy the team, but there were some sticking points that couldn't be worked out in the amount of time available. Hopefully a deal can still be ironed out in the future which will suit all parties involved, and the team can have a fresh start for the 2008-09 season.”

One of the major sticking points was that the new group did not want to assume any past debts from the previously ownership, and the current asking price of the Soo Indians included some unpaid bills.

Cain, who guided the Indians to the NOJHL championship in his first year, said he was interested in returning as the team's coach in 2008 if the potential new owners want him back.

“I'd love to come back as coach,” Cain said. “That would be up to them (new owners), but I definitely would like to continue coaching the Indians if the opportunity is there.”

The Indians would like to play at least part of their future schedule at the Pullar Stadium, while ideally still operating out of the Big Bear Arena as well, Cain said. The one game the Indians played at the Pullar last year drew the best crowd of the season.

The NOJHL will have six teams for the 2007-08 season, including the Soo (Ontario) Thunderbirds, Abitibi Eskimos, Manitoulin Islanders, Blind River Beavers, North Bay Skyhawks and Sudbury Junior Wolves. The Indians became the first and only American team to win the league playoffs last season, advancing to the Dudley Hewitt Cup, which symbolizes Central Canadian Junior hockey supremacy.

“The league desperately wants the Soo Indians back,” Cain said. “I think there is a good opportunity to still have a Junior A team here in Sault, Michigan.”

North Stars' Plocar gearing up for pivotal year

The future is right now for Ben Plocar.

The Traverse City North Stars defenseman is entering his final year of junior hockey, and kicked off what is undoubtedly his most important campaign on Friday at the opening of the North Stars’ tryout camp at Centre ICE arena.

While Plocar’s roster spot is among the most secure of the returning players, the Elkhart Lake, Wisc., native knows that his performance in 2007-08 will dictate where he plays his college hockey the following autumn.

“By this time next year, I want to have my bags packed, ready to go play college hockey,” said Plocar, who is entering his fourth year at the Junior A level. “I’d like to be set in my commitment somewhere as early as possible to just get that part of it taken care of and be able to totally focus on this season and getting better as a team and individually. I’d like to get to the NAHL Showcase (Sept. 19-22) and go 100 percent right out of the gate.”

Stars head coach/GM Anthony Palumbo says he’s looking for big things from the 6-foot-3, 220-pound. rearguard.

“We expect him to be one of the leaders on this team, and a go-to guy on defense,” said the first-year skipper. “We anticipate that he’ll carry a pretty big load on special teams, and that shot of his will be a big asset on the power play.”

Plocar came to Traverse City last Nov. 20 from the Springfield Jr. Blues in a straight-up swap for original North Stars blueliner Richie Zobak. In the 34 contests following the deal, Plocar scored five goals and assisted on 11 others, including nine points on the power play plus a shorthanded marker. His initial reaction to the trade was not a favorable one.

“I had been in Springfield for three years and I didn’t want to leave,” Plocar admitted. “I didn’t know anything about Traverse City. I had to go online to learn about it. Coach made me a deal: He said if I came for a couple weeks and didn’t like it, he said he’d move me along somewhere else. But by that time, I was starting to get to know the guys and the area and I didn’t want to leave. In fact, I realized how much I missed Traverse City this weekend when I was driving up here. It’s a great place to be in the summertime, too.”

Plocar – who plans on majoring in secondary education when he gets to college – says he wants to play at an NCAA institution that has the best balance of athletics and academics for his chosen post-graduation profession. Palumbo says he has the tools to garner the attention of collegiate scouts.

“Ben has good vision and really good puck skills – plus with his height he’s got that long reach,” Palumbo said. “If there’s an area to work on it’s his footwork, but we think he can succeed at the next level. This is an important year for him. It’s his final year of juniors, and he needs to show he can play NCAA Division I hockey like we think he can.”

For this weekend, Plocar will focus on his conditioning and getting the competitive juices flowing again.

“At home you skate once, twice a week and it’s just not the same,” said Plocar, who is on the camp’s Red Team along with fellow returnees Alex Breeden and Sabastion Kimmel, plus tender Marc Thompson. “A camp like this is intense and competitive, and that’s something you don’t get a lot of in the off-season.

“It’s the starting point for the most important season of my junior career.”

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Alpena's Barron off to UMass-Boston

Veteran Alpena IceDiggers forward Zach Barron has committed to UMass-Boston, a Division III school, for the upcoming season.

Barron, 19, spent two seasons in Alpena and was a part of IceDiggers history when he scored the game-winner in a 2-1 overtime win against Traverse City in the team's first regular-season game in Alpena at Northern Lights Arena.

The St. Louis native played in 112 games during his two years scoring 15 goals while adding 26 assists for 41 points. Barron also has 161 penalty minutes.

"I am very happy for Zach and his family," said Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller. "He worked hard last year to receive this chance and I am confident he will make the most of this opportunity. Zach will step in and help his new team right away."

Barron joins Ricardo Yesue (Wisconsin-River Falls), Korey O'Brien (Wisconsin-Stevens Point), Justin Stadler (Adrian) and Chris Hendrickson (Finlandia) as member of last year's team to move onto the D-III level.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Saginaw deals picks to Windsor

The Saginaw Spirit completed a trade with the Windsor Spitfires today, receiving Windsor's first-round 2008 CHL Import Draft pick and fourth-round 2009 OHL Priority Selection pick.

In return, the Spirit sent on their first round, eighth overall, 2007 CHL Import Draft pick and eighth-round 2010 OHL Priority Selection pick.

With the trades, the Spirit did not have a pick in the Import Draft today.

Whalers pass on CHL Import Draft

The Plymouth Whalers traded their first pick (56th overall) in today’s Canadian Hockey League Import Draft to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The Whalers also had the 116th pick in the CHL Import Draft and passed on that selection.

CHL teams can play two Import players, or non-North Americans, per season. The Whalers’ quota is already filled with returning defenseman Jozef Sladok and goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

“We expect Sladok and Neuvirth back for training camp,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said.

Neuvirth (pictured), a second-round pick in 2006 of the Washington Capitals, was outstanding for the Whalers last season, winning the OHL’s F.W. “Dinty” Moore Trophy in compiling the OHL’s lowest goals-against average (2.32) as a rookie while leading the league with a .932 save percentage. Paired with Brownstown’s Jeremy Smith, the Whalers won the OHL’s Dave Pinkney Trophy in allowing a league-low 173 goals. Neuvirth continued his strong play in the 2007 Playoffs, posting a 2.45 goals-against average, .932 save percentage and 14-4 won-loss record as the Whalers won the OHL championship.

Neuvirth has been signed by the Capitals. Working again with Smith – who was selected by Nashville in the second round (54th overall) in last Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft – the Whalers have strength in goal going into the 2007-08 season.

Sladok developed into a fan favorite last season in Plymouth, scoring three assists with 100 penalty minutes in 28 games.

Plymouth Import Draft Selections, 1992-present
2007 – no selections
2006 - Michal Neuvirth (27th overall), Jozef Sladok (39th overall)
2005 - Ondrej Otcenas (25th overall)
2004 - Michael Kolarz (38th overall)
2003 - Vaclav Meidl (9th overall)
2002 - Martin Cizek (34th overall)
2001 - Jonas Fiedler (52nd overall)
2000 - no selections
1999 - Tomas Kurka (7th overall), Libor Ustrnul (31st overall)
1998 - Tomek Valtonen (14th overall), Denis Arkhipov (35th overall)
1997 - Yuri Babenko (12th overall), Steve Lyle (27th overall)
1996 - Sergei Fedotov (4th overall)
1995 - Jan Vodrazka (11th overall)
1994 - Milan Kostolny (38th overall)
1993 - Jozef Kohut (32nd overall)
1992 - Richard Ujvary (11th overall)

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

North Stars' open camp starts Friday

It’s that time of year again – that time when the game of musical roster spots is in full swing, with the best players from across the continent are scrambling to find a place to play hockey the following autumn.

The Traverse City North Stars’ own dance card is as full as it’s ever been, with over 80 players set to compete in the club’s final open tryout camp of the off-season this weekend at Centre ICE arena. The team even had to turn away numerous interested players.

“We’re going to see a lot of good hockey, a lot of good hockey players,” said Stars head coach/GM Anthony Palumbo. “It’s a big group, but it’s just that time of the summer after the USHL (United States Hockey League) camps are over and cuts are made. Guys are looking for a spot in the NAHL now, and we’re certainly getting a good look at some very talented players.”

The camp will consist of North Stars tenders, draft picks, 2006-07 holdovers and those chasing a Junior A roster spot. The top-performing players from this weekend’s camp and the club’s May open tryout will be invited back to Traverse City for the Aug. 3-5 training camp, from which the 2007-08 roster will be selected.

“Spots are up for grabs – about 23 of ’em,” Palumbo asserted.

Among those expected to compete this weekend are tenders Marc Thompson, Eric O’Hearn, Sean Burke, Eric McLintock and Alex Redmond – all Traverse City products – plus signatories Phil Wendecker, a Livonia Churchill defenseman and Cleveland Barons midget blueliner Trevor Shively, brother of former TC goalkeeper Stefan Shively. The Stars’ top draft pick, Blind River rearguard Tyler Stephens, is also slated to participate, as are returning players including Ben Plocar, Matt Hughes, Jameson Raymond, Sabastion Kimmel, Zach Hitch, Alex Breeden, Nate Urbaniak, Chris Heineman, Harrison Niemann and Kyle and Brett Jendra.

With so many North Stars hopefuls vying to sport the interlocking ‘TC’ sweater, Palumbo has had to add a few talent evaluators to monitor the action.

“We’ll have anywhere from five to eight guys on every player on every team, every game,” Palumbo explained. “We’ll be looking for skill, of course, but also that certain work ethic. It’s not too difficult to gauge how hard a kid works just by watching him.”

The camp kicks off on Friday with goalies reporting for duty at noon, while the residual of the participants check in four hours later. The players will split into four teams, and take on each of the other three squads throughout the weekend. The top players from the weekend will be selected for Sunday morning’s culminating all-star game.

“There’s always a sense of heightened urgency in these late off-season camps,” Palumbo added. “I’d expect to see some pretty intense play.”

North Stars open tryout camp schedule

Friday, June 29
11 a.m. – Goalie check-in
Noon-1:20 p.m. – Goalies on-ice session
4 p.m. – Skater check-in
5:15 p.m. – Player/Parent meeting
6 p.m.-7:50 p.m. – Red Team vs. Blue Team
8 p.m.-9:50 p.m. – White Team vs. Gold Team

Saturday, June 30
9 a.m.-10:50 a.m. – Red Team vs. White Team
11 a.m.-12:50 p.m. – Blue Team vs. Gold Team
1:00 p.m.-2:20 p.m. – Goalies on-ice session
6 p.m.-7:50 p.m. – Blue Team vs. White Team
8 p.m.-9:50 p.m. – Red Team vs. Gold Team

Sunday, July 1
10 a.m.-Noon –All-Star Game

Ex-Spirit forward Torquato a future Wing?

By Matthew Wuest
Red Wings Central

The Detroit Red Wings couldn't say no to Zack Torquato.

Torquato, a skilled forward who had 30 goals among 69 points in 65 games in the Ontario Hockey League this season, went to the Red Wings in the sixth round (178th overall) in Saturday's NHL entry draft. It was a significant drop-off from his pre-draft rankings, which tabbed him 48th (International Scouting Service) and 61st (Central Scouting).

“He’s a name we were kind of not paying attention to but he kept dropping and dropping and it got to a point where we couldn’t say no to him,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “It got to the point where his name was dropping and we said, ‘We just have to take this guy.’”

Torquato was highly touted for a few reasons. The former third-overall pick in the OHL draft put up excellent numbers for an 17-year-old and won the Erie Otters’ MVP and player-of-the-year awards after coming over in a mid-season trade from the Saginaw Spirit.

At 6-foot and 195 pounds, Torquato has good size, too. To top it off, he’ll be the Otters’ captain at age 18, a rarity in major junior.

“He’ll be their captain and he’s going to put up 100 points next season, so he’s doing something right,” Nill said. “He has a real good touch down low and around the net. He’s good with the puck and he sees the ice very well. And he’s a responsible player in his own end.”

There are two factors that may have caused Torquato to fall.

First, his feet. He’s quick in small areas but his skating needs work.

“He’s not a pretty skater,” Nill said. “Is the skating going to affect him at the next level? That’s what we have to find out.”

Second, legal trouble. Torquato and four of his Spirit teammates pleaded guilty in February to misdemeanor assault and battery charges and was sentenced in March to two years probation and 250 hours of community service. The Spirit traded him with draft picks to the Otters in November for Edmonton Oilers prospect and former NHL first-rounder Ryan O’Marra.

The Red Wings, who have been known to rank character as a key element in prospect evaluation, say they’ve done their homework on Torquato.

“It’s not an issue to us,” Nill said. “It’s all been cleared up. He’s wearing a letter at a young age we talked to a lot of people involved in the situation. From what we’ve heard, he’s a good character kid.”

Nill went so far as to say Torquato has everything going for him except skating, and hopes he’ll evolve into a player similar to Colorado Avalanche forward Andrew Brunette. Brunette, whose skating has long been criticized, was overlooked in the OHL until he scored 162 points as a 20-year-old. He has now played 706 NHL games and scored 83 points last season.

“Good hockey players are good hockey players wherever they go,” Nill said. “Brunette was never (highly regarded), but he was always a leading scorer in the OHL, and he made it all the way to the NHL.

“We’re hoping Torquato is the same way.”

Contact Matthew Wuest at

Monday, June 25, 2007

Plymouth Whalers Chris Terry and Jeremy Smith take a photo together after being selected at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Smith goes in second round to Nashville

Plymouth Whalers' goaltender Jeremy Smith was the top-ranked North American goalie for this weekend's National Hockey League Entry Draft, but ended up being the third goalie taken overall when Nashville tabbed him in the second round with the 54th overall pick.

Defenseman Nick Petrecki, Plymouth's first-round pick in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection that chose the United States Hockey League's Omaha Lancers and Boston College over the Whalers, went No. 28 in the first round to San Jose.

Chris Terry, a third-year forward for Plymouth, went in the fifth round, 132nd overall, to Carolina.

In the sixth round, Whalers' defenseman Brett Bellemore was selected by Carolina with the 162nd overall choice.

Former Saginaw Spirit forward Zack Torquato, traded to Erie last December in the Ryan O'Marra swap, was chosen by Detroit 16 spots after Bellemore.

Two Whalers' draft picks from 2005 heard their names called in the seventh and final round. Forward C.J. Severyn went to Calgary at No. 186, while forward Trevor Nill became St. Louis property with the 190th overall pick. Severyn played two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program and is off to Ohio State this fall. Nill played last year with the Compuware midgets and will play with the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League in the fall before heading to Michigan State in 2008.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Friday, June 22, 2007

Soo Indians take one-year leave from NOJHL

The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League will operate with six teams come the 2007-08 season.

And while that’s one team less than what made up the NOJHL in ‘06-07, teams will play more games in ‘07-08 and the league will play host to a Showcase Tournament in January.

For the record, the ‘06-07 champion Soo Indians have been granted a one-year leave of absence and the league will work towards helping current owner Charles Perdicaro find a buyer, hopefully in the Michigan Soo.

In fact, Soo Thunderbirds’ managing partner Al Jones told that the league plans to pursue Dr. Kevin Cooper of the Michigan Soo to take over the Indians. Cooper had previously indicated an interest in buying the Indians from Perdicaro, but according to sources, was not comfortable in trying to make a last-minute deal that might have left him unprepared for the ‘07-08 season.

Perdicaro subsequently tried to sell the Indians to the Ville-Marie group that had been seeking an expansion franchise for ‘07-08 but that proposal and the expansion proposal were both turned down by the NOJHL governors at Thursday’s meeting in Sudbury.

“We’re comfortable operating with six teams for ‘07-08,” Jones added. “The six franchises are all stable and the last thing we need is a franchise that the rest of us would be worried about.
“Ville-Marie has indicated to us that they will take the next year to get their finances in order and I suspect we’ll see the same from a new group in Soo, Michigan. We fully expect to be an eight-team league come the ‘08-09 season.”

Now a six-team league, teams will play a 50-game regular season in ‘07-08, up from the 48 games of previous campaigns. Teams will play one another 10 times apiece and all teams will qualify for the playoffs.

Jones, meanwhile, confirmed a Showcase Tournament for the Soo for early January, of which details will be announced later. And the NOJHL is taking applications for the position of commissioner. Hector Seguin is currently serving as acting commissioner.

by Randy Russon, Osprey Media

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Plymouth's Smith honored by USA Hockey

Plymouth Whalers' goaltender Jeremy Smith received USA Hockey's Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year Award on June 6 at Colorado Springs. U.S. Under-18 Team head coach Ron Rolston is on the right. (Photo courtesy USA Hockey)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Saginaw not getting Twohey, Herbers bolts

Jeff Twohey withdrew his name for the vacant Saginaw Spirit general manager job this past weekend.

Saginaw, without a head coach or GM since Bob Mancini's contract wasn't renewed last month, will continue to interview potential prospects.

Spirit associate coach Ian Herbers is also out, having accepted the head coaching job with the ECHL's Johnstown Chiefs yesterday.

The Peterborough Examiner has the full Twohey story HERE.

Vellucci takes top OHL coaching honor

Plymouth Whalers' head coach and general manager Mike Vellucci, with parents Frank and Judy, at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto June 6 after accepting the Matt Leyden Trophy as OHL Coach of the Year.

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Hockey League.

Plymouth hockey schools start July 30

Hockey players looking to get a couple of strides ahead of the competition for the 2007-08 season can learn while having fun this summer with the Ontario Hockey League champion Plymouth Whalers.

The Whalers will be teaching several different one-week schools starting July 30. Led by hockey school director George Daniel and a number of the Whalers players, the camps promise to be fun and informative.

Dates, times and costs HERE.

Photo - Plymouth forward Chris Terry with a student at last summer's school.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Friday, June 15, 2007

Saginaw unveils '07-08 slate

The Saginaw Spirit has announced their 2007-2008 season schedule.

The Spirit open the season with a 7:11 p.m. match-up on Wednesday, Sept. 19 against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Saginaw plays 68 regular season games with 34 home games at TheDow Event Center in Saginaw.

Complete schedule HERE.

Whalers announce 2007-2008 schedule

The Ontario Hockey League champion Plymouth Whalers will be raising the championship banner to the rafters of the Compuware Sports Arena in a ceremony planned for the Whalers’ home opener of the upcoming 2007-08 season on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:05 p.m. against the Erie Otters.

Last year, Plymouth won its second OHL title - to go with 10 division championships – in the team’s 17-year history.

Plymouth is holding ticket prices for 2007-08 at $14 for Center Ice seating and $10 for Executive Reserved.

The Whalers’ schedule features 48 games against teams within the Western Conference, with 28 of those games within the West Division (eight each against Saginaw and Windsor; six each against Sault Ste. Marie and Sarnia) and 20 against Midwest Division opponents. The remaining 20 games are against Eastern Conference teams.

Although the OHL did not expand for 2007-08, two Eastern Conference teams have shifted to other locations. The Mississauga IceDogs have moved to St.Catherines, Ontario, and are now known as the Niagara IceDogs. The Toronto St. Michael’s Majors have moved to Mississauga and are now known as the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.

Saturday remains the primary home date for the Whalers, with 19 Saturdays nights leading the way. Plymouth plays eight home games on Fridays, three on Wednesdays, two on Mondays and one each on Thursday and Sunday afternoon.

Plymouth will play its annual Kid’s Day Holiday Matinee on Thurs. Dec. 27 at 2:00 p.m. against Saginaw and will ring in 2008 with a New Year’s Eve game hosting Kitchener at 4 p.m. on Tues. Dec. 31. The Whalers’ annual Green-Out Game will be played on Sat. Mar. 15 at 2:00 p.m. against Sarnia. Interstate rival Saginaw comes to the Compuware Sports Arena on Nov. 21, Dec. 27, Jan. 14 and Mar. 2, while the Whalers play at Saginaw’s Dow Event Center on Dec. 29, Jan. 9, Feb. 15 and Mar. 16.

Complete schedule HERE.

Pre-Season Schedule:
Sat. Sept. 1 at 4 p.m. - Windsor at Plymouth
Mon. Sept. 3 at 2 p.m. - Plymouth at Windsor
Fri. Sept. 7 at 7:35 p.m. - Plymouth at Sarnia
Sat. Sept. 8 at 7:05 p.m. - Sarnia at Plymouth
Fri. Sept. 14-15 - Four team tournament in Erie - details TBA

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Milford native signs on with Huntsville

Milford's Chris Fairbanks will skate for the defending College Hockey America champion Alabama-Huntsville Chargers this fall.

Fairbanks, a forward and nephew of former Charger Mike Fairbanks, notched solid numbers with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American Hockey League last season with a 63-point season in 62 games including 26 goals.

"Chris has had a lot of success in juniors with the Mahoning Valley team in the NAHL," said UAH head coach Danton Cole, a Pontiac native. "His team fell one game short of winning their national championship. He has excellent vision and hands and thinks his way around the ice very well. We see him playing both wing and center and may spend a lot of time on the point on power plays."

The 6-foot, 180-pound Fairbanks, who turns 21 on July 15, is one of seven incoming freshmen for Cole's squad.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Hauswirth commits to MTU for 2008-09

Michigan Tech University has announced the signing of Jake Hauswirth to a National Letter of Intent for the 2008-09 season.

Hauswirth, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound center from Merrill, Wisc., registered 21 goals among 40 points in 58 overall games with the Marquette Rangers of the North America Hockey League during the 2006-07 slate. The owner of five power-play goals and four game-winning markers, Hauswirth accrued 76 penalty minutes in his lone year with the Rangers.

He gained NAHL Player of the Week accolades Mar. 5 after scoring two goals and four assists in a three-game stretch against Mahoning Valley.

Prior to his stint in Marquette, Hauswirth spent the 2005-06 and 2004-05 campaigns skating for the Ojibwa Eagles Midget AAA team in Houghton. He is currently the Eagles' sixth all-time leading scorer with 88 points in 117 career games. Before that, he played prep hockey at Merrill High School.

Taken by the Omaha Lancers as the 53rd overall pick in the fifth round of the 2007 United States Hockey League Entry Draft, Hauswirth will continue his junior career in Omaha next season.

"Jake is a big, physical player with a lot of upside," said Huskies' head coach Jamie Russell. "He is a strong skater with good hands and has the opportunity to further develop his game in the USHL."

Hauswirth joins Alex MacLeod and Anthony Schooley (Romulus) as a member of the Huskies' freshmen class for the 2008-09 season.

Macomb native Hennig off to Ferris State

Topeka RoadRunners forward Nate Hennig has reached an agreement to play for Ferris State University beginning this fall.

“Nate is a strong skater who makes his presence felt around the net,” said RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer. “He brings a solid mixture of hard work ethic combined with good hands and a nose for the net. He’ll do well at the next level.”

The two-year RoadRunner veteran hails from Macomb and playing at Ferris State allows him to play closer to home, and that means closer to his family.

“It was hard sometimes, being so far away from (brother) Dom and my dad,” said Hennig. “I’m grateful that my experience with the RoadRunners helped me to prepare for Division I. It’s a dream come true.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Plymouth's Fan Appreciation Day on tap

Although the Plymouth Whalers recently completed the 2006-07 season with their second Ontario Hockey League championship in the 17-year history, the fun will continue this Saturday starting at 2:30 p.m. at the Compuware Sports Arena in the Whalers’ annual Fan Appreciation Day.

A number of activities are planned and will coincide with the re-opening weekend of the Compuware Sports Arena Drive-In Theatres, which will run Friday night, June 15, seven days a week, through Sunday night, September 2.

Among the Fan Appreciation events scheduled for this Saturday night:

-- Whalers' Used Equipment Sale, starting at 2:30 p.m. (NHL Arena)
-- Sales at the Whalers Cove Pro Shop, including Whalers' OHL Championship Items. (NHL Arena)
-- Whalers' Collectible Silent Auction. (NHL Arena)
-- Whalers' 2007-08 Season Ticket Selection Sale - an opportunity to select your own seat. (NHL Arena)
-- Whalers' Summer Hockey School Registration. (NHL Arena)
-- Free open skating from 5:00-7:30 p.m. (Olympic Ice Arena)
-- Whalers player Meet-and-Greet featuring local player AJ Jenks (Wolverine Lake) and Plymouth veterans Brett Bellemore and Wes Cunningham. (NHL Arena)
-- Ginopolis on the Ice Meal and Movie Deals. (Ginopolis on the Ice Restaurant)
-- Radio Disney 910-AM D-tour starting at 8 p.m. with music, games and prizes with a family-oriented double feature at the Drive-In. D-Tour will be located by the main concession stands in the Drive-In Theatre.

Gates open at the Compuware Sports Arena parking lot at 7:30 p.m. and the movies begin at dusk (weather permitting). Families listen to the movies on the car radio.

The Drive-In features three screens showing back to back first run movies including: Nancy Drew, Surf’s Up, Spider-Man 3, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and more.

Visit for a complete listing of Drive-In movies.

Prices are $8 for ages 13 and older; $6 for children from 4-12; $6 for Students (Mon-Thurs); Free for children 3-and-under.

Whalers' rookie orientation a success

The Plymouth Whalers held their annual rookie orientation camp last Saturday and aside from the off-ice program the team presented to 2006 and 2007 draft picks, a scrimmage also took place.

The camp ended with the Blue-White scrimmage, won by the Blues, 4-3. Veteran defenseman Leo Jenner led the Blues with a pair of goals, while rookies Myles McCauley and Micki Mihailovich scored one each. Jordon O’Neill, Kevin Lynch and Chris Martin replied for the Whites.

Off the ice, here is what had on the weekend:

When Whalers’ president, general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci was drafted by the Belleville Bulls in 1983, he was told to report to training camp in late August.

Back then, Ontario Hockey League teams didn’t do a lot of weight or dry land training. Players’ education wasn’t always monitored, either.

Fast forward to the present and all OHL teams hold a rookie orientation camp, designed as an information seminar for parents and players alike. Ironically, Plymouth’s rookie orientation – which usually signals the start of a new season – coincided with the Livonia Churchill graduation taking place in the arena.

With many players looking to go the U.S. college route or major junior, it’s an ideal time to find out about the Whalers and what Plymouth and the Western Wayne County area offers. Vellucci and assistant general manager and assistant coach Todd Watson run an organized, low-key, orientation camp.

Plymouth’s camp was later this year because the Whalers’ playoff run went until the end of May. But the day-and-a-half session gave parents and players a chance to see Plymouth, the team’s educational system, get acquainted with staff and receive some off-ice testing.

Whalers’ educational consultant John Siedelman was front-and-center in a meeting with parents and players. The Whalers team up with the Plymouth-Canton school district for the educational pursuits of high-school age players, while many older players attend classes at the local colleges in the area.

For Canadian parents, there’s a concern about Canadian high school credits transferring to an American school system.

“We start by spending a lot of time mixing and matching each player academically,” Siedelman said. “Sometimes Canadian students come here with more credit hours. But not all the classes transfer, and they do have to take classes like U.S. Studies and U.S. Government. So it’s like a puzzle and we try to get as many pieces of the puzzle to fit as we can.”

The Whalers stress excellence on the ice and in the classroom.

“Since I’ve been involved over the last four years, every Whaler student who has been eligible to graduate has received a Plymouth-Canton school district diploma,” Siedelman explained. “It’s an accomplishment we’re all proud of and it speaks well for the Whaler players, their host families and their families.”

Siedelman told a story about Whalers star James Neal, who signed a National Hockey League contract with the Dallas Stars last season while contributing to Plymouth’s run to the OHL championship.

“Neal was close to being able to graduate in the spring of 2006 when he went back home to Whitby, Ontario,” Siedelman said. “He signed his contract with Dallas last fall (Oct. 21) and really could have let graduating go. But he didn’t – he persevered and received his diploma around the same time he signed his contract. It was a proud moment.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

McCarey chooses UNH over Plymouth

Another Plymouth Whalers draft pick has made the decision to take the NCAA route over the Ontario Hockey League.

Kevin McCarey, a right wing from Syracuse, will head to New Hampshire in 2008. He was Plymouth's eighth-round pick, 153rd overall, in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection.

McCarey was reportedly weighing several offers and none of them included the OHL. He played this past season with the U.S. National Under-17 Team and will suit up for the Under-18 Team this fall before jaunting off to UNH two autumns from now.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Spirit sign second-rounder Szwarz

The Saginaw Spirit have announced the signing of prospect Jordan Szwarz.

Szwarz, a center, was drafted by the Spirit in the second round, 24th overall, of the 2007 OHL Priority Selection back on May 5.

“We are pleased to welcome Jordan and his family to the Saginaw Spirit,” stated Spirit president and managing partner Craig Goslin. “We are thrilled to have this young man on our team and are excited to be a part of his development into a successful major junior hockey player.”

Szwarz played his minor hockey career with the Burlington Eagles of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association and is a Burlington native.

Battle Creek can’t, won’t finance USHL club

Junior hockey isn’t coming to Battle Creek any time soon.

United States Hockey League team owner Josh Mervis made a presentation to the city May 7 about putting one of the franchises he owns (Louisville is the other) in the Cereal City.

Mervis’ presentation also included Muskegon native and Michigan State sophomore Justin Abdelkader (formerly of the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders) and Sioux City Musketeers owner and USHL chairman of the board Jim Kronschabel.

Still, the odds of a team calling Battle Creek home seem to be slim to none. Dwight Butt, president of the Calhoun County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he's in favor of a privately funded, $35 million, 5,000-seat arena that could be constructed next to the Full Blast recreational facility across from the Kellogg Arena.

Butt said $35 million could go into transforming Kellogg, but Jim Hettinger, president and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, the city's economic development arm, said he can't imagine finding that kind of funding in Michigan’s economy.

"Not in these times, not with the state facing the revenue problems it is, not with the city facing revenue problems," Hettinger said in the Battle Creek Enquirer. "If Bill Gates would come in here and build a $35 million arena, I'd be at the head of the parade."

Hettinger said he's in favor of spending up to $10 million to do a makeover of Kellogg Arena to meet the team's needs or selling and rebuilding The Rink.

"My idea is refurbish, rebuild, retrofit, whatever it may be," Hettinger added. "It's insane to think you could build something new. And to do it without public financing — it's just not a wealthy state anymore."

“I'm ambivalent," said Mervis in the Enquirer. “I just need 3,500 to 4,000 seats, no more. I won't play in it if it's over 4,000 in this community. Every seat over 4,000 will be empty. There are just not enough human beings here for that."

Actually, seats are just the tip of the iceberg for Mervis. He said his team's rink has to have “dynamite sound” and a high-quality video replay board.

"The building is part of the experience," Mervis said during his presentation. "If it's in a dump, no one wants to come."

Courtesy Michigan Hockey's June 4 issue

North Stars announce coaching staff

Traverse City North Stars GM Anthony Palumbo didn’t have to look far to find the team’s new coaching staff. But he did anyway.

After a search that was narrowed to two choices, Palumbo added another title to his own business card on Sunday: Head Coach. The former Lake Superior State University star immediately solidified his staff, naming Mike Matteucci as associate head coach and Chad Fournier as assistant coach. He also announced that Bob Fernandez would return as goaltending coach.

“We had extended an offer to a very, very good head coaching candidate, but he had too many irons in the fire and could not do it,” explained Palumbo. “I guess you could call me ‘choice 1b.’”

Palumbo, who accepted the club’s general manager post on May 8, was a star forward at Lake Superior State, captaining the Lakers to an NCAA championship in 1988 before winning another as an assistant coach at LSSU in 1992. Most recently, he was head coach at Traverse City West High School, guiding the Titans to the first league title in school history.

“We had pretty much established with Anthony when he became GM that he would take the head coaching position if the other candidate was committed elsewhere,” said Steve Fournier, Stars owner and president. “He was someone we had in mind all along once the position became available, and we’re very fortunate to have him serve in any capacity with the North Stars, let alone two.”

Palumbo finished his collegiate career as LSSU’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 45 goals and 111 assists in 156 contests. The New York Rangers made him a supplemental draft pick in 1989.

“The North Stars are another part of the community that I want to be involved with,” said Palumbo, who logged 40 prep victories over the past two seasons at the Titans’ helm. “We’re very fortunate to be able to bring an exciting, competitive brand of Junior A hockey to this region. It’s a positive part of the community and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Matteucci and Chad Fournier were on Palumbo’s staff at TC West last year, where the Titans enjoyed their finest season in school annuls, and both bring important perspectives and experience to the staff.

Matteucci, like Palumbo, was a Lake Superior State captain, patrolling the Lakers’ blue line for four years and compiling 13 goals and 38 assists over 142 contests. And like Palumbo, he led the Lakers to an NCAA championship in 1994.

The Trail, B.C. native – who spent a year with the Estevan Bruins of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League before heading the Lake State – went on to a 10-year career in professional hockey, toiling in the International Hockey League with the Long Beach Ice Dogs (1995-2000) and Cleveland Lumberjacks (2000-01) before signing with the Minnesota Wild in 20001. He had a pair of brief stints in the NHL sandwiched around a season as captain of the American Hockey League’s Houston Aeros before inking a free agent deal with the New Jersey Devils and captaining their AHL affiliate in Albany for two seasons (2002-04).

Matteucci, who hung up his skates in favor of a coaching whistle in 2004 after 15 games with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, says his own experiences have groomed him to impart a certain work ethic in the players he coaches.

“After playing hockey my whole life, whatever it was I accomplished came from hard work,” Matteucci admitted. “I wasn’t necessarily the most skilled guy out on the ice, but I never wanted to be outworked before or during the game. Hopefully that’s something I can help instill in the kids.”

Ironically enough, Matteucci – who once served over 900 penalty minutes during a four-year stretch of his professional career – is a Deputy with the Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s Dept. after earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Lake Superior State.

“Defense is a team game,” he explained. “It’s not just the defensemen, it’s not just backchecking forwards. It’s everyone being on the same page, thinking the same way.”

Chad Fournier, who once played for the North American Hockey League’s Lakeland Jets (1993-94), is a Traverse City Central Senior High School alum who earned All-State, Michigan Dream Team, and Team Michigan honors with the Trojans. He played for three consecutive ACHA national champions at Ohio University (1995-97) before joining the coaching ranks at TC Central and later at TC West.

“It’s exciting to be in a position to help kids become better players and to help them further their hockey careers by getting them into college programs,” explained Chad Fournier. “I know what kind of commitment it takes to get to the next level.”

Fernandez, who coached the North Stars goalies the past two seasons, will return for a third year. A former Detroit Junior Red Wings goalkeeper, Fernandez went on to a college career backstopping the CCHA’s University of Michigan-Dearborn before a coaching stint with the Junior B Downriver Blades.

“Bob brings us a great knowledge of the goaltender position,” Palumbo explained. “We’re fortunate to have someone of his caliber. He’s a big asset to this program.”

The coaching quartet will begin their on-ice duties at the North Stars open tryout camp June 29-July 1 at Centre ICE arena. Palumbo, for one, can’t wait.

“We’re very excited about this season, about this group of coaches and players,” Palumbo added. “Having worked with these guys before I know we’re all very like-minded and we work well together. I think the hallmark of the team will be just what we tried to establish together at (TC) West, and that’s hard work and competitiveness.”

Friday, June 01, 2007

Whalers send McGinnis to Oshawa

Steady defenseman Ryan McGinnis saw his time with the Plymouth Whalers end today when he was traded to the Oshawa Generals for second- and fourth-round picks in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection.

McGinnis, an overager from Fenton, will be in his fifth OHL season after being Plymouth’s fourth-round selection in 2003 and Los Angeles’ sixth-rounder in 2005.

The Kings didn’t sign McGinnis by the June 1 deadline and with a plethora of 1987 birthdates, the Whalers sent McGinnis to Oshawa where he’ll play with the reigning OHL and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year John Tavares.

Saginaw moves up in CHL Import Draft

The Saginaw Spirit have completed a trade with the Toronto St. Michaels Majors.

The Spirit sent prospect Ryan Green and the 47th overall pick in the 2007 CHL Import Draft to the Majors for the eighth overall pick in the Import Draft and a 15th round pick in the 2008 OHL Priority Selection.

“We wish Ryan the best of luck in Toronto,” stated Spirit president and managing partner Craig Goslin. “Ryan is a talented and bright young man who should get plenty of ice time with the Majors. We felt it was very important for the Spirit organization to move up in the Import Draft.”

Green was drafted by the Spirit in the fifth round, 97th overall, in the 2006 OHL Priority Selection. The 1990-born forward from Essex, Ontario, played the 2006-2007 season with Saginaw's Junior B affiliate, the Leamington Flyers.

Neuvirth signs three-year deal with Capitals

The Washington Capitals have signed goaltender Michal Neuvirth to a three-year entry-level contract beginning next season. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Neuvirth, 19, was a second-round selection of the Capitals, 34th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. The 6-foot-1, 197-pound, left-handed catching goaltender spent this past season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League where he was named the OHL’s All-Star Second Team Goaltender and was runner-up for the OHL Goaltender of the Year award.

The Usti Labem, Czech Republic, native finished the regular season with a 26-8-2-2 record, which included four shootouts. His goals-against average was 2.32 and he notched a .932 save percentage. Neuvirth set the longest shutout streak in franchise history from Dec. 28, 2006, to Jan. 6, 2007, by not allowing a goal in 164:18.

Neuvirth carded an impressive 14-3-1 playoff record, which included an OHL championship and a spot in the Memorial Cup semifinals. His playoff GAA was 2.45 and his .932 save percentage equaled his season output.

Prior to suiting up in the OHL, Neuvirth led the Czech Republic to a bronze medal at the 2006 IIHF World Under-18 Hockey Championship, posting a 3-1-2 record.

The Capitals expect Neuvirth to be in attendance at the team’s summer development camp July 11-14 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va.