Monday, June 04, 2007

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.”

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